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Digital Culture Award Winner case study: Opera North

Marie Lemaire is the Education Digital Manager at Opera North. She supports the education team to deliver the digital aspects of their extensive year-round programme of activities and acts as an important bridge between the Opera North Communication, Marketing and Education teams. Join Marie as she tells Opera North’s winning story.

Opera North is a national opera company based in Leeds. An established arts organisation rooted in the North of England, we have an international in outlook and create extraordinary experiences, every day.

Screenshot of a zoom session with multiple people taking part in Opera North's 'Couch to Chorus'

Bass singers enjoy a session of From Couch to Chorus with Opera North

Your winning project

From Couch to Chorus is a series of online workshops where participants learn to sing opera choruses and the best singing tips and tricks from the comfort of their own homes. The fourth editions took place in March 2022 and was open to singers of all ages and abilities. Each edition culminated in a live-streamed interactive concert featuring the Chorus of Opera North. The latest edition followed a more hybrid event structure with some live audience taking part, as well as a side-by-side in-person rehearsal with the Chorus of Opera North.

What did you want to achieve?

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Opera North’s immediate priorities were: to stay connected to audiences, supporters, and participants, to keep making music, and to focus in on how to replace lost income. From Couch to Chorus provided the perfect platform to reach these goals. It was a unique virtual choir, consisting of a five-week series of online workshops where participants learned to sing opera choruses via Zoom. The income generation strategy of this digital project delivered significant income to the organisation at a time when the company was unable to achieve regular, reliable means of ticket income.

What happened?

During the initial project development and set up, we had many discussions around pricing: should it be free, or would that undervalue the offer? Should we have a price tag, or does that make it less accessible? In order to reach as many people as possible and to not exclude anybody and using the opportunity to experiment with this model and learn from this experience, we decided to adopt pay-as-you-feel digital fundraising as part of our From Couch to Chorus programme.

What have you learned?

In order to learn and continuously improve, part of this income generation strategy was to use our website to split test options such as amounts and terminology and learn about what approaches had the best outcomes. We learned participants preferred the words ‘support’ or ‘pay-as-you-feel’ rather than ‘donate’. We tested suggested donation amounts, monitored use of the free input donations field and adjusted our donations page accordingly. We learned emails generated the highest income and so adapting the timings and content of these accordingly had a significant impact on revenue.

What was the impact?

Across three editions over £100,000 was raised in donations with contributions from over 4,000 participants. This helped to supplement some of the missing ticket income during the pandemic. Furthermore, the audience development and retention, the sense of community and the impact people said it had on their health and wellbeing make From Couch to Chorus a flagship project for the company. It has allowed for a shift in perceptions toward digital projects and had a huge impact on long-term planning. Digital is now firmly at the core of Opera North annual offering in terms of both participatory and performance activity.

Learn more about Opera North

Read about the latest From Couch to Chorus programme and other ways to participate with Opera North

Visit our website:

Twitter: @Opera_North

Facebook: @OperaNorth

Instagram: @operanorth

YouTube: Opera North

Further support

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up for our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

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