Notes for a Brief History of Operabase at 21

prologue

"I fell in love with the Internet on Tuesday, 8th October 1996.  I had been running a website in my spare time for about a year, publishing opera house schedules, but that afternoon I received an email from The Times of London in reply to my request for permission to reproduce their performance reviews.  In the light of my request, and because my site was complementary to theirs, they had decided to change their copyright rules to allow me to access the articles for no charge."

"Thank you for your interest in The Times and its opera coverage.  I am sorry to have taken so long to respond, but several departments have been interested in your project, and your request has been the catalyst in opening up new ways to deal with copyright permission." Mike Murphy, Internet Editor of The Times newspaper.

What other circumstances would allow an individual to deal with a major corporation almost as an equal, and without ever meeting? (IAMA newsletter, issue 14, July 2000)

history

 1996  : Operabase did not exist, so it was necessary to invent it.

I was a professional programmer with love of opera, working as a consultant in the City of London financial sector.  The Operabase site was initially created to answer my own needs -- to find accurate information on performances sufficiently in advance to be able to book tickets.

Certain site principles have been present from the very start:

 1997  : Eyre Review.  Statistics submission to Richard Eyre review of Future of Lyric Theatre in London ("does a city of 13 million need more than one opera company?").  Response included Operabase's first statistical analysis of opera provision comparing numbers of seats+performances vs city populations globally, revealing huge national and city differences.  Executive summary of the Operabase submissions: London needs more opera!

 1998 July  : EON Bordeaux.  The European Opera Network was the association of the European members of Opera America, and thus one of the fore-runners of the Opera Europa professional association.  The 1998 meeting hosted by the Opéra de Bordeaux was significant in the development of Operabase.  On the first day, it was the first chance to meet opera house directors face-to-face, and hear warm words about Operabase's work from them; on the second day, France won the FIFA World Cup; on the third, we enjoyed a private dinner chez Baroness Rothschild.  Opera really was more fun than banking.  It was only a matter of time before I quit my job.

 1998 September  : Operabase buys its first laptop (a Thinkpad 600 Pentium II 266MHz, a bargain for such power at £3050), and paints the company logo on it.  [  jpg ]

 2000  : Operabase user survey.  A questionnaire on the front page of the site attracts 500 responses from all over the world.  Users were asked in which countries they had seen opera in the previous 12 months; how much opera, classical music, and theatre they attended.  The site's users were dedicated opera lovers (38% averaged an opera every two weeks, and 90% saw at least 6 operas a year) and mobile (60% had travelled abroad to see opera).

The website began to attract serious media attention.  In the reviews, the same words come up time and time again: precision, flexible, complete ... and eccentric.

 2000 May  : Le Monde: In a special broadsheet supplement, Le meilleur du net, Le Monde selects Operabase as the best music site on the internet.  "Avant que le Britannique ne crée cet outil inédit et formidable qu'est Operabase.com, rien d'exhaustif et de centralisé n'existait vraiment, ... En tout cas rien d'exhaustif, de régulièrement remis à jour - donc rien de fiable, attendu que le monde du lyrique est sujet à annulations et remplacements de dernière minute.  En quelques années, Mike Gibb est parvenu à construire un outil d'une précision étonnante et, avant toute autre qualité, d'une flexibilité que seul le fonctionnement d'Internet permet." [  html ]

 2000 June  : IAMA newsletter n.14: Invited by IAMA to write a full page on artist managers and the internet for their newsletter.  "What resources currently exist that are of interest to artist managers?" [  pdf ]

 2001 March  : Le Point: combien de mains?  Deux seulement.  Serviteur dévoué de l'opéra, Mike attend toutefois toujours ses gages ... Le site, qu'il assure avoir financé seul, ne lui rapporte rien ... Devenir riche est en effet la seule solution pour atteindre le statut suprême: celui d'excentrique.  "En Angleterre, un original qui est pauvre n'est qu'un fou.  S'il est riche, il devient un excentrique", explique-t-il avec ironie.  Reste a savoir s'il saura faire fortune.  Il y a quelques jours, un chanteur, impressionné par le qualité de son travail, lui a envoyé un billet de 100 dollars.  "Je ne peux pas l'encaisser.  Il faut que je l'encadre".  [  jpg ]

