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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why Opera Is Struggling PART THREE

The third of my three part blog on why I think opera is struggling in the 21st century.

INTRO Recap...
There's been lots of talk on social media sites and opera blogs about how opera is dying. I don't believe that it is, not yet. But...

We do know that our audiences are getting older and that their numbers will diminish unless new audiences replenish the traditional, older operatic fan base. We have signs that these new audiences are appearing - here and there - but nothing definitive and certainly not enough to stop opera companies from closing in the U.S. and in Canada (Gotham and Ottawa being the latest and biggest companies to shut their doors in 2015.)

I've thought about this, for a long while now, and I believe that opera is walking a path that will lead to its extinction, perhaps in some of our lifetimes. It's beyond a blog like this to reason it out, as this is a complicated issue and certainly not all the news is bad. (For instance, there's tons, TONS, of new opera being produced nowadays. Fantastic. Go Opera.)

However, we have some serious problems.  I've divided my ideas into a three part blog.

The three ideas I'm exploring…

PART ONE
1) Industrial Age dogmatic notions of audience control, fashion, elitism, and programming continuing to be used and professed in North America by both opera companies and academic institutions.

Click Here for the Link to Part One: 


Part One

PART TWO
2) Critical Editions, the Rise of the Early Music movement, and the Fall of the Opera Singer.

Click Here for the Link to Part Two:

Part Two

PART THREE
3) The Struggles of Marketing Opera in the 21st century; our operatic Product has changed.


Part Three
Building new audiences while keeping our old audiences is tricky; curing the common cold might be easier...

3) The Struggles of Marketing Opera in the 21st century; our operatic Product has changed:
Social Media will not sell our tickets. Tweets basically just hit other tweeters. Facebook events spread the word about opera performances only to a small number of already interested parties. I'm convinced social media is not going to sell opera in the way we need to make ticket sales be a major component of earned revenue.

It's time to market opera operatically.

Many of us remember the Age of Subscribers. That wondrous age of ticket patrons who lovingly and loyally opened up their mail boxes to find something incredible every season: a Brochure. In this historic document, one could find information about every opera happening that season, who the singers were, (even what they looked like!), info about the production team (not as important back in those days), what nights the operas were scheduled for, and ticket prices. Then they'd fill out the form in the brochure, enclose a check, and mail it back to the opera company. Even just ten years ago, an opera company like FGO based much of its projected budget on solid ticket sales made half a year, or more, in advance of the operas' opening nights. Imagine!

Nowadays that doesn't happen. It's all single ticket sales, many of them happening at the last minute. Opera companies can no longer count on firm earned revenue figures based on an August culling of subscription brochures bringing in millions of dollars of ticket sales. This is a problem because if you are counting on earned income and your ticket buyers purchase at the last minute, then many factors (snow storms, bad reviews, other community events) can work towards taking away an audience's money.

Many things contributed to the fall of the subscriber during the last ten to fifteen years. The recession, the internet, even the tragedy of 9/11 (many of us remember that year and the following summer as the moment when many financially solid opera companies and festivals went from selling close to 100% of their seats to having major struggles filling seats). While I have no solid evidence to support this, it seems as if the turn of the century, 9/11, the rise of the HD theatre Met broadcasts, Netflix binge watching, as well as economic crises like our latest recession all conspired to change many local operatic markets into new and difficult-to-navigate landscapes.

I believe that one of the biggest problems facing opera today is that today's opera companies have few new ideas about how to market their product, let alone compete against touring celtic violinists or canned tenor hunks. Even the Met is having problems selling tickets to their live performances.

Yet tickets are being sold all over North America for opera in the movie houses! The Met has become a cinematic opera company, bringing in millions of dollars in ticket sales by showing their operas in movie theatres from Fargo to Ft. Worth. This in turn has changed the way audiences go to the opera and enjoy the Met: in jeans, drinking big gulps of Mountain Dew while chomping on Milk Duds and Nachos. Many of the posh movie theatres have waitresses, fabulous wine lists, and you can order your steak with a buttered popcorn and a local craft beer on draft.

