As I mentioned in a previous post, my fall initially wasn't as busy as I would have liked. It turns out that it was a great thing for me. 2016 prior to the end of August was the busiest I've ever been since graduating with my master's, which was wonderful, but it was 8 months of little free time and opportunities to wind down from the constant work. After taking a few weeks to relax and regroup, I found myself with some opportunities to explore other parts of my art that I haven't had time to in the past, and one that might lead me to figure out if it is where I will be the most impactful in this business.
Before going into the opportunity, allow me to get on my soapbox about arguably the thing that I am most passionate about in regards to the state of opera. Due to having a vested interest in the continuation of opera, of course I want it to not only survive, but start to truly thrive in the United States. I understand the power of opera and how it can be transformative in a way that other performing arts fail to come close to. In my head I think, "what kind of person wouldn't like this? I mean, c'mon? It's amazing!!!!" At the same time, I understand why the average person wouldn't give it a chance, due to misconceptions that are perpetuated by media and other entertainment industries, and it is on us as performers to "operavangelize" to as many people as we can to it. It is on us, not the public, to adapt to the audience that surrounds us.
Often those who are unfamiliar or who think they hate opera have many excuses as to why they won't give it a shot. For my money, the most common excuses are the following - cost, language barrier, dress code, and perceived social status. Let's tackle each of these and bring some perspective and information to our future opera friends.
Cost - "But opera tickets are so expensive!" I won't lie, I think they are too at times. Though I don't want to hear that excuse from people who won't go to an opera yet will drop hundreds, possibly over a thousand dollars on a professional sporting event or Beyoncé tickets. While I don't know all the ins and outs of trying to make a profit at large opera companies, I do know that if we want to grow our audiences and get some buzz about our work, making the experience more affordable wouldn't hurt. If butts are in the seats, they are likely going to talk about it. Wouldn't it be amazing if we had most of our performances sold out or near capacity? Isn't that more profitable in the long run than selling all the cheap seats and hoping the expensive ones make the difference?
Language Barrier - Opera started as an Italian art form and now is done in a myriad of languages. Most companies are not interested in the time and energy it takes to translate all the operas they perform into English if one isn't already available and actually is good. From a singer's perspective, some translations are terrible and doesn't flow or have the same impact as it does in the original language. That said, every opera company worth the money to go to will have surtitles in English so you can follow along. Hopefully the acting and singing will give you enough information to not have to be constantly reading the surtitles, but if not they are there.
Dress code - To my knowledge, in the United States there is no official dress code for an opera. I've gone in jeans and a shirt, as well as dressed up. If you've paid for a ticket they really can't turn you away unless you're going au natural. Others may be super dressed up, but that's their choice, not a requirement.
Social Status - It's often thought that opera is for rich, white people. NOT. TRUE. First of all, opera was originally written for the average person. Second, our art form is becoming more and more ethnically diverse every day, which is a wonderful thing. In fact, one of the first famous black opera singers Marian Anderson will be on the $5 bill in the future. Plus the stories we tell are relatable to all people, regardless of race, social status, gender, religion, and any other category you want to put in there. We expose life in all its shades, the good, bad, ugly, disturbing, and redemptive.
Steps off Soapbox
I know you're thinking, "ok Mike, where are you going with this?"
One of my passions is creating new audiences. This is why I do recitals and why I have a rule that at least 50% of the rep has to be in English. Groupmuse has allowed me to do this in an impactful way, which is why I'm excited to announce I will be launching Operamuse, a series which takes the best operas in the repertoire and makes them more accessible to the average person in the hope that they will give it a shot. We will take full operas and condense them to under an hour and put them into modern English. You'll get the basic story line of the opera, the musical highlights, and experience it in an inexpensive way. This format breaks down all the issues I previously mentioned, plus it's much shorter than going to the real thing (which is another excuse thrown out there. If a person after a performance like this still doesn't like opera, then it is clearly not for them. We can't win them all, but we can do a lot better if we meet them where they are.
My first show will be Mozart's iconic Marriage of Figaro to be debuted in Seattle before Valentine's Day (date TBA). I just finished the first draft of the libretto today, basically have the team set, and am looking forward to bringing possibly my favorite opera to life. This is what I've been doing with my extra time and it's been fun doing a project from this side of it instead of the performing side.
Stay tuned for more details!