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No Orchestra for Nutcracker!?Five "Discount" Performances


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#1 Watermill

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Posted 08 December 2003 - 11:30 PM

For five performances of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker the Marzipans will be mincing to Memorex, not a live orchestra. The reason given for this is that these are "Family Discount" performances and the tickets cost less, so...

But it turns out that the best orchestra seats still cost the same: $75.00 That's an awful lot to pay to listen to taped music.

I understand the expansion of the company demands cutting corners, but this is a huge corner being lopped off of the biggest revenue producing production of the year. This is not when you cut or where you cut. The orchestra is an intrinsic element of the experience. Not to mention the Keller's sound system is often hissy and clipped. I strongly question the logic behind this.

I wonder if the Mouse King will only have 3 extra heads on those days?

Watermill

#2 Paul Parish

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 12:06 AM

Well, watermill, it's certainly a mistake on their part not to lower the top price --

but the pipers must be paid, and there are a LOT of pipers for Nutcracker (though hte overture is scored for chamber orchestra, and certain variations are very quiet -- hte Sugar-plum Fairy's is so quiet you have to LISTEN -- the big climaxes in hte grand pas take a lot of musicians to produce....

And musicians make more money than dancers, and will be doubtless getting residuals for the recorded performances....

I don't mean to rebuke you, I'm just thinking this out after seeing just how much quieter it was opening night in SF for Nutcracker -- the house was not packed, and the money that was coming in from the boom-era people is not there any more.
THEY'RE going to have to cut somewhere.... Maybe do like WHite Oak did, just commission new works to chamber music or piano.... Or let more dancers go. Or cut back on outreach (but the community won't like that, and besides, that's the future audience, they can't do that).

Where WOULD you cut?

#3 Watermill

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 07:58 AM

Thanks for your thoughts, Paul.
Once things are cut to the bone, as they have been under the draconian GM Beth Barbre, there really is no more cutting to be done, and long term revenue plans must fall into place. My point is that The Nutcracker is the cash engine upon which the entire season depends. My opinion is that live music is essential to a big 3,000 seat Nutcracker experience. To cut the orchestra is to fundamentally alter the pleasure of that experience much for the worse and therefore diminish the audience base for the one production that you can absolutely not afford to tinker with.
As always, I must again mention that this is a transition period as Christopher Stowell learns the ropes. Hopefully, in a couple of years, this sort of thing won't be necessary.

Watermill

#4 citibob

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 08:03 AM

Where did you hear about this? A search of recent news and OBT's web site reveals no mention of such plans. Also, news articles list OBT's top ticket prices as $90, not $75.

In any case, you don't have to like every show they put on. They're offering an option for patrons who want to see a cheaper Nutcracker and don't care to pay for an orchestra. Live and let live...

#5 Paul Parish

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 10:50 AM

two things-

first, I should say thatI'm only speculating about hte situation in SF -- it doesn't look disastrous or anything, and I certainly don't kow anything official, I just observed that things weren't looking so prosoperous and ......

Scond, there IS one other important function of Nutcracker -- it is the ballet that many people see if they see no other. And if they see dancing that opens their eyes to a new art form thay MIGHT come back for the repertory season.... SO the family matinee might be a way to expose some folks who wouldn't otherwise have seen any concerted movement -- other than a sports event -- into thinking, you know, I want to see some more of that....
so they save their nickels fpor the Firebird....

#6 Watermill

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 11:33 AM

You caught me, citibob: I was making it all up!
(Just kidding...)


BTW: I misread the Ticketmaster info: All tickets on Family Discount days are reduced $10 - $15. The $90 Box seats are $75. Side orch drops from $35 to $20. OBT's Box office: 503 2-BALLET for more information.

That's true, Paul, but allow me some further speculation that OBT saves $6,000 (40 musicians X $150) without orchestra. The average 25% discount lowers the potential box office from about 115 to 86 grand. That's giving up $29,000. to save $6,000, while lowering the quality of the event substantially, IMHO. Granted, my figures are educated guesses, so I could be off. And I'm well aware that "potential" income ain't the same as actual.

I suppose an argument against my plea for live music is that lowered prices make it possible for a broader range of audience to attend. Not sure how much water that holds given that their are already cheap seats (as low as $10) available at the other regular performances, but I'm sure there are marketing factors of which I am not aware.

