As we forge ahead in our second full season and watch the operatic climate change in Baltimore before our very eyes (see previous post about opera in Baltimore) it is as important as ever for us at the BCO to be not only aware of our surroundings and how we fit in, but to remain true to our artistic vision or mission. This has been refined over the past two years, but the core principals have not changed. Our mission is to build an audience for opera. Yes, of course, we want to sell all of our tickets, all of the time. Yes, we want to obtain funding to continue doing what we do. Yes, we want the support of our patrons and the public at large…and we are willing to fight for it, because we believe in what we do. It’s as important now as it has ever been, to remain true to what we are, and to not attempt to be something that we are not!
Some may wish for more acting, costumes, less time behind music stands, etc. Our answer to that will have to always be…there’s a company for that! Once you’ve enjoyed an opera in the intimacy of the ballroom at then Engineers Club, we encourage you to check out all of the other operatic offerings that Baltimore has to offer! Our approach is one “take” on how to get people hooked on opera. We focus on what we think is the one essential element, the human voice. We’ve been told by more than a few patrons that the format is so compelling, you almost don’t notice the missing elements.
We are not a grand opera company, a chamber opera company, a cabaret company. What then, are we? We are a vocabulary builder. For the person who has never been to the opera before, we are a safe, comfortable, relaxed place for them to become familiar with operatic vocabulary. What do I mean by that?
Previous generations grew up with at least some exposure to this art form (think Ed Sullivan show). Today, Joe Q. Public is bound to tell you that Paul Potts or Jackie Evancho are their favorite opera singers. This is because, for whatever reason, they lack frame of reference. This is not meant as an elitist statement, but it is really difficult to appreciate something that you don’t understand. For a hilarious commentary about this scenario, please watch Marcy Richardson’s short video on YOUTUBE. I love opera because I speak the language. I understand the musical vocabulary. I can appreciate Strauss’ Salome or Shostokovich’s Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, not because I am brighter than the average person (believe me, I’m not!)…but because I have the vocabulary.
In a previous blog post I wrote about how becoming an opera fan takes an ivestment of time and energy. This is because the general public does not hear this music in their daily lives. Whether it is conscious or not, we do grow up with a musical vocabulary. We hear rock and roll on the radio, on TV, in elevators. Regardless of whether or not we can analyze this music, identify and verbalize a standard I-IV-V rock and roll chord progression, we all KNOW it. It is in our subconscious comfort zone…it’s almost part of our DNA. That’s why popular music is popular, in my humble opinion….it’s easy.
What we offer at the BCO is a place to build your operatic vocabulary. If you’ve seen Tosca one hundred times, we’re pretty confident that you’ll learn something new in our intimate setting. If you’ve never seen it before, you will have an opportunity to be exposed to real people, in an up-close and personal setting, serving up this score to you on a silver platter. You won’t have the benefit (or the distraction, some might say) of the sets, costumes, lights…you’ll get to focus on the glorious music, and the sheer beauty and power of the human voice. This is how we believe we can help grow an audience for opera in Baltimore, and beyond. Vocabulary building.
It is a wildly exciting time to be working towards our mission, and to be seeing the results. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being approached by someone after one of our performances who has never been to the opera, only to have them tell you that they cannot wait for the next one. See, they are building their operatic vocabulary. Hopefully we can help them continue their exposure to the wonderful world of opera, and they’ll be less threatened by the idea of attending grand opera in the larger theater…that person is building their operatic vocabulary, we’re building an audience for the future.