Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is Opera an Elitist's Form of Art?

I recently read one of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's blog posts, and she addressed the unresolved issue of whether or not opera should prepare to lose its state of current prosperity. She did not think so, and she gave the fact that history was on our side when it came to surmounting such difficulties as an "economic crisis" as evidence for her opinion. I am inclined to side with her, for did opera not survive the Great Depression of the last century; indeed, did not the world? As I recall from consulting an authoritative reference on the subject, many were worried about the immediate future of opera then, but in retrospect it was said that soprano Lili Pons made the 1930's a glamourous time at the Met.
Opera, as with any other service or form of entertainment, must be profitable; when it ceases to be maintained by a supportive audience, it becomes a liability to those who would offer it, and they will discontinue its operation. It may be argued that today many arts institutions require grants and assistance from private donors and the government, but this erroneous falacy fails to consider the effects of poor management and the greater existence of inflation, to which all economic calamities may be attributed. (To understand my reasoning upon this matter, which would require far too much time and space to provide here, I emphatically recommend that you read a short book by Richard J. Maybury entitled Whatever Happened To Penny Candy?) However, in this detour onto the subject of economics I digress from my intended inquiry of the intellect.
As to the question at hand, that being whether opera is an entertainment only for the wealthy, we must, as in all things, look to the history of this world for our answer. Opera as we know it today was originally intended as entertainment for royalty and members of nobility, and it is perceived by some today who have little understanding of opera and its audience to be the same as it was some 600 years since. Those of us who enjoy opera whether regularly or occasionally are more realistically informed, and it is not too much to think that we consider ourselves to not be very much different than other people. If, as some will believe, opera is entertainment for only the privileged few, then surely people are misinformed. Perhaps they do not understand that it was only a hundred years ago that opera held a level of popularity that surpassed that of the cinema. A short journey to Europe in the summer will reveal that opera is still very much in vogue for the plebian as well as the limited aristocracy. Classical music festivals abound in almost every country with most of these showcasing the opulence of the voice of an opera singer or the sheer beauty of the music composed for the voice. There are some, and the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy, comes to mind, that are solely dedicated to opera. One will invariably find that the vast majority of people who attend these are not the wealthy, since they cannot support it alone, but, rather, the middle class. Another recent example is the Metropolitan Opera's Concert in the Park performed by two of opera's grandest stars, Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna. The concert, which was held in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, drew a crowd of fifty thousand, and it was free to the public.
I believe that I have presented evidence enough to convince the toughest skeptic. Opera is definitely entertainment for everyone.


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