New scoop for opera with Bruster's sign


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Product placement -- the inserting of brand-name products such as sodas or cars in scenes -- is commonplace in the TV and film industries.

Could the more high-minded opera be next?

For at least one local production, yes.

In the Pittsburgh Opera's performances of "The Elixir of Love," which opened over the weekend, an ice cream truck bearing the Bruster's Ice Cream logo appears on the stage.

Pittsburgh Opera's general director Mark Weinstein explains that the use of the Bruster's sign was done in the spirit of localizing the production to reflect America around 1910, even though the company didn't exist back then.

"Because this was an Americana production, why not come up with a local ice cream company?" he said. "Plus, it is a tongue-in-cheek kind of show, and we felt it was appropriate and added to the fun. We reached out to Bruster's ... and they loved the idea. We didn't charge them money but did a cross-promotion in which we had total creative control."

It stands as one of the first times an American operatic production has used a company logo as a prop and been remunerated for it (in-kind services rather than money). Bridgewater-based Bruster's agreed to send e-mails with a special $20 ticket promotion to its Western Pennsylvania customers and provide free ice cream to patrons at Sunday's matinee at the Benedum Center. Programs also carried coupons for Bruster's ice cream.

In all of its years, the Metropolitan Opera has never used product placement. And a spokesman at Opera America, which represents opera companies across the country, said that he and others could not recall an instance of product placement.

The innovation can be seen as brilliant or as problematic, depending on the viewpoint.

While product placement is becoming increasingly apparent in movies and TV, he has not seen it in the nonprofit sector, said David Koehler, a clinical marketing professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "In the future, maybe it could be something that assists finances."

Could this become a slippery slope? Might we someday see Tosca stab Scarpia with a knife from Chicago Cutlery? Not likely.

For one, the production would have to be an updated one since most operas refer to times before most popular brands even existed.

Moreover, Koehler doesn't think that if product placement does catch on in opera, it will ever reach the level it has in film and TV.

"I think opera is a different bird," he said. "Those people are more purists and are part of a craft. They won't sell their souls short for Coke. They are involved in the love of it."

"If you see the Pittsburgh opera advertising cigarettes in 'Carmen,' then it would not be appropriate," Weinstein said.

"Elixir" will repeat at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday.


Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. He blogs at www.post-gazette.com/music/classicalmusings .


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