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San Diego Opera Hits The Road To Learn What San Diegans Want To Hear

A portrait of David Bennett, the current general director of the San Diego Op...

Credit: Sam Hogdson / San Diego Opera

Above: A portrait of David Bennett, the current general director of the San Diego Opera, May 2015.


The company will stop by Balboa Park, La Jolla, Carlsbad and Chula Vista to hear what locals like and don't like about opera.

The San Diego Opera is going on tour this Thursday, but there are no tour buses or hotel rooms involved.

Instead, it’s a listening tour that will stop by four San Diego communities: Balboa Park, La Jolla, Carlsbad and Chula Vista. Audiences will get to weigh in on what they like and don’t like about opera. They'll answer questions like "What is opera? Is it too long? Too expensive?"

Two years ago when the opera was on the brink of closing, San Diegans — as well as contributors from around the country — helped raise over $2 million to save the company.

“The community spoke clearly that San Diego Opera was an asset worth keeping, and now we want to make sure we understand why,” said David Bennett, the opera's general director.

The first listening session is Thursday at the Natural History Museum in Balboa Park. The company will hold one a month through June. All sessions are open to the public, but registration is required. Participants are being asked to bring a smartphone, tablet or laptop capable of Internet access so they can answer questions and fill out polls in real time.

The sessions will include presentations about the opera’s mission and programming. Bennett said they'll talk about big ideas for how to present opera.

"Some of the things we might want to do in the future in terms of repertoire and locations and all along the way we'll ask for responses,” Bennett said.

The opera is partnering with Q2, a market research firm, to help guide the conversations and conduct smaller focus groups to gather more quantitative data.

One goal is to try and understand what barriers audiences face when attending opera.

“In communities like Chula Vista, we're hoping to find people who don’t currently go to the opera and find out why,” Bennett said.

Upcoming seasons will include chamber operas and recitals at a lower price point, Bennett said.

As much as the staff plans to listen, there will also be an effort to educate participants about what opera might be.

“There are a lot of things that can fit underneath that definition or umbrella of opera," Bennett said. "We want to see how people react to that.”

When former general director Ian Campbell and the previous opera board voted to close the company in 2014, Campbell said San Diegans wanted to see grand opera, which is expensive. That was cited as one of the reasons why the company could no longer serve the community and pay the bills.

"I think that was a false assumption by the previous administration," said Bennett, who has been at his post for just over a year. "We have a history of producing traditional grand opera in a wonderful way and we’ll always continue that, but this community is astute enough artistically and hungry for a variety of theater and performing arts events and so we’re proving now that there is an appetite for different kinds of opera.”

Listening sessions dates and locations:

Balboa Park: Thursday, March 31 at 6 p.m. – The Nat (in the Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater), 1788 El Prado, San Diego.

La Jolla: Thursday, April 28 at 6 p.m. – The Auditorium at The Scripps Research Institute, 10620 John J Hopkins Dr, San Diego.

Carlsbad: Thursday, June 9 at 6 p.m. - The Museum of Making Music, 5790 Armada Dr, Carlsbad.

Chula Vista: Thursday, June 16 at 6 p.m. - Chula Vista Masonic Center, 732 3rd Ave, Chula Vista.


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