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November 15, 2005

Out of place product placement?

I went to the Wichita Grand Opera this weekend to see one of my favorites, Die Fledermaus. It was a co-production with the Czech Opera, Prague. And after the party scene, three of the divas from the Wichita Opera lingered on-stage as the curtain closed. In character, they had a discussion about the party attendees and were commenting on their dresses. They said, "Did you see her dress? She obviously didn't get her dress at David's Bridal, like we did."

Huh? Product placement at the opera? My first thought was shock and dismay that I had just seen a commercial in the middle of a fine arts performance. And then I got to thinking...

Last year, the Wichita Opera did three performances of each show. Now, they're only having one performance per show. And it was not even close to sold out. If they need support and sponsorship to continue to bring culture to Wichita, then they need to do whatever it takes. I guess it worked. It got me talking.


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At best ham-handed. At worst, like graffiti on a classic. Nah, sis. It's no good. Side note: Was it a "modern" production (i.e. played in a modern setting) or was it really, really forced in there?

Are we saying product placement in a 100-year-old opera is never OK? OK as long as it's well-done? Or OK if the alternative is no opera at all? I'd say never OK based on audience preference. I mean, isn't this horribly short-sighted of the opera company? Opera's a tough enough sell without foisting clumsy ad messages upon an audience who has paid handsomely to be entertained. It messes with expectations. And it can significantly change the spirit and quality of the very thing opera companies are trying to sell. So while David's Bridal money feels good now, how many audience members were put off by it? How many just decided they'd rather rent a DVD instead? Then again, it may be just me. I love opera. I obviously love advertising. But I don't want chocolate in my peanut butter.

This production did add a few modern touches, but it wasn't like watching "Jesus Christ Superstar" which is almost always in some sort of modern setting. I for one, would have been much happier with banners and posters outside of the concert hall screaming loudly about David's Bridal's support of the opera. I think Irene is right. The product placement felt forced and uncomfortable. Just because product placement can be an novel option, that doesn't mean it should be used.

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