Opera is work to present, and sometimes requires effort to enjoy…but the payoff is well worth the investment.
I often like to draw people’s attention to the fact that the very word Opera, comes from the latin word meaning work.
I’ve discussed several times on this blog, the amount of work that goes into a successful operatic presentation. From the amount of work that the singers and orchestral musicians must invest in order to prepare, to the many man-hours spent building and painting sets, designing and sewing costumes, marketing, fundraising, the list goes on. I’ve often felt as someone who promotes opera, that we need to open up the doors a little, and invite the public to see the amount of work that goes into bringing this art-form to life. Opera is the intersection of so many different arts, many of which happen long before the singers even board a plane. Why are so many people anxious to invest time and effort into an inherently flawed business model? (opera ticket sales rarely cover even half of the cost). Because the payoff is worth the effort.
This morning, as my wife and I were enjoying our morning coffee, we turned on the TODAY SHOW. The summer concert series was presenting Christina Aguilera. As I sat and watched, I was impressed with her skills as a performer. She is obviously very polished, her performance was energetic, and yes…I even enjoyed her singing. I wasn’t paying terribly close attention, as my wife and coffee were my focus. I did find myself tapping my foot, and it was a pleasant back-drop on a beautiful spring morning. I remarked to my wife as I looked at the sea of people crammed into the plaza, how nice it would be if people were this interested in opera. Her response stopped me in my tracks. “People don’t want to invest that kind of time.”
I spend so much time focusing on the amount of work that it takes to present opera, I have never given myself the chance to think about how much effort it takes in order to enjoy it to the fullest. Why do people gravitate to pop music? No insult Christina, as I mentioned above, I quite enjoyed your performance…but I fear that people gravitate to what is easy. As I mentioned, this performance was background in my morning. I tapped my feet, I felt good. Really….and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I don’t mean to say that your performance didn’t take a great deal of effort, that you haven’t spent hours honing your craft…you obviously have. What I mean is this:
- The inherent musical language of pop music is simple, and accessible. This is not a bad thing, it just “is what it is.” I don’t mean to sound elitist, but my musical vocabulary is more advanced than the average guy, as I’ve devoted my life to studying it. The average person responds to the simple chord progressions, because they “grew up on it.” The musical language is unknowingly programmed into the human psyche, and becomes part of who we are. The average civilian may not be able to pick up a guitar and play a simple I-IV-V progression, but they KNOW what it is, and they are comfortable. Again, I don’t mean to say that this music is without value…quite the opposite. I love that people respond to it…dance…feel good.
Opera is simply not as accessible, and takes an investment of time and energy in order to enjoy.
I’m always careful when sending someone to the opera for the first time, to select a piece that is going to be accessible, and that will make them want to find out more. Again, I do not mean to be condescending, but let’s face it…if we send someone without a frame of reference to Salome, we might have just missed an opportunity to make a fan. Opera, in order to be truly enjoyed, takes some level of study. The human brain can become familiar with a different musical vocabulary, even without the ability to analyze or describe it. Just as Christina’s fans respond to the simple pop progressions, budding opera fans will be able to differentiate Mozart from Puccini. After hearing a good bit of Verdi, their ears may be more open to the idea of Wagner…Strauss, etc.
In summation, if you are not yet an opera fan….give it another look. Give it three looks. Take a look at the people that are working to bring this expensive and difficult art-form to life. Ask yourself why? Find out more. I’m not proposing that you wipe your I-pod playlist clear of Christina Aguilera, I’m suggesting that you make a little room for Giuseppe Taddei (RIP). I promise that many of you, if you are willing to invest a little bit of time, will find untold musical riches in the world of opera.
What do you think prevents people from becoming opera fans?
Do you think that the art-form should just be allowed to die?
Any ideas regarding how we can reach a new audience?
Be part of the dialogue…