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When Innovation Holds in a Close Embrace Manufacturing and Opera Houses

Two half-truths do not make a truth, and two half-cultures do not make a culture.” – Arthur Koestler

Do manufacturing and culture live in two separate and irreconcilable worlds – the manufacturing in the world of things and the culture in the world of ideas? The first called upon to solve production problems and the second pontificating about chief systems as in the Galileo’s “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”? This is a common vision to those who identify the manufacturing with making and the culture with thinking: the manual labour of artisans and technicians as opposed to the intellectual work of professors and scientists. As a result, that fault line overlooks that the factory is a culture that can and should go hand in hand with the academies and research centres. Otherwise you will have two half-cultures that do not make a culture.

One need look in detail at the staging of an opera – a case only apparently extreme of a cultural embrace – to see how much that vision be a stereotype. A received idea at least nowadays when digital technologies work like a spider spinning its web of the Grand Unification between manufacturing and opera.

Set aside their respective knowledge maps, manufacturers and lyricists would be prepared to the Grand Unification between manufacturing and culture, which suggests interesting lines of approach for the future growth influenced by path creators. Of the culture, opera houses are a component whose intangible assets – imagination, relational, reputational and entrepreneurial capital – like particles are not visible to the naked eye. These are assets that remain when, after the performance, the theatre closes its doors.

The four assets have unique characteristics. They do not bear a label with the market price because they elude the traditional accounting. Their value is realized when intertwined in complex relationships, such as those that might be forged with manufacturing. The unification between manufacturing expertise and aesthetic needs of the opera would lead to lyric opera productions enhanced by the application of intensive digital technologies that connect people, processes, data, and things. Viewers could enrich their vision with augmented reality and communicate their emotions in real time.

There is already a software program, MySmark, created by an Italian, which releases an emotional mark. The customized portrait of the viewer is the footprint that would allow theatres to probe personality and subjectivity of consumers, assess their feelings, and understand their priorities. Offering emotional footprint measurement, theatres enters the world of intuition, beyond the border of what the viewer wants and go into the territory of its hidden needs to run along the grasslands of wilful ignorance.

For the design and physical production of the opera, the theatres could make use of 3D printers. These and other new manufacturing technologies would give experienced craftsmen, who create costumes, scenes and lights for operas, an opportunity to take their work further. Strong interactions with the manufacturing world would enlarge the audience of donors and investors in crowdfunding platforms. The eccentric profiles of “nerds”, who show a marked predisposition for science and technology, and “geeks”, who with passion and experience move along the lines of digital technologies, could complement the classic image of the opera connoisseur. The financing of many would give oxygen to the theatres and would shape an international community of opera lovers.

China, which has built on manufacturing its economic miracle, is in quest for the Grand Unification. A giant egg-shaped, the Grand National Grand Theatre of China Beijing is a sort of Easter egg that contains the surprise of the design of dozens of new theatres, a melting pot of western-style and traditional Chinese opera. By investing in multimedia technologies, the Chinese aim to fruition of their opera productions and performances.

The opera, therefore, is a non-elitist art form, with a very promising future. Current estimates by Bocconi, a private university in Milan, suggest that 1 euro invested in La Scala Opera House generates 2 euro in its supply chains and related industries. In the case of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, a survey by Deloitte shows that for each euro the Comunale receives in grants the community of Bologna gains benefits counted in around 10 euro, and each euro in the budget of the Comunale generates 1.43 euro of GDP in Italy, with significant spillovers on entrepreneurship and employment.

The long chain of activities required by the staging of an opera is full of opportunities to be exploited by innovative start-ups that combine technology with the intangible values unlocked by creative ignorance. That is why it would be necessary to promote and facilitate the role of the artist-entrepreneur and the technology-based artist who first explores the frontier that separates humans from machines and then creates interactions between entertainment and manufacturing. Going back to the past, Beethoven was an artist entrepreneur. In our lifetime, there are technology-artists like Heather Knight who works on theatrical robot performances. This is a task for music conservatories and music academies, which, as the conservatories in the United States already do, should launch entrepreneurship courses for their students. As shown by the French programme Dix mois d’école et d’Opera, the opera trace educational paths thanks to its connections with history, philosophy, literature, graphic arts, music, drama, and dance. Crossing cultural and national borders, opera houses multiply the economic impact of their performances. An obvious example: the Italian opera programmes could revamp the Grand Tour of Italy in the light of the most acclaimed Italian composers.

Italy is home to the opera. Without passion and commitment to the Grand Unification, the country would be condemned to climb down the ladder of the world rankings for the number of opera performances per capita. Today, sitting just on the twentieth step, opera houses in Italy live the paradox of poverty amid the abundance, and the doctors at the bedside of the assumed moribund do not recognize their intangible assets. Yet, the opera in Italy has the potential to become once more a benchmark and crossroads of creative talents. It should not be forgotten that each performance is a thread that unites the “opera cities”; and as the markets are conversation, manufacturing would benefit greatly from teasing out the threads of the Grand Unification. “I don’t understand why people are afraid of new ideas, I am afraid of the old ones”, said the composer John Cage. Were going to get rid of fear for novelties, opera houses might start to look for the Grand Unification.

Estratto da “Piero Formica, The Role of Creative Ignorance: Portraits of Path Finders and Path Creators“, Macmillan Palgrave, December 2014

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