Wednesday, March 15, 2006


This is a rant.
I know you know I seldom rant. (Don't start).
But I want to get some sort of conversation going with top artists and
administrators about this:

Opera X was in its twenty fifth season, serving a community of just over 1 million, with three performances each of four operas per year. The venue had recently been changed from a centrally located 1920s movie house riot with no stage to a 1950s university campus municipal auditorium with no charm but at elast some sort of backstage.

Front of house there is no ambience.
Think 1956 high school auditorium. The campus neighborhood of bars, pizza places and tatoo parlors with or without pain offer little to the opera's rather well heeled core audience.

Strong marketing and development have never-except for a fabulous marketing director long departed-been in place. In recent years the comanpy was run by an administrator who chanelled Diaghilev, only Diaghilev didn't answer back. Lots of expensive trips, lots of money spent, lots of panache, nothing translated to quality of product on stage.

The company is now in the toilet. Maanger has left with a lot of nice trips and perks on the company tit which has gone down a number of cup sizes.
Now this is a football oriented community. If it doesn't fart and wear cleats
most people aren't inertested. OTOH, the community supports a fine full time sypmhony, wonderful theatre and ballet, fine schools of music and the arts and a 24/7 all classical radio network. There's a thriving gay community-good news for arts administrators of every stripe and if you haven't figured THAT out yet, go to your room.

What went wrong? The promise of operatic sophistication resulted in a move to a hall the audience hated. There was a fine production of Aida and a good Hansel and Gretel.
Threepenny Opera was done in by a horrible production, simulated fellatio and the F word crowed at every opportunity including on the projected titles. The core audience walked out and the young people on a campus of 50,000 stayed away because noone knew or cared how to market to them.

The board is made up of nice people who don't know Bellini from Blowjobs.
A production of Floyd's "Susannah" was discouraged because "We don't want that modern music". Board memebers liked the IDEA of supporting opera without understnading what opera is, or only if they could consider the product a decoration to their own social lives.. Most of them are generous, smart and charming. They bought into the argument that if you throw money at it, it will thrive. Look at your public schools. Levies are voted in all the time. Are your kids being better educated? Money has little to do with creative progrmaiming and opera production. Aside from paying the best people to do the work. Creativity and ingenuity coupled with financial need and lots of hard work can produce fantastic opera. I was raised by Sarah Caldwell. There was no one so fiscally impossible and so creative. Remind me to tell y'all about Prokofiev's War and Peace on a twenty foot stage that made the Kirov look like Ted Mack's amateur Hour.

But now, in this electronic age is the time to use music and drama, to use stories, as tools to reach people, to make them think about this crazy world, to offer them a look at sensitivity, beauty teach all of us the perils of violence and greed (The RING anyone?), let us laugh at ourselves, get a look at how people lived two centuries ago and prove that then and now we all laugh and cry at the same things (women, men, sex and money) La boheme, Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Aida, Carmelites, all of their messages resonate today. And they all offer bloody good tunes.

How to revive an opera company.

1. The current board moves to Florida and stays here.

2. The new board is formed because the need to prudce opera is in their blood, and they understand WHY they are doing it and what it will do for the community

3. Insist on toal creativvity. Encourage risk.

4. Cheap affects deos not equla creativity. The public ssees thorugh them and is turned off. Lose the sex acts and cursing.

5. MARKETING MARKETING MARKETING...Knowing how to SELL and understand completelty what the product is and WHY

6. Board meembers and paid staff not buying into this should stay home and watch Larry King Live.

7. Be preapred to talk to anyone who will listen of the importance of what the comany is trying to do. Speak in context of struggles, worldview, joys, sorrows, fun. And learn how to tell a dirty joke.

8. Insist on complete fidelity to the score and text. Mozart and Verdi don't need help.

End of rant.
Arts administrators need to motivate funding sources and beguile the public.
Humor and passion are important.
Passivity is not.


still bummed about Anna Moffo.....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, it had to be said and that's all there is toit. He's absolutely right and there's no telling whether any of his suggestions will be taken up by the management and board, especially the one about moving to Florida. We will subscribe again because we still yearn for great opera in our own community and want to support whatever efforts are made. But it is hard, when you see, as we did, what theya re doing in Cincinnati, to give much attention to what's going on here in Columbus. Just put Purdy and me in charge and then stand back. Then you'll have plenty of drama and some great opera.