Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Future of Opera (Part 3)

Even if it’s a minority (I don't think everyone has to like Opera nor do I think it particularly suited for a mass audience the way pop music is because not everyone wants to be challenged in the same way or can be receptive of art in the same way which is fine) there is still an interest in this art form, especially because it is so detached from the musical trends of pop culture. Its seemingly limited, histrionic or antiquated mechanisms in some ways become all the more alluring because they present a challenge to our very modern and (in many ways) conformist ( would even say intellectually lazy) eyes and ears.
I don't know about you dear reader but I am certainly up for a challenge and always will be, especially in the age of snuggies fast food and auto tune.

Certainly, if anything is to survive, some alterations need to be made in order to adapt to the new and the now.  The use of technology and new media is surely one way of achieving this. Granted, Opera is not very receptive of trends, especially if they pose the threat being detrimental to the art form (such as the use of amplification) yet this is beginning to change.  In 2007 the Met began transmitting live, high-definition performances to theaters around the world via satellite and now other theaters have followed in their footsteps. (A more in-depth analysis of this will be provided in a later post). Entities like YouTube and live streaming media are two mediums that have become central to the growing trend of viewer globalization, accessibility and even performance standards. Because people are able to share archived performances and interpretations of a given work instantly this affects today's performance standards and overall expectations. This in turn forces companies and their respective artists to find lucrative ways to present themselves and their art form in order to reach new audiences.  Below is an excerpt from a performance by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra and the current American leading Soprano, Renee Fleming who sings an (acapella!) rendition of Mozart's "Caro Bel Idol Mio". Riveting stuff and pretty daring I might add:

So at least from my perspective Opera as with any art that is based on live performance has a pretty "bright" future ahead, especially with the implementation of cutting edge-technology such as this:

The 3D-mapping technology shown above will be used for the first time (ever) in the Met's new productions of Wagner's Ring Cycle directed by Robert Lepage.
Like I said in my first post, I am all for innovation in the arts and even if in later decades this experience is no longer classified as Opera or classical music, it is still some form of representational (and even non-representational) art that when performed effectively will always have a respective audience.

The Future of Opera and some short History (Part 2)

It seems people are all too willing to seal the fate of Opera by mindlessly spewing out such statements without fully understanding its implications. Basing the assumption that Opera is 'dying' on the (relative) fact that only 'older' people (as opposed to 'younger' ones) attend Opera performances in a highly westernized and Americanized culture that is so obsessed (or even entrenched one might say) with youth and its respective fluctuating trends  is an altogether faulty and dare I say discriminatory perspective. It seems it is perspective that is blinded by a type of youth-ism.

This notion is especially troubling when there are examples in the "pop world" of 'young' artists whose audience is also a bit on the mature side. Take someone like Josh Groban for instance. His songs hardly get played on top 40 radio stations, nor are his videos showcased on MTV or VH1, yet he has sold millions of albums worldwide and has gone on multiple international tours and many prestigious events including President Obama's Inaugural ceremony.. I would hardly classify his "art" in the "dying" category just because most of his audience is older than he is. Moreover, this phenomenon was not planned, it evolved naturally. His artistic qualities coincidentally appealed to an older audience. Same with Opera. So why should we hold either accountable for that?

Historically, Opera was never an art form that sought the appeal of any certain age-group or even mass cultures. It was mainly a platform for the elite to have their grandiose (and inherently superior) image of themselves reflected back at them. The age range of the audience was never really considered in the way it is being considered (as an issue) now. Traditionally, the audience was just an "aristocratic" one. But this has changed dramatically over the last century with the rise of the middle class and now, Opera's niche audience is one that embraces the musical and poetic 'values' of the art form, not just its aesthetics. We now people who because of their appreciation of the art form enroll in institutions and garner specific degrees based on the acquired knowledge of certain styles of music composition, style and practices. Before all we had were anecdotal letters that did not scrutinize and analyze Opera the way it is now. Going to the Opera was making a  fashion statement more than anything else and even though this still exists to a certain extent, it does not hold the presumptuous position of priority as it once did. This is mainly due to the fact that we now have a larger variety of entertainment mediums to choose from partly thanks to technology and the disintegration of social stratification. People are now analyzing the art form purely from musical and musicological perspectives which I think has been a progressive shift.