Who wouldn't want to attend opera that way? Plus it is LOUDER and it is UP CLOSE. Many of the high definition cameras are located in the Met's orchestra pit rail and can look up into a singer's nasal cavities, nay even into their mouths to see their dental cavities. The huge dolby speaker systems in place in our movie theatres are put to use and the singers' voices and the orchestra are mixed in order to accommodate these systems. It's shocking to hear a voice in the cinema that you've heard live (i.e.  acoustically.) Singers can sometimes sound not at all like themselves. Obviously bigger and louder, but also much more balanced in overtones, sometimes much less brittle and thin. Everyone sounds round and robust. Rock-n-Roll baby!

But I believe that the Met HD theatrical movie productions are helping to wound our precious live, acoustic operatic art form.

Make no mistake. Opera companies can no longer ignore these sorts of movie ticket sales. We have to figure out how to sound and look a bit like these broadcasts. We have to reclaim the audiences who love bigger-than-life celebrity personalities, who are also excited by live theatre and theatrical production values seen - and heard - where? On Broadway. I'm talking about mic'ing, about lights, and about making a few more cuts to our beloved pieces of art in order to deal with today's audiences and their needs.

I believe that the age of the large opera house is passing right in front of our eyes. Get opera into smaller spaces. It'll be LOUDER and it'll be UP CLOSE. This is already happening with all these young startup venue-based opera companies and directors. R.B. Schlather knows this. Eric Einhorn knows this. Aria Umezawa knows this. Joel Ivany knows this. Audiences and critics seem to love these innovative ways to present operas. R.B. actually is responsible for creating a new, hybrid operatic form: operatic rehearsal as art installation. Rehearsing in a museum, inviting the public to view the process as art, in and of itself, trumps the actual performance as raison d'être. Yoko Ono shows up, passersby pop in as well as hard core opera lovers.

The opera product has changed in the last 10 years. It's pretty easy to see that relying on Facebook events, or hiring live tweeters, or other social media excitement that is, let's face it, so 2010, will not keep opera alive. It's another distraction, an internal one, that keeps many of us from seeing the writing on the wall: opera needs new audiences or it will die.

So my solution? Not sure, but I know that what we are currently doing is only working in fits and starts, here and there, at some very forward looking companies like Philadelphia, Ft. Worth, and Glimmerglass. I think about Mad Men's Don Draper who's mantra is, "Change the Conversation."

Some recommendations:
Find singers who can excite audiences with the power of their voices! Hire them and get them into the public -- with mic's and sound systems. Tenors with high Cs, coloraturas who sing way, way off the staff, low profundo basses, full-voiced sopranos, hunky baritones, and sexy Carmen-singing mezzos. Don't allow anyone to sing a Despina aria in public again out of the context of the opera. Mix the rep with lots of operetta, musical theatre, and - hold your breath - covered operatic versions of pop songs! Pavarotti did it. What about singing a Bocelli tune? A counter-tenor singing some Adele or Elton John?

Get opera out of those awful huge Performing Arts Center "opera houses". Have at least one opera a year in a found venue or experimental space. Mix it up. There are community theatres sitting empty that might love to bring in a new public between their regular showings.

Bring the HD cameras into opera productions; with their close-ups perhaps projected live onto screens in the opera houses during the operas. Let the audiences see what's happening onstage UP CLOSE.

Mic the sound in the opera house. Operatic Puritans just hush up. We all know it's already being done secretly by a few of the larger opera houses throughout the U.S. and Canada. Just go ahead and make it really work. There is a reason people think that The Phantom of the Opera actually is an opera. The singers sing pseudo-operatically, but it's all mic'd and mixed. It's louder.  If the venue is small enough, then fine, no mic's. But those padded chairs in the 2500 seat PACs designed for Broadway touring amplified shows can not truly give the acoustic art form a fair hand. The deck is stacked against us on this. Move on.

