rennes opera house

Rennes Opera: diversifying the audience of an opera

Rennes Opera: diversifying the audience of an opera

In this more than special cultural season, we wanted to meet the people who do everything possible to ensure that the public finds its way back to cultural venues.

And it was in an opera that recently sold out with Rinaldo or even Drumming in motion that we stopped by to meet Matthieu Rietzler, the director of the Rennes Opera.

AL: Matthieu, can you introduce us to the Rennes Opera and tell us how it is specific in the French opera landscape?

MR : It is a small opera house, both in terms of capacity (650 seats) and budget, and this is what makes it a particularly "flexible" opera house. This was invaluable during the crisis: we were able to be very agile and reactive. The Rennes Opera is both a production house: we produce between 2 and 4 productions per year, which we are keen to have performed as much as possible, for example at Angers-Nantes Opéra, with whom we have a special partnership to create a strong territorial network in the Greater West.

The Rennes Opera is also a structure that questions the place of an opera in the heart of the city, in a territory, in its relationship with the inhabitants. It is an opera that is anchored in its city and its region, to which the inhabitants are very attached, very invested in artistic and cultural education, an opera that I hope will be hospitable, where creation and questions of diversity has a strong place without neglecting the repertoire.

AL: How are you approaching the start of the 2021 fall season, is the audience there?

MR : We are very excited because the start of the season is going extremely well. We have just done 5 performances of Rinaldo by Handel, where we played to almost a full house. At the moment we can really see the audience coming back, we can feel a great desire for the show. It's an extremely pleasing start to the new season, especially as this show is currently on tour in several French cities thanks to La co[opera]tive.

Rinaldo - Rennes Opera 1 © Laurent Guizard

AL: Other venues are reporting a more timid start to the season, how do you explain this success?

MR : There are many reasons for this. For me, Rennes is already an answer because the Rennes public has always been curious and mobilised. But we also have to change our way of thinking in relation to what we used to offer.

We were afraid that some of our most loyal audience members would not return at first. Faced with this risk of "low attendance", we decided to take the initiative and set up a new dynamic in the last weeks before a show. 

Why is this? As the number of seats at the Opera is limited, before the crisis, our operation tended to favour spectators who were already close to the institution and sometimes, even unintentionally, kept more occasional spectators at a distance because of a complex reservation process and the difficulty of buying tickets late. Today, however, the cards have been reshuffled and this may allow us to have a simpler relationship with the public while seizing the opportunity offered to us to better diversify it.


AL: Precisely, on this diversification of the public, what are your levers? Does this diversification necessarily have to come through programming, by offering experiences designed for a different audience?

MR : I am convinced of this: if a programme is monolithic, it will primarily be aimed at a monolithic audience. So yes, obviously, programming is an extremely strong lever for diversification.
And diversity must be understood at all points in the programming. Both in the repertoires and languages that are approached with opera, but also by looking at what happens at the borders of opera. When we presented Drumming by Steve Reich in the main hall yesterday, we addressed both contemporary music and minimalist and electro music audiences, for example. And yesterday, we had people coming to the Opera for the first time thanks to this proposal, I'm sure*!

The other lever that works for us is partnerships, which allow us to diversify the addresses to the public, elsewhere in the territory. The way the Opera communicates is not the same as that of the TNB or the Maintenant festival. By working intelligently together, we broaden the ways in which we address the public. The financial question is also a subject: we are lucky enough to offer affordable tickets (from €5 to €60 for the most expensive seats).

What is also important for us is to diversify the times of access to the Opera. On Saturdays we play at 6pm, for example, to allow groups of friends to go to the opera first and then go out to dinner. On Sundays we play at 4pm, especially for families, and during the week we play later in the evening. So we try to multiply the moments to reach the spectators when they have time and avoid reaching only the people who are available between 8pm and 11pm during the week. 

I am in fact very optimistic about the diversity of spectators who come to the Opera, we must continue to work, we must have a very direct and hospitable address to the spectators, not intimidating, and we must try to remove the barriers. In short, we must remove the barriers that we have created in part ourselves, while obviously keeping the same artistic ambition!