 2001 July  : New York Times: use of maps.  "Created in 1996 and run by an English software engineer and opera lover named Mike Gibb, Operabase does all the collating: you can search for performances by country, city, opera, composer, performer, date -- or by clicking on a map.  Using another of Operabase's features, we searched for productions within seven days and 125 kilometers (78 miles) ... The site includes Web links and contact information for each theater"

 2001 October  : Daily Telegraph magazine, Christine Rice: "All you need to know about opera in a single site.  I don't know how they get all their information together but they seem to know more about my career than I do.  Easy to use, accessible to newcomers to opera and plenty to keep the enthusiasts happy -- even my agents use it" [  jpg ]

 2002 April  : Lübecker Nachrichten: An interview on the occasion of being in Lübeck for The Nose.  "Eigentlich richtet sich mein Angebot an mich selbst.  Ich selbst bin der ideale Nutzer von operabase.com".  "Die Welt braucht mehr Exzentriker" [  jpg ]

 2003 May  : The Guardian: "A fantastically complete database, with a pleasingly flexible search engine; One of the most engaging things about the site is its air of faint eccentricity, and the fact that it is put together by a thoroughgoing enthusiast".  I described myself as "designer, programmer, data-entry clerk and tea boy of Operabase" ... which caused several Americans to ask what a 'tea boy' was. (It's someone who makes the tea)

 2004 January  : After 8 years, Operabase gets close to earning amounts of money for the first time, and gains its first employee (albeit part-time and initially unpaid).  To this point, apart from the income from opera magazines paying for listings info, the site had financed by my own money and by my opera-loving partner, Carol.  Muriel starts as "the human face of Operabase for it is she who is in direct contact with singers, artists' managers and opera houses" (opnow).

 2004 April  : OE/IAMA/AEAA joint conference in Genova : Operabase presents the casting tool to the joint conference, which leads to a lot of useful discussions with a wide range of participants.  Allowing artists to specify a limited number of their desired future roles for inclusion in the casting tool came from one of these.

 2004 May  : Launch of Operabase Professional.  The company starts to make real money for the first time on a €750 per year subscription for opera companies.  [International Arts Manager  jpg ].

 2004 May  : Artists Managers' rosters are listed for the first time, and they are quickly adopted by players from across the industry.  Scott Cooper at Atholl Still reports that Operabase becomes their largest source of incoming traffic, overtaking Google, after just 5 days from the launch.  The relative importance of a trusted directory over a search tool is explicitly confirmed

 2006 September  : Opera Now profile: "Mike saw the potential of the site to offer opera managers an incredibly powerful casting tool if he could cross reference the performance information with the singers database.  To a high-flying computer programmer, this was a fairly straightforward concept, but it also made him realise that he might be able to combine his passion for opera with his professional skills and make a living out of it, even if it did take him seven years to get to that point" [  html ]

 Continued  : "Operabase has taken on the Herculean task of making [the site] available to every European Union citizen in their own language - not only the 21 (as at January 2007) official languages of the EU, but Catalan, Icelandic and Norwegian as well."

"This is a powerful statement of our belief that culture concerns everyone, and that information about opera performance should be available to everyone in their own language.  In an environment where opera is increasingly in competition with other art forms for audience, we can help tip the balance in favour of opera by making comprehensive information easily and freely available." Mike Gibb
(An enormous thank you is due to all of the opera companies and festivals that volunteered to make the translations free-of-charge, so that the site became available in 27 languages)

 2007 October  : Daily Telegraph.  The vast majority (96%) of the site's users are members of the public looking for performances to attend, but the professional tools are doing vital work behind-the-scenes, usually unsung.  The Telegraph provided a rare insight:  "The show must go on - but how? When the star of the Royal Opera House's 'Ring' cycle fell ill the day before the show, everything seemed lost.  Adam Sweeting tells the story of a frantic 24 hours."  [  external html ]

 2009  : Portfolio published

 2011 March  : Stats presented at the third European Opera Forum, organised by Opera Europa in London in March 2011.

 2012  : Armand starts work on the site, initially part-time