Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's the future of opera?

While I am not a "music person", being married to a composer means I know a lot of people who are passionate about music and involved in it professionally. This last weekend I found myself at a dinner party hosted by a librettist and an photographic artist, and attended by two composers, a retired opera director, and an architectural writer (I was the only one there not in "the arts"). It was a great evening and there was lots of wonderful discussion around art and the nature of being an artist (my favorite quote of the evening: "It's an art trench not a war trench"). But the conversation naturally made it's way to opera and the future of this particular art form. 

Do you enjoy opera? Have you ever seen one? We were lucky enough to have a connection at the LA Opera and through them we were able to score some tickets to two wonderful operas. I loved them but understand why they aren't everyone's thing. For me, the music was beautiful, the costumes and set design stunning, and the skill of the performers mesmerizing. But they do tend to be long, and the stories aren't very modern, and tickets tend to be very expensive. The cost is one of the big problems in opera at the moment. It costs a lot to put on an opera so the tickets to see an opera are expensive. But, this restricts the viewership and makes opera something only for the elite. In this way opera's business model is not sustainable and therefore opera is in a crisis.

But there is hope. The Metropolitan Opera has tried to make their performances more accessible by doing HD broadcasts into movie theaters. And D and I went to the incredible "Invisible Cities" performance here in LA. It was amazing. It was an opera, but performed at our train station while it was open and in use. And the whole performance was mobile: the singers were placed throughout the station, often in modern garb so they blended in until they started performing, and viewers wore headsets that allowed them to walk through the station and come upon various scenes being played out. It was self directed and it that way was very immersive. And juxtaposing the music against the happenings of a major train station at 8pm on a Friday night was unique. It has forever changed the way I look at Union Station.

Invisible Cities was a new and modern take on opera. The cost to put on the performance was less than if they had done it in the opera house, the ticket cost was affordable, and it was interesting to all sorts of people (those new to opera and hard-core opera fans). If opera can continue to move in this direction I think it will have a chance.

Image of Invisible Cities performance via.

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