Examining The LA Opera’s Pilot Program To Put Opera Into Popular Media Culture Part 1

In 2014, I served as an adjudicator for an Opera America grant panel. One of the grant recipients was the Los Angeles (LA) Opera, which used the funding to initiate a pilot program to put opera into popular media culture.

At the time, it was an ambitious and intriguing program. Here’s how the organization described the program in their grant proposal:

LA Opera seeks to pilot a program to more heavily insert opera into popular media culture through an entertainment-based content marketing campaign, also known as product placement. This campaign will seek to integrate positive opera related stories and references into film, television and advertisements, exposing wider audiences to the art form and breaking down commonly held stereotypes about opera. LA Opera will partner with a content marketing agency to create pitches and promote opera to industry professionals as a valuable and viable storyline option. The ultimate goal of this pilot program is to develop long term strategies that increase familiarity and enthusiasm for the art form as a whole, thereby benefiting the entire opera industry and its many companies.

Since then, I have been unable to locate any formal report detailing program results, so I reached out the LA Opera in order to discover more.

It took some time to uncover the information as a number of administrator’s responsible for implementing the program have moved on to other organizations but thanks to the tenacity of Vanessa Flores Waite, Director of Communications, LA Opera, they managed to confirm quite a bit of very useful information.

Program Timeline

Once funded, the program received an official name and operated during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons.

“Re-Branding Opera for the 21st Century to promote opera to the general public by placing opera and opera-related stories and images in popular television, film, and other entertainment media,” said Flores Waite. “[Using funding from Opera America’s] Building Opera Audiences grant, LA Opera began working with a content marketing agency to develop various product placement strategies and begin acquainting the film and television industry with opera.”


Unfortunately, the LA Opera was not willing to share the name of the content marketing agency they contracted. But they did confirm two of the program’s primary endeavors shaped by input from that agency.

  1. Providing visual assets to production companies.
  2. Pitching storylines about opera within scripts.

The second, more ambitious goal, ultimately received less attention.

“Given the long lead times and the rare opportunities for [pitching storylines] to happen, greater emphasis was given to visual collateral,” said Flores Waite.

She went on to provide more detail about specific activity for both goals.

The project generated 116 pitches to films and TV shows and delivered 22 sets of visual assets (i.e. posters, graphics) and/or props,” said Flores Waite. “The intent is they would be used for interior set décor and or as part of an outdoor scene (cab toppers, billboards, etc.).”

Working With Additional Organizations

In the original grant application, LA Opera indicated they would reach out to additional opera organizations in order to include those groups and their locations in program efforts.

The good news is some of those efforts produced very tangible results.

“LA Opera also reached out and worked with other opera companies for visual collateral and partnership when the film had location settings in their area (NY, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco),” said Flores Waite. “Most notably, scenes were filmed in the San Francisco Opera House as part of the Steve Jobs film.

Planting Seeds

In addition to the program’s two primary efforts, the LA Opera used the opportunity to develop ongoing relationships with individuals capable of influencing decisions inside the film and television industry.

“LA Opera also hosted a number of people from the production companies at performances, invited them to other opera events (special events, recitals, artist interviews, backstage tours), to acquaint them with the art form,” said Flores Waite. “A few of these people have become regular LA Opera attendees (Warner Bros, Sony Pictures) which will hopefully provide for increased and future opportunities to engage them with product placement.”

When asked whether those connections have started providing results, the LA Opera declined to comment.

Stop by tomorrow for Part 2, where we will focus on what the LA Opera learned from the program along with examining overall worthiness of ongoing efforts.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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