Drop this idea that some new production team will design an opera set in the roaring 20s that will capture the audience's imaginations. Maybe it will, but is this selling tickets? Audiences can see the roaring 20s in the movies, with Leonardo's face in close-up. If I had an opera company, I'd be spending a LOT less on stage directors, a LOT less on set designers or concepts. I'd be pumping the money into state of the art mic'ing, employing a sound designer, and putting money into a lighting designer, the rental of additional lighting instruments and effects, and most importantly time in the actual venue to cue and rehearse the lights. Oh, and money for singers and quality conductors. Toss out putting in a operatically green conductor into the orchestra pit. Toss out putting an orchestral conductor in the orchestra pit. Get your rehearsal pianists into the pits. There was that guy named Solti once. He knew how opera went because he was trained in an opera house playing for opera rehearsals. Conducting is mostly bullshit, btw, but no one is going to say that in public. Oops.

Market opera in old ways. Does anybody get mail nowadays? What might happen if you opened your mail box and there was a colour brochure about opera in it? Would you be excited? I'm not saying ask people to fill out a form and mail it back (many wouldn't know how to do that, sadly), keep your websites and online tickets purchasing, of course, but stop it with the email blasts. They get deleted right away.

Start up a frequent opera goer club/card membership. Like Delta Airlines or your local grocery store. Earn points for other local theatre groups tickets on discount, or the next opera get a free drink at intermission.

While on the subject of refreshments… STOP IT WITH THIS INCESSANT BAN ON BRINGING DRINKS AND FOOD INTO THE OPERA HOUSE.  There are ways to do this. Plastic cups with lids and straws work fine for wine. A few theatres do this and it is SO COOL. Maybe no nachos, but would a bag of popcorn be so bad? Oh, that's right, it might make noise… See Reason Number One on that subject!

And finally, the most important suggestion: Return to our operatic traditions! Get young voices to study the traditions of opera -- All that stuff NOT in those precious critical editions. Get them to listen to the great singers of the 20th century and get them to LISTEN, not WATCH, those singers. Start to reward the unique sound that may have flaws instead of rewarding the mediocre sound that has nothing wrong with it, but sadly nothing right at all present in the music making or the vocal sounds presented.

ENOUGH…

So I'm not saying opera is dead. I am worried it is dying in a way that is imperceptible; only being seen and felt in subtle ways. I believe that the art form itself needs to be resurrected by those intimately involved - the singers, coaches, conductors, directors, and producers - in order to ensure that opera stays viable. That means change. Change is hard for many. Some say we must hold onto the past, but opera was never about the past. It was always moving forward. From Mozart to Donizetti to Massenet to Menotti to Jason Robert Brown, opera was and is about the next exciting piece of music theatre.

We need to hook people again. Most of us got hooked into opera via the music and the singing.

But no one will get hooked by singers making generic sounds and bland artistic choices based on some books sitting in libraries. No one is going to the opera to watch a conductor wave their hands, they are going to hear great music being made in collaboration with others. No one is going to become a life-long opera goer because a Fledermaus gets set in a concentration camp, or a Trovatore gets set in a giant-size urinal. However, they may get hooked by a high B-flat that takes their breath away, or by the drama of a Butterfly killing herself, or DeRocher being executed onstage set to a beeping machine accompaniment. They might get hooked by being thirty feet away from a singer who is sweating in an abandoned warehouse, or get hooked by the sonic boom of a chorus of 40 singing at the top of their lungs.

One opera goer at a time.

But it starts with a renewal, an oath to stop making this operatic wax museum thing we are calling opera that only echoes the real thing.

It can be found today. Look for it in the Met Donna del Lago cast, in the Lucia singing Lucia in Eugene this season, in the provinces and local community theatres putting on The Mikado or Sunday in the Park, or some small unheard of opera company putting on an Edgar Allen Poe opera in the middle of a Halloween Haunted House.

Opera lives, yes indeed. And opera must continue to thrive because it is unlike anything else out there! It challenges the performers and the audiences alike to think, to experience, to feel, and to be passionate about something untouchable told through purely human means.

I believe that there are others out there who have better ideas, surely much more talent to implement them, or are much more passionate than I am about opera. I hope they step up to the plate and take a few swings!

