Monodramas — success story

In my posts about the new classical music audience in NY, I mentioned the New York City Opera Monodramas production as a key event, one that drew this audience. I’d been to it on opening night, and City Opera was mobbed with the kind of people (younger than usual, for a start) that you don’t usually see at the opera. An arts crowd, not a classical music crowd.

But was there a problem? Some people thought there was. I started hearing that later performances didn’t get as many people as opening night. Which, as I’ve learned, was true — until the final performance last Friday. This, I’m reliably told, was again like opening night, mobbed by so many people (and again a younger arts crowd) that the box office was overwhelmed, just as it was on opening night. And the performance was once again delayed, a happy event. 
So this was a success!
Clearly, Monodramas got good word of mouth. People who went to the production — featuring one-act, one-singer operas by John Zorn, Schoenberg, and Morton Feldman — talked about it, and interest built. That’s one of the best things that can happen in marketing, when your audience does a lot of your work for you. 

Which of course doesn’t mean that you don’t do any work. City Opera, in fact, primed the pump very intelligently, working hard to get influential arts people to the premiere, in order to start some word of mouth excitement. Clearly they succeeded. The opening night audience was proof of their initial success, and the audience this past Friday was proof that word of mouth developed. 

As for the other four performances, sales, as I understand it, were greatest for the lower-priced tickets. So the orchestra seats downstairs may have been relatively empty, compared to the opening, but upstairs things looked better. 

And that’s a fascinating picture in itself — a production that plays not to the older, well-off opera audience, but (once again) to younger arts- and event- oriented people, Richard Florida’s “creative class.” An audience we desperately need in classical music, not just because we need them to buy tickets, but because, if they come, it’s a sign that we’ve renewed ourselves artistically. 

The lesson here: go out and find the new audience you want! Talk to it. Cultivate it. And give it time to build. 
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  1. Matthew says


    I think you and others need to be careful here.

    Just because New York City Opera was able to fill to the max a few performances of ‘Monodrama’ tells use nothing, other than you can find a few hundred people who like just about anything in big cities.

  2. says

    Hi Greg

    I wonder to what extent this kind of success depends on the show being on for several nights? This is not usual for new music, or even classical concert music in general, but I guess it’s a little more usual for opera (though not necessarily new opera).

    I can see that City Opera might have successfully packed out an opening night by hype and invitation (we don’t know how many of that crowd were paying customers…), but real success surely comes from getting people to come back.

    The trouble with new music, and for classical music in general if the “new” audience is not well-versed in the repertoire, is that you don’t know what you’re going to get, and if the show is for one night only, you have to take a gamble (even assuming that you’re free that night). If the tickets are expensive (and it’s telling that the cheap seats were popular in this example) then that’s one more barrier which might discourage people from taking that gamble.

    “Critics” or journos in general have a role to play – if they can be encouraged to *preview* rather than *review* an event, potential audience members can have some kind of information on which to make their decision.



  3. Mike says

    Mr. Sandow – and the NY Times critic who reviewed this event – both referenced the long lines at the box office as proof of big sales numbers. Unfortunately, it means just the opposite. Long lines at box offices at these venues means that more free or discounted ticket were distributed/sold that must be picked up at the box office on the night of performance. Regular customers paying full-price generally have their tickets delivered by mail or by email for printing. A probable scenario: NYCO needed a big audience for the opening night critics and papered heavily. When they realized the run wasn’t selling well, they papered the last performance as well.

    They didn’t paper the last performance, as far as I know. And the delays at the start were caused by something else — people who bought tickets on line could print proof of that out, but then had to pick up the tickets at the box office. Somehow City Opera hasn’t gotten around to letting customers print tickets out at home, complete with the bar codes that the ticket takers’ scanners have to read. Many other institutions have managed that!

  4. james Wilson says


    I was at the second performance and attendance throughout the house was below 50% especially in the cheapest seats. The side sections of teh fourth ring were completely empty

  5. Kate says

    Hi Greg,

    Thank you so much for coming to see “Monodramas” and commenting here about it. I was a performer in this show, my first time with City Opera. We had been verbally prepared by a couple of in house people for “mostly empty seats.” Well, I was pleasantly surprised in that I never looked out to a mostly empty house. Were there any shows with empty seats? Of course! This is a HUGE house! Over 2500 seats. I was happy each night, empty seats or no, to see a GOOD house there.

    The bigger picture here, I believe, isn’t the picking at numbers, or even if people liked, loved, or hated Monodramas. The big picture we need to sit back and watch, with interest and open ears, is where is music going today? How is opera transforming, or is a new genre blossoming? It’s quite fascinating, to me at least, and I wish more opera purists would relax and go with the flow a bit. Classic opera is going nowhere… but it’s child is. And I think this journey is worthy, interesting, informative and has plenty reason to be supported.

  6. says


    I deeply appreciate many of the suggestions that you are making for changing the face of classical music. I think that, on the surface, many of your observations are dead on. But, I think that we need to dig a bit deeper. It isn’t enough to just ask that we stop talking in terms of “the arts” or “outreach”. The real question is why isn’t classical music appreciated for what it already is? Why are we celebrating amateurism (i.e. American Idol) or even human nature’s ugliest traits (i.e. The Biggest Loser). From an artistic point of view, why is entertainment so much more appreciated than the things that will stand the test of time?

    I understand that you need to create a more pointed position for graduation speeches, but I think that the burden of reeducation in the arts lies within a more simple and grass roots approach.

    When things like iPad bands are the craze, where are the educators to explain that playing an authentic instrument is actually something that takes skill and is a noble pursuit? That seems to be a more relevant issue than the wording of what we do.

    I know that you are deeply passionate about this topic, which I respect with all of my heart. But, to be honest, telling graduates that they need to change their vocabulary when they talk about what they do is simply not enough to create the change that we want. We need to tell them that they have to do more to develop a love for music, and they all need to do more than just play their parts well.


    Wayne Lu