On Friday, March 27 in the Lagoa Auditorium there was a performance of Donizetti’s hour-long comic opera “Rita”. It was well-rehearsed, well-staged, musically excellent. The 30-strong Orquestra Clássica do Sul came from Faro as usual and were on stage throughout, in evening dress. And there were the three singers of the cast, playing Rita, Beppe and Gasparo.
In the audience were 23 people. That’s right – 23 including two small children, about 10 fewer in the audience than were on-stage. The Lagoa auditorium has 300 seats, so hardly one-fifteenth were occupied.
Is this an isolated instance? Unfortunately not, though an extreme one. For 20-plus years this orchestra and its predecessor the Orchestra do Algarve has played in the various auditoria of Algarve – Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa, Silves, Faro. All too often audiences have been small – and sometimes much smaller – than might be expected.
Putting on one side the questions of who subsidises orchestral salaries, transport, meals, administration, rent of facilities, etc, etc, why are audiences not bigger? Audiences are an essential element in music-making. Where are they in Algarve? Twenty-three is a very small part of the population of Algarve.
Are prices too high at €5-10? Are auditoria difficult to reach? Can it be that there is actually no audience for classical music – no interest? We don’t believe that.
Or could it be a lack of publicity? This sounds more likely. In reality there is almost no publicity for musical events.
It seems to be assumed that “word of mouth” will be enough – as it used to be once upon a time. But of course – with competition from television – word of mouth is not enough at all! The Orquestra needs seriously to up-grade its publicity with notices and advertisements which are easily readable for essential information (unlike the present ones!). Supermarkets and shops should be asked to put piles of handbills on their check-out desks.
But – especially – the internet-web needs to be mobilised and as many as possible private email addresses collected and used. There are many foreign organisations as well as Portuguese which would help with notices on their websites. This will cost almost nothing! Securing address lists and using them – with permissions if necessary – should be a priority.
Then there will be large audiences for what surely is an essential and under-used resource of Algarve!
(A post-script to our letter of April 1 above)
On April 4 in the Centro Cultural de Lagos, the Orquestra Clássica do Sul gave an Easter Gala performance of three pieces by Bach, Haydn and Mozart. On that evening there were about 20 players in the orchestra (usually there are about 30), supplemented by four soloists and 40 singers from the Faro-based Grupo Coral do Ossónoba. The stage was crowded and musical balance came second but it was enterprising.
The auditorium was 80% full, a quite exceptional occurrence, with at least 200 people and a huge contrast with the almost-zero audience for the Orquestra in the Lagoa auditorium a week earlier. Clearly some of the Lagos audience were Easter holidaymakers, a few were regular attenders at musical events, but most (with every respect to them) were newcomers to the cultural centre (perhaps many were friends and drivers of the choir?).
Anyway, it was a remarkable amount of support … so much so that programme notes were exhausted long before everyone had one!
We want to draw especial attention to this phenomenon in case it is taken as typical of audiences at the cultural centre or at any other venue. This it most certainly is not! It is rather the exception which proves the rule! The fact remains that the Orquestra Clássica do Sul needs and deserves far better publicity of its activities, much more wide-spread and deeper than it has at present.
Tony and Cristina Beck