We must not allow opera to fade away simply because we held to our principles, kept the "traditions" (often while not really knowing what those traditions actually meant), and looked solely inward for solutions to our operatic problems.

It's time to change the conversation by having conversations.

Opera Sings Life. That's its power.

Why Opera Is Struggling PART TWO

The second part of my three part blog on why I think opera is struggling in the 21st century.

INTRO Recap...
There's been lots of talk on social media sites and opera blogs about how opera is dying. I don't believe that it is, not yet. But...

We do know that our audiences are getting older and that their numbers will diminish unless new audiences replenish the traditional, older operatic fan base. We have signs that these new audiences are appearing - here and there - but nothing definitive and certainly not enough to stop opera companies from closing in the U.S. and in Canada (Gotham and Ottawa being the latest and biggest companies to shut their doors in 2015.)

I've thought about this, for a long while now, and I believe that opera is walking a path that will lead to its extinction, perhaps in some of our lifetimes. It's beyond a blog like this to reason it out, as this is a complicated issue and certainly not all the news is bad. For instance, there's tons, TONS, of new opera being produced nowadays. Fantastic. Go Opera.

However, we have some serious problems.  I've divided my ideas into a three part blog.

The three ideas I'm exploring…

PART ONE
1) Industrial Age dogmatic notions of audience control, fashion, elitism, and programming continuing to be used and professed in North America by both opera companies and academic institutions.

Click Here for the Link to Part One: 


Part One

PART TWO
2) Critical Editions, the Rise of the Early Music movement, and the Fall of the Opera Singer.

PART THREE
3) The Struggles of Marketing Opera in the 21st century; our operatic Product has changed.

Part Two
A particularly difficult issue, and I understand that this opinion of mine won't go over well with some...

2) Critical Editions, the Rise of the Early Music movement, and the Fall of the Opera Singer:
Aside from the ancillary argument that our young singers are confusing the 17th century for the 19th century, or that they are revering all opera scores as come scritto (not understanding that Puccini and other 20th century scores were marked for printing in a much different way than Mozart's scores were, let alone Handel, Lully, Gluck, Rossini, or much of the operatic canon), something happened in the last 30 to 40 years that altered how opera is taught, learned, rehearsed, performed, and recorded for posterity. It is tied to what happened in baroque music during the later half of the 20th century.

First off, though, everyone needs to understand that I love baroque opera. I love directing baroque operas, and love coaching Handel. I love baroque music in general, albeit famously not getting the big Bach vocal works, (once referring to them as pretentious hymns written in a hurry and in need of judicious cuts.) How dare I think that, let alone that something about the Early Music "movement" might be responsible for the current crisis in opera?

Early music musicians understand that their music is about improv, about the re-creation of scores barely written down onto the page, about making massive amounts of decisions based on conquering how to recreate figured bass, how to ornament, when to ornament, plus all those period tuning decisions which I don't understand but are super important. They are musical Indian Jones archeologists - not just studying it, teaching it, or finding it but getting down and dirty in old scores, digging into the minds of those dead composers and finding bits and pieces of things to put together to make something that was once dead, live again. They are the most exciting thing about the "classical" music scene right now; leaders who acknowledge that the creation of new music is just as important as performing the complete Bach Cantatas. Look no further than the vocal group Roomful of Teeth, or Julian Wachner at Trinity Wall Street to see the future being led by a total dominance of understanding the past while creating the future, oftentimes through a baroque musical lens.

Opera folk just don't do this -- why? Because they've missed the message of historical performance entirely.

There is a by-product of this early music "movement": score reverence. Our early music colleagues discovered that scores of their beloved music were impure, discoloured by centuries of editors and musicologists trying to understand this crazy, misshapen - literally baroque - music. So they altered the scores and reprinted them for 19th century tastes. They added harmonies not available to Handel or Telemann, inserted Romantic notions of dynamics, articulations and tempi markings. They created monstrosities. This is how baroque opera (particularly Handel and Monteverdi) was first resurrected in the mid-20th century, via very Romantic editors. The early music nerds took decades to clean this all up, finally printing all the holy critical editions found in music libraries around the world today. But of course they didn't think for a moment that any of these critical edition musical scores were, by themselves, the point.

