Vancouver Opera’s Young Patrons Circle

April 2, 2014

Appropriately dramatic fog veils views on McLean Drive on the night of Vancouver Opera's Young Patrons Circle soirée. Fur-wrapped youths step through the mist and into the O'Brian Centre — which is, itself, warmly lit by the type of candelabra that would make sense above a soprano's head.

"I missed the full Albert Herring production," one attendee admits, "but the circle was invited to a Sitzprobe, which I went to. It was great, and they brought us these amazing cookies…" Nearby, a woman in coral Ferragamos confides, "A friend linked me to the Young Patrons site. I already had a season pass, but I was like, ‘I don't even care. I want in!' "

This is precisely the enthusiasm Amanda Burrows, the opera's associate director of annual giving, hoped for when launching the YPC last October. Youths — defined as those between ages 19 and 45 — pay $300 for access to exclusive parties and receptions like this, plus grouped seats at shows.

The opera lost 900 subscribers in the 2009 and 2010 seasons — a total of $1.4 million before a record-breaking West Side Story returned it to the black. The need to attract new audiences is pressing, and the YPC's 80 members are one solution. It's no surprise that general director James Wright has been emphasizing programs with contemporary appeal. Case in point: the upcoming Stickboy, an autobiographical account of schoolyard torment by poet Shane Koyczan (he of the "We Are More" performance at the 2010 Games).

And the Young Patrons Circle strategy does appear to be working. The appeal is evident not only in the enthusiasm for opera that permeates the O'Brian Centre's candlelit party, but in the appreciation shared by the guests for the cachet of engaging with a suitably elite art form while forming business links. Amongst those delightedly discussing Don Giovanni, a smattering of socialites eagerly Instagram and a flushed finance type proclaims, in punch line, "I've never even been to the opera!"

Toronto already has 40 of these societies, but this is only Vancouver's third (after Ballet B.C. and the Vancouver Art Gallery). Melody Ma, 24 and co-chair of ArtsScene, belongs to two of them. "Rather than sit in the theatre for three hours then leave," she says, "you have a group of peers to talk to and go out with after to network and party. Youth groups create encompassing experiences. They foster communities that grow up around the arts and imbue the city's scene with their energy and vibrancy." And so does the opera head toward its rousing finale — as ever, by strange means, with moments of both comedy and tragedy.

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