By Nick Roman
How many cultural institutions reap the benefits of 45,000 steps of foot traffic every day? Lyric Opera of Chicago is uniquely set apart from other opera and cultural institutions because of its location in the heart of downtown Chicago.
MSLCE students got an exclusive look into the organization on a site visit with Lyric’s top management that included a rare opportunity to see backstage.
Lyric’s management views opera as an “evolving” art form, as Vice President of Marketing Lisa Middleton explained. She walked students through Lyric’s revamped marketing strategies, which includes a focus on multi-modal advertising. Cayenne Harris, Vice President of Lyric Unlimited, told students that relevance is key, and building connections with audiences by pushing boundaries with additional art forms expands Lyric’s reach. Harris spends the bulk of her time curating first experiences to the opera, stressing the importance of attracting the right audiences. Harris’ approach to newcomers is person-first. She said she wants to “meet them where they are, listen, collaborate, and see their interests.”
Because Lyric owns its own performance space, it can utilize this unique resource to innovate programming that builds additional audiences. Chief Operating Officer Drew Landmesser explained, “We can change opera by who we bring in the building… invite everyone in.”
Lyric’s exemplary branding strategy is partially due to internationally acclaimed soprano Renee Fleming, who joined the company as its Creative Consultant and has fundraised extensively and suggested trends and tools for Lyric to implement.
First-time opera-goers can choose accessible titles from the annual Broadway at Lyric production, an ideal introduction to operatic style. From Lyric’s perspective, it is also a dependable net revenue source, responsible for bringing in 53% of new audiences. Based on marketing data, 20% of Broadway at Lyric audiences later attend grand operas. Lyric is the only organization to present musical theater on a grand opera scale with full orchestra.
The visit concluded with a guided tour of the backstage areas and the Ardis Krainik theater where students got to peruse the set of I puritani. Any full-time, degree-seeking, college student can join the Next Student Tickets program which offers $20 tickets to any seat for Lyric Opera performances. Long live passion!