“Undress for the opera” new audiences and new image for ENO

Imagine you are the marketing manager of a company whose mission is to bring your product to as many people as possible. Imagine, however, that most of your audience is over 40, and that your product is perceived as stuffy, posh and expensive. What would you do? This was the situation in which the management of the English National Opera was, so it responded with “Undress for the opera.”

The idea was to create some soirée designed for young people, starting first by clothing. “Come in shorts, armor, jeans, pumps, anything!” Said artistic director John Berry. They noticed that young people were frightened from formal and elegant work. So they created a casual and informal environment far away from the traditional image of an opera house.




ENO’s chief executive Loretta Tomasi and his staff created club-style bars, specially themed cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere. At the launch of the initiative were present pop icons as Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). This attracted a lot of young people that have come to an opera house for the first time. This has developed a new audience who may take the risk of going to a normal opera of the season.

The ENO was not a theater that had more problems than others with the young audience: the under-40s were indeed 30%, but this was not enough to Loretta Tomasi and John Berry, who aimed to reach 40%. This purpose can’t be certainly achieved by simply selling 100 tickets to young people or thinking that these 100 will begin to attend the theater. The aim was rather to change the image of the theater itself, making it more younger friendly, attractive and seductive. They then advertised the initiative through press releases, producing video, through social networks and trying to stimulate a discussion on the relationship between young people and opera.

If you look at the photobook created by the theater on Facebook you certainly can’t imagine that this was done in a theater, after the ritualistic operatic performance. A so peaceful and relaxed environment will approach ENO in the world of young people, and will allow it to expand its potential audience. This will be positive not only for the society and for the mission of the theater, but also for its finances: in fact, reach and retain new customers is the essence of Customer Relationship Management.

But there are also negative sides:

  1. how many of the young people who participated in the initiative (and their friends who have seen the pictures on Facebook) will buy a normal opera ticket? Perhaps they will not be as many as Loretta Tomasi and John Berry were hoping for. But the attempt had to be done in order to measure the results and to improve the follow-up action;
  2. the initiative has had consequences on the artistic decisions. In fact, all the operas were sung in English translation because they have discovered that one of the major obstacles was the foreign language. In opera translations aren’t used since 50 years, and this is because they distort the melodic line and the meaning of words. ENO therefore decided to bend the artwork to the preferences of the public, and this is not at all desirable;
  3. for many theaters shifting in this way the image, might not have a positive effect on the economic balance. In fact, many theaters pursue an image related to the luxury and exclusivity in order to intercept the richer and more willing to pay audience. It also allows them to sell in the market of sponsorships a clearly positioned brand which can attract the demand of many luxury companies. If an initiative as this will be not carefully carry out, it can create a confusion in the positioning of the brand, and this that can stave off the public and sponsors.

All in all ENO has proved to be a theater capable to take risks and innovate the way they operate and should be placed at the center of attention of many traditional theaters.


Francesco Zanibellato



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