L.A. Opera upping its 'hip quotient' via Web

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Take a famous choreographer who is used to the rhythms of Madonna, the casual banter between world-class vocalists and the rise of YouTube and MySpace, and opera may well be on its way to a new renaissance.

That is the intent of a series of podcasts titled "Behind the Curtain at the Los Angeles Opera." Listeners are given an insider's glimpse of the creative process behind the creation of the Los Angeles Opera's "Manon," directed by Emmy-nominated director-choreographer Vincent Paterson.

The podcasts feature discussions with Paterson, soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon amid the background noise of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The podcasts are accessible through the opera company's Web site at www.laopera.com and distributed through RSS feeds on iTunes, Yahoo! podcasts and other sites. The company also has posted clips of "Manon" on such viral outlets as YouTube, MySpace and Google Video.

"For me, I think for opera to have a life, it needs to reach a younger audience," Paterson says. "With these podcasts, I'm trying to demystify the sort of elite attitude around the operatic world and show that opera is really an asset to the masses."

This is Paterson's operatic debut. His previous credits come from outside the opera world as the director and choreographer for Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour along with work on TV productions and films including "Evita," "The Birdcage" and "Dancer in the Dark."

Known for his bold artistic approach, he has modernized "Manon," adding his own brand of sensuality and dramaturgy and transforming its mise-en-scene from the 1760s to post-World War II France in an effort to appeal to a younger audience.

"This isn't your typical image of an opera," says Hope Boonshaft, LA Opera's chief of marketing and communications. "Vincent understood that and that's why he moved the story into the late 1940s."

Boonshaft says that the company now plans to use the Internet as part of its marketing plan in the future.

"The way it can showcase the opera's sound, music and costumes -- it's the perfect medium for it," she says, adding that the response from listeners has been great.

Eric Schwartzman of the Los Angeles-based iPressroom Corp., who executive produced the series, says the exposure provided by the Web and its dozens of podcast aggregators serves as a venue to grow audiences organically.

"There's no attention for opera on shows like 'Entertainment Tonight' or 'Access Hollywood,' " Schwartzman says. "With these podcasts, instead of tailoring the story, you can tell it like it is and let the audience come to you."

Paterson, whose goal is to up the "hip quotient" of what has been a genre traditionally consumed by an older audience, says he ultimately hopes the Web streams will show real people doing what they do creatively.

"What I love is that we really kind of reveal our process to everyone, and through that I hope that people will see the sense of truth and character behind the opera," he says.
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