That essential meaning of the why and how of critical editions didn't successfully transfer to opera.

Once other editors and musicologists moved into the operatic oevre, cleaning up Mozart, then to Rossini and Donizetti, and ultimately to Verdi, the damage was done. Scores were scraped clean of anything not found in the autographs, and anything that was suspect was sent to the purgatory of the "appendix" or notated in forwards sometimes longer than the actual scores themselves. We lost the notion of the Mozart appoggiatura, cadential fermati, and why bel canto traditions were splashed all over the aural histories and first-generation divas of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. We lost thousands of performance traditions put into place during the lives of the composers. We lost traditional cuts, we lost performance practice that wasn't written down in 17th century treatises, but put down in scores that were passed on down through the generations. In this brave new world of Critical Editions, scores became bibles and everyone became way too scared to do anything not found in these new operatic testaments. One might be burned at the stake for daring to sing some Ricci ornaments in front of Pope Muti, unless it was ordained holy by one of the new Bishops of Critical Editions: Cardinals Gossett or Zedda. And now it's the local, mostly uneducated, small town vocal priests selling the praises of things like secco recit rests that must be taken exactly as written, (even the rests!) because "that's what Mozart wrote" to unsuspecting parishioners attending Mass at the Church of Our Holy Opera.

Currently it is de rigeur for any operatically inclined artist to use these by-products of the rise of the early music movement when learning and performing most opera rep. We use the dogma of "critical edition" knowledge to perform only what's on the page. Put another way, we use this dogma to justify NOT making any decisions based on historical knowledge, NOT to dig into the minds of dead composers, and NOT to work on that very important part of the operatic craft that was once integral to the art form: understanding that composers' scores were pretty much just hints, blueprints, and/or jumping off points to specific brilliantly trained singers in order to create entertainment that sold tickets to live audiences so that they could make a living and not starve.

I'll continue down this path…

Today, this misunderstood notion has led young singers to be told by VIPOP's (very important professional opera people) to say things like "if I hear you ornamenting the Count in Nozze I'll kill you" while at the same time offering up serene wisdom about using appogiaturas in secco recitative. We are left with an art form that is more or less a "paint by numbers" systematic approach, and more troubling, a non-offensive yet very generic next generation of singers.

Creating Opera by a Paint-By-Numbers philosophy will lead to no one buying tickets because it isn't art anymore, it is a pale imitation. Modern day audiences want authenticity, they yearn for it, in ways they do not understand. Yet opera is feeding our present day audiences a diet of white-washed, watered down, clean-yet-oh-so-bland, boring opera.

And it's the voice teachers, coaches, conductors, directors, administrators, and casting directors - along with the singers - who are complicit in this problem. Not all, but many. Those who find any kind of modest success at an operatic singing career understand that it's not about being clean and correct, but about being effective and exciting that makes audiences stand up and take notice. Yet those who train young singers whose first step into the professional world - the young artist programs - understand that this path seems to begin with an "offend no one" approach to auditioning. They learn not to offend, to sing just what's on the page, make no major artistic choices, and hope that this will get them hired. Many get hired and then a few get a career, having been trained to not really penetrate an operatic score because we have schooled our new generation of singers to offend no one, entertain no one, and ultimately be no one.

We do this by creating PRODUCTIONS that distract the audiences from missing what was once the essential component of opera: great singers singing in the stratosphere, singing loudly or softly and beautifully, creating roulades and fioratura passages that defied gravity. Now our "divas" are Lady Gaga, Christine Agulara, and Taylor Swift.  The only way to really save opera is to put singers at the forefront of this art form again: allow them to LEAD the bulk of the musical decisions, not passively receive wisdom from a conductor who may have little experience with the literature; make them LEAD dramatic decisions, not passively receive direction from a stage director who may not have ever attended opera in an actual opera house; make them responsible for understanding the differences in performance practice between Handel, Rameau, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Massenet, Bizet, Strauss, Berg, Weill, Bernstein, Sondheim, Heggie, and all of the great opera composers to come.

