Saturday, April 28, 2007

No dessert until you eat your veggies

The Soap Box

One of the blogs that I read on a regular basis (and to which there is a link below) talked today about the meeting of opera production and current "hype" technologies (youtube, blogs, podcasts). This struck a certain ressonance with me during these recent days of creating a blog and trying to post video clips of some AOT shows.

Opera has increasingly realized the need to reach out to younger audiences both for expansion and sustainability. Besides "sexed" up marketing that reflects the visual language of the multi-pleX generation, this has recently included the use of online journals with fancy features like online polls, interactive performance information, and online video of performances (LA Opera for instance has truly wonderful clips on their website).

Too often opera underestimates their audience. It is not enough for the marketing tools to be relevant for a wider (I'm uncomfortable with the term "younger" which marginalizes a huge set of potential audience members) audience. The product itself must also be meaningful. What I mean is that sexed-up glossy ads only make the sexed up glossy ads more relevant. The product itself, the opera production, is too often its same obtuse self. This approach may trick some to attend the opera once, but certainly doesn't create a sustained relationship with these newcomers, and potentially alienates them further from the genre.

This leads to the question all creators of art face now more than ever: what is relevance? Two points come to mind here. The first is what I see as a common approach among directors and producers of opera to reach new audiences. It is almost clichĂ© now to update productions - to set Figaro in 1920s, to set Cesare in Victoria's empire, to set La Boheme in 1940's Paris. I would wager that the percentage of these productions which are meaningful is about the same as with traditional productions. This is because updating alone doesn't lead to relevance (works like the Sellar's Da Ponte triology are few and far between). It isn't where and when we set the work, but how we set it that leads to its meaning. Clever marketing doesn't fix the problem that too many houses have of thinking completely in-the-box with the actual art. This isn't true across the board, and one can see some truly terrific productions (many from ChatalĂȘt or Paris National) that really rethink the nature of production, making performance pieces which are deeply meaningful.

Secondly, THE ART IS RELEVANT. Great art is intrinsically meaningful across the eternal timescape, just as Shakespeare's verse loses nothing of its power today, just as Cervantes continues to break the heart. Opera does not need to be made relevant, rather its relevance needs to be revealed to contemporary audiences. This is a question of the means of communication and has absolutely nothing to do with the work itself. Our challenge in producing theater (and I insist on thinking of opera as theater) is to continually re-examine how we use the power of great art made kinetic to initiate catharsis.

Ultimately the bottomline is this (and it is this that we try to keep in our fore-thought at AOT):

~Create art which is meaningful for the Living
~Discern the essence of the work and be true to that spirit
~Represent the art honestly and unapologetically

And for your sweet-tooth...

You can find in a post from earlier today the trailer of AOT's DVD of "Acis + Galatea". Maybe a little too excited by the possibilities of posting clips here, I now post these clips from our 2006 performance piece "Ground". Unfortunately the video quality isn't terrific, but the music is. This production will open our 2007-2008 season and we plan to make a real DVD of it then. Stay tuned!

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