In a Dallas arts community starved for good news, here’s some really great news: The Dallas Opera announced today that its TDO Network, a digital performance platform launched in March, has topped 9 million views on Facebook, making it one of the most popular opera company-run media channels in the world.
The Dallas Opera launched the TDO Network after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the opera to shutter rehearsals of Don Carlo. Like all arts organizations, the elimination of public gatherings has been devastating for the opera company’s operations, and it has been struggling to manage the administrative side of the business through furloughs and pay cuts.
But the opera company has also found a way to focus its creative efforts on producing new online content. The success of the media initiative not only offers bright news during dark times, but it presents an intriguing preview of how opera companies — and all classical music organizations — might continue to grow and expand their dwindling audiences in a post-pandemic world.
The TDO Network was the brainchild of David Lomeli, the opera’s director of artistic administration, who has proven to be the right guy in the right place at the right time. An accomplished tenor with a degree in computer science and his own impressive social media following to boot, Lomeli hatched an idea with Baritone Lucas Meachem, who was in town in March for Don Carlo rehearsals, to shoot the TDO Network’s first video recital on a cell phone and post it to Facebook and Instagram Live. “We promoted it online, shared it organically, and within two days we had 50,000 Facebook views,” Lomeli says in a release “That’s when I knew we were really on to something.”
Rather than simply continuing to post recorded performances, Lomeli imagined a more fleshed-out online “network,” featuring a variety of content formats hosted by a rotation of notable opera world personalities. The TDO Network has quickly grown into an innovative classical music platform, featuring everything form interviews with artists to vocal coaching lead by well-known singers, diva life and health tips to an archive of Dallas Opera performances.
“The goal,” Lomeli says, “was and is to present an array of constantly evolving programming that is balanced in gender, ethnicity, and opinion. We want to engage, inform, question, and entertain.”
If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can see the full slate of programs here. What makes the Dallas Opera’s initiative so engaging — and, likely, so popular — is that it boldly re-imagines how opera, its music, and its performers can engage thoughtfully and entertainingly across a variety of topics and contexts. Opera’s unique quality as an art form lies in the way it compresses many distinct forms of artistic expression into a single performance. The TDO Network is a bit like turning that compressed performance inside out and spreading the contents out on the internet. Lomeli says the network also takes cues on presentation from a variety of mediums we might not otherwise associate with the operatic tradition.
“We’re taking lessons from sports, video games, and major social media influencers from a variety of fields, and we’re applying it to the business of opera,” Lomeli says. “We are promoting strategically, and we’re constantly analyzing how individual shows are doing and “tweaking” as necessary.”
The TDO Network has not merely become one of the most popular company-run classical music platforms in the world, it is also a hit with the 18-34 demographic, typically a tough sell for classical music. What began as an impromptu response to the COVID-19 pandemic may end up providing a road map for classical musical organizations looking to grow younger audiences in the months and years ahead.
“And of course,” Derrer adds, “one of the tremendous advantages of using social media is that it gives us the opportunity to pivot-at-will and alter programming to address changing circumstances, needs, and community concerns. There’s no question that TDO Network will continue to evolve in the aftermath of the immediate COVID-19 crisis. What won’t change will be the network’s heavy reliance on compelling human stories.”
Three months after TDO Network’s launch, Lomeli says that several new shows are already in the planning stages, including some Spanish-language entries.
You can read the full release here.