It is time for the singers to take back opera!

Click Here for the Link to Part Three: 
Part Three
(Marketing Opera in the 21st century)

Why Opera Is Struggling PART ONE

INTRO
There's been lots of talk on social media sites and opera blogs about how opera is dying. I don't believe that it is, not yet. But...

We do know that our audiences are getting older and that their numbers will diminish unless new audiences replenish the traditional, older operatic fan base. We have signs that these new audiences are appearing - here and there - but nothing definitive and certainly not enough to stop opera companies from closing in the U.S. and in Canada (Gotham and Ottawa being the most recent and biggest companies to shut their doors in 2015.)

I've thought about this, for a long while now, and I believe that opera is currently walking a path that might lead to its extinction, perhaps in some of our lifetimes. It's beyond a blog like this to reason it out, as this is a complicated issue and certainly not all the news is bad. (For instance, there's tons, TONS, of new opera being produced nowadays. Fantastic. Go Opera.)

However, we have some serious problems.  I've divided my ideas into this three part blog.

Three ideas I'd like to explore:
PART ONE
1) Industrial Age dogmatic notions of audience control, fashion, elitism, and programming continuing to be used and professed in North America by both opera companies and academic institutions.

PART TWO
2) Critical Editions, the Rise of the Early Music movement, and the Fall of the Opera Singer.

PART THREE
3) The Struggles of Marketing Opera in the 21st century; our operatic Product has changed.

Part One
Starting off with an issue from hundreds of years ago...
1) Industrial Age dogmatic notions of audience control, fashion, elitism, and programming continuing to be used and professed in North America by both opera companies and academic institutions:
It is very clear from historical documents that opera goers used to behave much differently before the Edwardian era. For hundreds of years the opera was a place to go and, yes of course watch the opera, but also talk, have dinner, have drinks, have sex, read letters from lovers, walk around, and encore any part that needed to be heard again. People would respond to what was going on with vocal noises, not just applause and "bravos". It was much like what Shakespeare's original audiences did - they booed the bad guy, they talked back to the stage, they REACTED to the live theatre which made for a vivid experience. Same for Liszt recitals - swooning women reacting just like young girls listening to the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

Opera used to be like this. And then someone, I know not who, decided audiences needed to sit in reverent silence without moving for hours on end, in order to "enjoy" the theatre. Many did. Many did not.

The Industrial Age ushered in many things - technologies, child labor, public schooling to educate factory workers - and it ushered in the age of classical music audiences sitting in rapt silence. No whispers. No reactions, outside of polite applause once the time came. Now of course there were exceptions to this - the music "hall" with its Offenbach and Gilbert and Sullivan offerings, the Italian opera houses (still to this day the most exciting audiences to be a part of with their catcalling, whistles, booing, and vivid applause and screams of "bravo" that can go on and on) and the American Broadway and vaudeville stages where people went to be entertained.

But by and large, classical music started turning into something that was a traditional, elitist event. One had to wear black ties and top hats or gowns and gloves to the opera. Ticket prices were expensive (no longer -- it's the hockey, baseball, and basketball tickets that are way more expensive than your average opera ticket.) Important to note, not just anyone could go to the opera. In many cities you needed to be of a certain social status if you were going to be a regular attendee.

This didn't help with the popularizing of opera. Not in the least.

And today it is one of the biggest factors involved in the killing of classical music by classical musicians. Orchestras still dress as if it is 1885. We set ourselves apart via the costumes we choose to wear for recitals, costumes based on 19th century society types. How strange when we are needing regular folk to buy tickets. Tuxedos are literally so 19th century; alien to our modern day sense of casualness in everything from the workplace to going to church. This needs to change.

And us opera lovers need to STOP behaving in the theatre as if we are the Vestal Virgins of the Holy Opera God and shushing others for whispering, or making anyone feel that they need to SIT, SHUT UP, AND ENJOY THE OPERA DAMMIT! We need to let kids in and let them be noisy, we need audiences to become vocal in their responses - beyond applause. We need to make audiences comfortable about coming to see our shows. But we don't.

