No, it’s not a call to arms! Culture Counts is an initiative by the Department of Culture and the Arts in WA, to better understand people’s experience of an artistic event. You can find out more about it here. Its relevance to us at WAO is that we participated in a Culture Counts survey for our recent production of The Riders. Audience, artistic practitioners (including myself) and artistic peers were all surveyed with a series of questions, both before and after opening night – about the relevance, quality, importance and experience of The Riders.


This data is now being collated, but I have had an opportunity to see the raw numbers, which made for fascinating analysis. The survey dealt, coincidentally, with my two principal artistic agendas at WAO: connecting ever more closely with our audiences, and renewing the repertoire we offer (whether old or new). The survey brings these two strands together, since The Riders was a work new to not only the Company but the State.

One of the difficulties we have in absorbing audience feedback about our work is that, like all artistic feedback, it relates principally to the speaker’s personal taste, preferences, and understanding. We always hear a wide variety of views, so Culture Counts is an initiative which tries to get beyond the anecdotal to a more statistical view. The Riders sat on the divide between those who long for a more innovative repertoire, and those for whom opera MEANS the nineteenth-century canon. It is not for me to divulge the results of the survey, but for some, The Riders opened up a new connection with WAO which a more traditional opera would not have.


The truth is that there is no one audience for opera, just as there is no one audience for music. We all have our favourite music, to which we return most often, but for many of us there are multiple different kinds of music to which we respond, to which we turn in our varying ages and needs. For a company such as WAO, with a relatively restricted annual season and very diverse audiences, the challenge lies in leveraging the repertoire available to us in order to serve the widest possible range of people. People who want a mixture of the familiar and the stimulating, the old and the new. It’s this challenge with which we are fully engaged, for 2017 and beyond.



Until next time,


Brad Cohen
Artistic Director




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