My fear is that next year half the performances will not have live music and eventually there will be none. I trust that Mr. Stowell is leaning against that bitter wind.

Slouching towards Who-ville,

A Grinchy Watermill

#7 citibob

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Posted 09 December 2003 - 02:35 PM

There might be a different kind of thinking going on here: "We know we can sell X seats. We can do 5 extra matinee performances for minimal extra cost, since we already have everything set up. Let's see if we can sell those to people who wouldn't otherwise come by lowering the price."

The plan will only work, of course, if regulars like you say "yuck! I want to see the real orchestra" and keep paying them the full price for the live music shows.

Could it be possible that there might also be logistical issues in getting the orchestra together for these shows? Sometimes things like that end up being the reason for big decisions...

#8 XTX

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Posted 01 June 2005 - 10:22 PM

[It is to be hoped that], in a couple of years, this sort of thing won't be necessary.

...and, in fact, the 2004 run had only two performances done to recorded music.

I believe there were fewer performances overall, though--18 instead of 21, if I remember correctly...still, 2 out of 18 is better than 5 out of 21. Frankly, I think the performers minded the recordings at least as much as the audience.

By the way, I'm almost certain the tickets were cheaper for the recorded-music performances.

#9 bart

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 10:17 AM

How about the subscribers, who pay up long before the season -- and therefore long before the information about live-versus-recorded music for indivdual productions.

Personally, I'd prefer to pay a bonus for guaranteed live music than see a policiy of discounts for recorded music.

And why is it so difficult for theaters to solve all those problems with truly ghastly sound systems?

#10 Helene

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 10:50 AM

When companies start out with recorded music and add live music, the subscribers' expectation is that live music is a special treat. The exceptions are most often for individual works with specialty scores, like In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and Jardi Tancat. (Maria del Mar Bonet is one of the greatest singers alive, and her recordings of traditional and original songs are a high point of any performance of the piece for me.) And in the modern dance realm, Mark Morris breaks his own "live music only" rule when he choreographed to Yoko Ono's music in Dogtown, for example.

Nutcracker is often not part of a subscription series, for various reasons: a regular subscription is for X number of adults only, often at night, and the parents want to bring children and sit with them; subscribers will pay for the additional ticket(s) for Nutcracker; some people don't like to have performances scheduled during the holiday season, etc. Some companies, like Ballet Arizona, offers it as part of the full-season package, for those who want it. Ballet Arizona also offers a "make your own subscription" and advertises up front which will have live music (and the venue). So does Oregon Ballet Theatre, which has two venues and live music for some programs only.

Does anyone know of a company that has downgraded to recorded music that previously would have been performed live, with orchestra, at least at its home base (as opposed to on tour)?

#11 bart

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 12:34 PM

Thanks for your clarification, Helene.

Down here, both Miami City Ballet (for all performances) and Ballet Florida (for Nutcrackers) dropped orchestras in the past few years. Miami raised extra money for a return to live music two years ago and then went back to recorded music this season. They are making a fund-raising pitch for live music in the season to come.

As for touring companies in our areas, only certain visiting Russian troupes seem to be able to afford full orchestras.



#12 carbro

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 02:32 PM

Does anyone know of a company that has downgraded to recorded music that previously would have been performed live, with orchestra, at least at its home base (as opposed to on tour)?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Off the top of my head, no ballet cos., but both Paul Taylor and Alvin Ailey used to have their own, full-time orchestras for all City Center perfs., and both now rely largely on recordings.

I suspect that Taylor's recent "decade" works (Company B, Field of Grass, Black Tuesday, to popular recordings of the 1940s, 1970s and 1930s, respectively) were created that way to ameliorate the absence of an orchestra.

Ailey has several nights per season of "live music," but I don't think they raise the ticket prices.

#13 XTX

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Posted 02 June 2005 - 06:42 PM

I recall that OBT made a special appeal for donations to a "live music fund" a year or so ago.

I don't remember whether that was repeated, but they must be doing something right: Christopher Stowell announced at a recent performance that even more works would have a full orchestra in the 2005-2006 season.

Edited by XTX, 02 June 2005 - 06:43 PM.



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