 So, how then should the success of Opera be measured if not by its lack of MTV enthusiasts in its audience? 

Well how about the number of people (REGARDLESS of ethnicity, age, sex or gender) that are actually attending the performances. Are Opera houses, for the most part empty? Are Opera companies struggling to sell tickets? Considering the fact that the world is in an economic recession right now and judging from statistics and ticket prices, I would say the (general) answer is a resounding NO. Many if not most Opera houses can seat thousands of people and the mere fact that the world's leading Opera singers perform in theaters that are largely if not completely sold out tells me there is indeed an audience, even if it's not a "young" one. Sure, Opera singers don't sell out stadiums, but Opera was never meant for those acoustically challenged spaces to begin with (although some of the more famous singers do occasionally give performances in big open air stadiums). In Europe (a continent with a much longer cultural history and less influx of immigrants than the US) audiences are more diverse in terms of age especially, in Germany and Austria; people (even though they're dying) wait in lines hours upon hours in the blistering cold in order to attain tickets and if no seats are available they opt to stand for the entire performance. Just this past Saturday there was a premiere in Austria of an opera in which the worlds current leading Soprano was premiering her role as Anna Bolena (an Opera based on the ill-fated wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, who usurped Katherine of Aragon and was later beheaded by Henry) and tickets for the event were going for 800 (!) euros on the black market. She (the singer) performed to a sold-out crowd and received a twenty minute standing ovation from the audience. (An impressive feat given that they're a dying bunch and all). Granted this was in Vienna (where the singers is heavily favored and it was a premiere) yet, at the season premiere of the Florida Grand Opera (which I reluctantly attended) the theater was completely sold-out, despite the lack of A-list performers. Imagine my sincere astonishment to see a substantial number of people either my age our younger at the event. This was when I realized the whole doom-and-gloom prognosis is unsubstantiated and reminiscent of a very ageist attitude currently pervading American culture.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Le Comte Ory Premiere and the Future of Opera (Post 1)

So the NY MET recently premiered one of Rossini's rarely performed comic Operas "Le Comte Ory" along with a new production by Tony award-winning director Bartlett Sher. The video above has footage from the red carpet for Opening Night. There were notably many celebrities at the event including Emmy Rossum (best know for her role in the movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "The Phantom of the Opera"), Claire Danes, who recently won numerous accolades for her portrayal of Temple Grandin, as well as the rather oddly somber looking Olsen twins (I'm not sure what they've won) among others.

All in all it was a winning night-if not for Emmy Rossum's dreary and perhaps overly pessimistic remarks about Opera and how it is a "dying art form" becase "young people" don't "get" it. Well to me that is a rather skewed perception.  It actually surprised me that somebody with her background would make such a statement, especially at a premiere ( ironic). YES she does have a point in that the majority of the Opera-going public is comprised of the older crowd/generation, especially here in America, but just because a certain art form is embraced to a certain sector of society it does not mean the art form is "dying". The only condition that makes us conducive to death is being alive. That goes for everyone and anyone no matter if you're a toddler or an octogenarian. Besides, we are are all in effect "dying". This planet is essentially "dying" from the ecological crisis we ourselves have created.

Furthermore, by adopting this often hackneyed expression, she is in fact contradicting herself. Is she not a 'young' person and a public figure who "gets" Opera? Clearly she sees herself as the exception to the trend, but is being the exception necessarily a bad thing? Can we really declare that Opera is "dying" just because its audience is perhaps more mature? Isn't this equating an older audience with no audience? It seems Emmy and all those are forgetting (or perhaps naively ignoring) the fact that they too will soon be "the older audience" and I highly doubt that they/we will still be listening to the likes of Justin Bieber and Kesha.

More to come in the next post on this subject

Friday, April 1, 2011

Back on topic

Well its about time! Sitting in front of computer screen typing away for hours upon hours certainly has its toll on the body (and the mind for that matter). This is long overdue I'd say, even if they haven't worked out all the kinks yet.
On a more shallow note, the dude simulating the body language is utterly hilarious. At first I thought it was a joke but it seems they are even more serious about it than he is.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Slightly Off-Topic yet totally worthwhile

What can I say except that a star is born (complete with the dramatic flair of a seasoned performer...note the ending...rofl)

If only the music industry had more performers of this caliber...deep sigh...