*Of the 352 Drumming ticket buyers (one buyer can buy one or more tickets), 182* were first-time buyers, or 52%! (Source: Arenametrix-Opera de Rennes)

Drumming In Motion, Ensemble Links - Opéra Rennes - Festival Maintenant 2021 © Gwendal Le Flem 11

AL: You mentioned price as one of the levers of diversification and there is something very new this year for you in this respect. You have decided to stop offering subscriptions, which have always been a pillar of the opera's pricing strategy. Can you explain this choice to us?

It is a profound change. There are several reasons that come together, the first being very much linked to the crisis. Most of us find it difficult to look ahead six or nine months, given that we have been looking ahead six or nine days for a year and a half. In this context, we found it difficult to offer subscriptions. 

But there is a second reason. Obviously it is not our intention to give subscribers the impression that they are no longer welcome at the Opera, especially as they were a very important support during the periods of closure, some of them giving up their refunds. But with the principle of subscriptions, we had subscribers who booked a minimum of 3 or 4 shows, some of which they might not be so keen on. And this way of thinking about educating the eye through a form of constraint, by 'forcing' spectators to go and see things that are further away from their tastes, is no longer really relevant.

At Rennes Opera, we think it is preferable for our spectators to come and see things they want to see and to weave their own path with curiosity in the diversity of the programme. The risk is of course to go towards a "supply policy" and this is not our objective, so our challenge is to continue to make audacious artistic proposals by finding ways to encourage the public to take risks, with other levers than the subscription. Equipping ourselves with tools to address our audiences in a more personalised way is one of these levers. 

And there is a third reason, strongly linked to the fact that we are a public service: finally, when a subscriber reserves four seats, it is one person who takes four seats and not four people who take one seat. We want to reinforce the idea of sharing and discovery and attract even more new spectators. 


"Our challenge is to continue to make bold artistic proposals by finding ways to encourage the public to take risks. And it is in particular by equipping ourselves with a tool like Arenametrix to personalise our communications that we can achieve this.

AL: And if we come back to subscribers, have there been any reactions to this new pricing strategy among your very loyal audience?

The advantages of a subscription still exist with our 3 loyalty cards: Youth, Family and Opera. These membership cards give access to year-round discounts and offer the same advantages as a subscription, but with more flexibility and without a fixed number of shows. 

We now have two sales per season. You don't need to know the calendar inside out to avoid missing the opening date of each show! This changes our way of communicating to better promote each of our shows over time, because we no longer have the room funds we used to have thanks to subscriptions. We have been very supportive of former subscribers to ensure that this goes well and we have not had any negative feedback from them.

With the Rennes Opera, take advantage of the flexibility of the OPERA loyalty card, which replaces the traditional subscriptions, according to three formulas: Young, Family, Opera:

AL: The Rennes Opera and Arenametrix have been working together for a year and a half, can you tell me why you wanted to carry out a CRM project with your teams?

There are several issues. We are equipped with a ticketing tool (Rodrigue) which is an excellent transactional tool but which is not designed natively to be a relationship tool. We therefore had a powerful tool for selling tickets but we needed a complementary tool for communicating with the public and analysing our sales, as well as the impact of our communications on ticket sales.

Furthermore, we needed a tool that was accessible in SaaS (Arenametrix is a full web solution, accessible from a simple internet browser) so that we could quickly and easily find out our filling rate and sales data, including for people in the team who do not have access to Rodrigue.

We also had a big challenge on the files to create a common directory accessible to all. The advantage of Arenametrix is that it makes all the statistics useful for managing a cultural venue readable, even for people who are not ticketing specialists. In the blink of an eye, together in a meeting, we can consult the status of a show, the latest sales, the latest communications sent etc... 

Finally, the fact that Arenametrix includes a solution for sending communications (Arenametrix integrates an emailing, sms and marketing automation tool) means that we no longer have to carry out complex exports from the ticketing system to import them into a third-party emailing tool.

Equipping ourselves with Arenametrix was really essential on several issues: steering, knowledge of spectators, sending targeted and evaluated communications and sharing information across the whole team.

AL: Thank you very much Matthieu for this feedback. Any last words to recommend a show at the Opera this season?

It is difficult! I would say The Rake's Progressan opera by Stravinsky that we are presenting in March, which is a marvellous opera, a Mozartian writing but completely anchored in the 20e and 21e century. It's a real gem. Written in Hollywood during the heyday of the musical. It is an exciting synthesis of different genres.

Would you like to know more about the stages and results of the collaboration between Arenametrix and the Rennes Opera?

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