For reasons I’m not going to go in to, I read a lot of press about opera. What with one article and another, I have learned that there is a lot opera being performed in the United States and that the concert halls that are home to opera companies are generally struggling for money. There seems to be a lot of soul-searching on this topic, but I keep thinking, “Who goes to the opera anyway?”
This is not an idle question. I know exactly two people who are opera buffs. When I asked a friend if he’d consider going to the opera, he took my question pretty seriously. “Maybe when I’m older,” he finally said. “Fifty.”
Therein lies the crux, I believe, of why opera in America is struggling. It simply doesn’t appeal to mass audiences, and the infrastructure required to maintain an operatic production is pretty resource-intensive. Personally, I’ve dabbled with the thought of attending an opera (Mozart’s The Magic Flute, because I have it in my mind that would be a good introduction), but then I consider the overhead.
Opera is not, as it’s been portrayed in the media, a jeans-and-whatever sort of event. If I have to dress up mid-week, I’m already in a bad mood. Close your eyes and imagine an opera-goer. I see pearls and long dresses and overdone hair and those funny little opera glasses. Don’t get me wrong — I would totally use them if I had the chance. Then you have several hours of the production. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get beyond the whole opera singing thing.
It is not music that appeals to me, and while I am probably exposing myself as an uneducated musical Philistine, I can take the pitying glances and sighs of exasperation. When I think opera, I think it’s too much effort. I don’t mind working hard to enjoy art, but if the learning curve is so steep, doesn’t that say something about the art form?
Opera used to be productions for the masses, or so I’ve been given to understand (yes, I am basing at least some of this knowledge on the movie Amadeus
The entertainment landscape is shifting constantly and chunks of old school concepts are breaking off and falling into the sea. Opera feels old fashioned and not like very much fun. Rather than hand-wringing and worrying about what’s holding opera back, maybe someone should ask why opera isn’t reaching a wider audience.
Of course, the answers may not be pretty. You have to be prepared for that.