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In With the New

Opera Memphis'new director sings priases of social media, laughter.


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Ned Canty, the Philadelphia-based opera director who was recently hired to replace Michael Ching as the general director of Opera Memphis, is learning some interesting life lessons.

"Packing makes you realize you use 1 percent of your stuff 99 percent of the time. The rest is for contingency planning," he recently tweeted, considering the practicality of things like waffle makers and Star Wars ties as he packed for his move to Memphis.

Canty is a prolific tweeter who shares everything from his love of sauerbraten and bock beer to his feelings about The Wire. As the director for the New York Television Festival, Canty has shown a particular affinity for web TV and social media. He thinks he can use these mediums to grow interest in local opera.

An inventive director who specializes in comedies, Canty says growing his audience is his biggest priority. He's considering planning opera flash mobs and pondering how viral videos in the style of the Fine Brothers (the team responsible for re-creating webisode parodies of TV's Lost using action figures) can be adapted to make people interested in opera.

"My personal goal for 2011 is to bring 10 new people to the opera who have never been before," Canty says. "That's easy for me. I have an opera company and can give away tickets."

Canty, who has directed for various organizations, including New York's Glimmerglass Opera, understands that opera can be a hard sell for modern audiences. He was 26 when he saw his first opera, Puccini's La Boheme. He slept through it.

"There were all of these rules," he says of that production. But his views about opera were about to change. While working as an assistant at Glimmerglass, he encountered something unexpected: laughter.

"I've had critics complain about the laughter in my productions," Canty says. "They said they couldn't hear the music." That's criticism Opera Memphis' new general director can live with.

"You can expect to see one comedy every season," says Canty, who hopes that laughter will have the same effect on opera newbies as it did on him. "Some people want to draw a line between art and entertainment. I don't."

Canty wants to see Opera Memphis return to the practice of producing four shows per year, reserving the fourth show as an opportunity to introduce audiences to work they may be less familiar with.

"I have to think like a recommendation engine," Canty says, comparing his goals to the way Netflix suggests new films and TV shows based on a user's viewing habits. "I have to say, 'If you liked Carmen, you'll probably like Peter Brook's La Tragedie de Carmen."

A Midsummer Night's Dream, an a cappella opera composed by Opera Memphis' former director Michael Ching, opens at Playhouse on the Square on January 21st.

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