Q & A: Met Opera Guild Podcast Co-Host Stuart Holt On Engaging New Audiences & Future Plans

By David Salazar

Over the last two years the Metropolitan Opera Guild has attempted something that few, if any, other companies have given a look at – podcasts.

The increasingly popular form of media has seen tremendous growth over the last few years, becoming the go-to source for information and entertainment for busy morning commuters. Unlike videos or other forms of media, podcasts can be taken anywhere and can be enjoyed whether you are on a train, or driving in bumper to bumper traffic.

The Metropolitan Opera Guild’s incursion into the medium started off with mere previews of upcoming productions but has evolved into full-fledged studies and lectures on the artform and its many participants. Launching its third season just a few weeks ago, the series has reached over 350,000 individual listeners and is closing in on its 100th episode.

OperaWire recently had an opportunity to speak with the podcast’s co-host Stuart Holt, who is also Director of School Programs and Community Engagement with the Guild. The conversation centered on the podcast series’ evolution, its past, and its future.

OperaWire: What are the challenges of putting together this podcast series?

Stuart Holt: The largest challenge is probably the editing and building of each episode.  As most of the content is coming from live lectures/programs, we have to go back and add the musical clips or audio from video clips into each episode.  This requires that we chat with each lecturer about their clips in advance as we will have to pull/cut those clips to place them into the episode.

OW: How do you select topics for each episode?

SH: We begin by looking at the Met Opera Season, both onstage and the Live in HD Broadcasts.  Each season we plan to offer at least one episode on the new productions in the season and an episode for each of the Saturday Live in HD Screenings.  As each episode releases on a Wednesday, it times perfectly for audiences around the world to get some additional insights about the HD Screenings.  The rest of the season is built around several episodes. We look to highlight revivals that audiences might not be as familiar with – this season those include pieces like “Thais” and “Semiramide.” We also look at other Metropolitan Opera Guild programming during the season and see what might be a great learning experience for our audience.  This season that includes exploring composers whose Last Works are appearing on the Met Stage.

OW: What are some ways that you are looking to evolve the podcast series for the future?

SH: We continue to look at our Guild programming and see if there is a way to share that with our listening audience.  We have such rich and exciting content that we present in New York, but we know that there are Met Opera Guild Members and listening audiences around the world that are eager to experience this programming.

We also continue to have discussions with the Opera House about ways that we can partner on episodes. That began with offering episodes that kick off the season, exploring the opening night production and then a season announcement episode that dives deeper into the casts of the productions and gets audiences excited to subscribe and attend the opera. This season we will also present an episode that explores the Verdi “Requiem” and the MET Saturday Radio Broadcasts, so it is an on-going discussion about partnership.

OW: Looking back, what are some of your favorite episodes and why?

SH: One of my favorite episodes was the interview we did with members of the Met Opera Orchestra.  They were so excited to be in the studio with us and share their journey to the Met and also what their lives are like, being a part of one of the top orchestras in the world. Their honesty, humor, and stories gave all of us a different lens to view the orchestra. They have also become great friends and colleagues of the Guild and our programs.

My other favorite has been our recent voice type series.  My co-host Naomi Barrettara curated and presented this series and it was great to see the response of listeners on social media. College voice teachers were encouraging students to listen to the episodes as a way to explore and hear different singers within their voice category. Naomi worked to not just include the standard singers we explore in a given voice category, but also singers who might be new on the scene or that we don’t always explore.

OW: Speaking of audience reaction, what has it been like? 

OW: The audience reaction has been really wonderful.  The entire creation of our podcast came from Guild Members who were asking for the opportunity to experience some of the rich programming we offer here in New York.  We were already recording our lectures, so why not explore the idea of curating them further and putting them out to a larger audience.

Many people tell us they are part of their daily commute, others use them to face their relatively stressful workday by beginning with a walk+opera. Others just love the chance to learn more about an opera they don’t know much about, such as last year’s “Guillaume Tell.”

OW: Overall, what is your target audience for these podcasts and how have you been looking to engage them?

SH: When we first started two years ago, the target audience were audiences not based in New York city who wanted to learn about productions they were coming to see either in person or at their local movie theatre. Then we started hearing from local residents who said that they were subscribing to the podcast to enhance their learning opportunities.  So we have tried to expand the reach through social media, giving a plug on multiple episodes about our various avenues that audiences can further engage with the Guild. We also announce each episode on social media, providing a conduit for audiences to share feedback and thoughts about the episodes.  We have also started a bi-weekly newsletter that always highlights the week’s episode and other Guild programming.

OW: Have you considered audience participation on some of these podcasts?

SH: We have been talking about this and as we will be celebrating our 100th episode at the end of this season, we hope to include some audience participation as part of that celebration.

OW: How is the podcast a great tool for engaging and growing opera audiences? Why this particular tool and not something like a video series (though I understand that cost might be a consideration here)?

SH: What we love about the podcast as an audience engagement tool, is that you can listen to it anywhere!  You can take your learning with you and also share it with others.  The word of mouth of, “so I was listening to the Met Opera Guild Podcast…” is great!  We also have a whole library of episodes that you can scan through to brush up on an opera you may be seeing at the Met or your local opera company. We also hope that hearing about an opera will peak your interest and that you will join us in the opera house or at the movie theatre. It also is a great chance for audiences to engage with the Metropolitan Opera Guild and perhaps attend a live program.

We thought about a video series, but that is a high cost and the additional technology is something we don’t have at this time.  Our friends at Opera News do offer a great video series entitled “Take Five,” so we felt that podcasting would allow us to harness existing programming for a larger audience. We are currently looking at possible online learning opportunities in the next several years, so stay tuned!


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