Opera Virgins 

Opera Memphis director offers free tickets for first-timers.

Have you avoided purchasing opera tickets because it seems cost-prohibitive? Or because you're not sure you'd enjoy listening to people sing in a language you don't understand? Or because you're afraid of large Viking ladies in iron-clad brassieres?

If any of the above applies to you and you're willing to put all preconceived notions about opera aside, you might be a candidate for one of 100 free tickets available from Opera Memphis to first-time opera goers.

"I love giving away free tickets," said Opera Memphis executive director Ned Canty.

But there's a catch. Canty's offering the free seats in return for some insight on what keeps people away from opera and what captures the audience's interest.

"The Assisi Foundation has made it possible for us to have access to a real statistician," said Canty, who describes himself as a "data geek."

Participants who accept the free tickets must be available to watch all three of Opera Memphis' mainstage shows this season on their Tuesday night performances. They'll be given surveys before and after the shows, and they'll be asked to share some of their thoughts on camera. The line-up for the 2011-2012 season includes Tosca, Die Fledermaus, and Don Pasquale.

Canty replaced former Opera Memphis director Michael Ching last December, and since then, growing their audience has been his biggest priority. Besides giving away free tickets, Canty has masterminded a more elaborate stunt to get people interested: He plans to strap a camera to his head and go bungee jumping so he can show opera fans what the last few seconds of Tosca's life might look like. Tosca, the lead character in the opera of the same name, plunges to her death from a tower.

"My personal goal for 2011 is to bring 10 new people to the opera who have never been before," Canty told the Flyer in December. "That's easy for me. I have an opera company and can give away tickets."

Now Canty is making good on that promise, but he hopes to bring far more than 10 new people into the theater. Most of the rules for the free tickets are inflexible, but Canty says some exceptions may be made.

For example, the requirement that patrons be "first-time opera goers" can be excused if the person was forced to visit the opera against his or her will in the past.

"If somebody went to the opera as part of a field trip when they were in school, we're not going to hold that against them," Canty said. "It might be better to say we're looking for people who have never chosen to go to the opera."

Canty is especially interested in promoting the free tickets to families with teenagers. To find out about how to apply for the free tickets, contact Opera Memphis at NAI@operamemphis.org. But act fast because Tosca opens on October 29th.

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