We continue to allow the theatre experience to be physically uncomfortable. The seats are built for smaller people from the first half of the 20th century and sometimes the aisles are miles away. Theatre seating should be reassessed, just like the stadium seating in modern day movie theatres. We need drinks and snacks available quickly and everywhere - not just at one kiosk. Restrooms need to be overhauled, as does the idea of how long an intermission is -- cut some of the music in order to find five more minutes for a longer interval. I've been at opera companies that push for a 9 minute intermission - this is just plain stupid. Give everyone a break, that's what happened back in 1832, fyi.

Those of us in the opera field also help to perpetuate the Victorian theatre-by-silence by not laughing at the jokes onstage, or reacting with anything but applause or a bravo. Someone needs to figure out how to change this. It could be life-changing for our art form. I remember an irate man getting so upset he left the opera house because audiences (me included) were laughing out loud during a Donizetti comedy. He screamed "this is opera for Christ's sake, give it some respect!".

We need to figure a way to get audiences to start being comfortable with the idea that they can react to what's going on onstage without the worry that one of the opera fascists will descend upon them and ask them to stop distracting the performers. We need to get audiences involved physically and emotionally with what they are hearing and seeing and if that means being disruptive to the "age-old" tradition of sitting with stiff necks enjoying the art in silence, so be it!

But most importantly, professors of music need to stop teaching the next generation to venerate the art form like it belongs in a church or a museum -- a "look but don't really touch" approach. What I mean by this is that all too often, opera is held up like it is some great thing that must be approached like a peasant approaches an aristocrat on Downton Abbey: Gaze slightly down, voices hushed in reverence. It's like one is trying to teach that opera is somehow bigger or greater than anyone in the room. It ain't.

I love opera, I take it seriously. It is fucking hard to learn, to sing, to conduct, to direct, to produce (I should know 'cause I've done all of those things professionally.) However, those that take themselves too seriously simply because they are in opera need to be drummed out of our field. I'm thinking everyone from general directors who are out of touch with the communities they are producing opera in, to the young directors thinking deep thoughts about bringing "real" acting methods to opera singers, as well as to the voice teachers who teach the mystery of opera through pretentiousness. Opera attracts pretentious people, and for some reason many in the business believe in the pretentiousness of too many of our colleagues.

Make no mistake -- Pretension is the hypertension of the operatic heart.

I'll write that again: Pretension is the hypertension of the operatic heart. It won't kill opera, but it damages that which is at the heart of opera: it's entertainment factor. We've lost the popularity contest not because Frank Sinatra or Mary Martin or Sting or Elvis came along (well, maybe Elvis). We lost being popular because we left our audiences. We rose above them with our heilige Kunst, the dabblings of atonality that few could understand or follow, the elitist attitudes that opera was somehow better than operetta or musical theatre (puh-leeze), but especially we lost the popularity contest because our opera singers stopped entertaining and have been stopped by academic institutions from even thinking they that are entertainers. Getting a degree in opera has to compete, at the academic level, with getting a degree in Engineering. The art form, classical music in general, was elevated by academics in order to make a case for itself. It was turned into some sort of literature and history, thus losing its viability because it stopped being current and populist.

Once the academics got their hands on opera (and, frankly, all of classical music), they removed it from the populist hands of composers, singers, musicians, audiences, and impresarios. The rise of the academically trained singer shifted how opera singers learned their craft, shifted how voice teachers taught (one one-hour lesson a week), and shifted the artistry to a place where students were studying to be opera singers but they weren't in the opera houses listening to opera singers sing opera, or in most cases, singing on the operatic stage. Instead of studying voice from a teacher who had been on the operatic stage for decades, they now study with voice teachers who earn doctorates in voice but who may never have had a professional contract outside of a summer young artist program. But perhaps even worse, singers are learning about opera from books called "critical editions"...

Click Here for the Link to PART TWO:
Part Two (Critical Editions, the Rise of the Early Music movement, and the Fall of the Opera Singer)