Will Opera Come Back To Orange County?
It’s unfortunate but we have to think that it will not…at least not in the form of a legitimate Opera Company. But, before we delve into this issue, let’s go back…before the economic meltdown of 2007-2008.
In the US, economy drives the arts. Meaning, that if Corporations and people, in general, are “in the money”, so are the arts. Since the late 2007 US Economic “Meltdown”, the arts have suffered dramatically because no one’s in the money like they used to me. But it really didn’t start there.
THE HEYDAY OF OPERA
Opera, since it’s heyday (ending around the late 1950’s) has been experiencing a steady decline in popularity and attendance. It’s not a surprise, once the popular music of its day, Opera has had the misconception that it’s “out of touch”, “elitist”, “expensive” and “stuffy”…yes and no. On the surface, yes. Ticket prices are expensive. Mounting operas are a massive undertaking. It takes a small army to produce a decent opera that includes sets, orchestra, large choruses, and soloists. The Met in New York City can have as many as 100 Orchestra Performers, 120 Chorus Members, 15-20 Soloists and another 15-20 Supernumeraries (Supers or Extras, as named in the Film Industry), and 30-50 Tech Crew Members. That doesn’t include all the ushers, security and ticket people in the theater, parking attendants, and administrative/support staff. Get the picture? But the part of the picture most people don’t get is, that Opera is not elitist. Opera is quite the contrary.
OPERA FOR REAL PEOPLE
Opera, like most theater art-forms is a form of expression. Opera, rooted in theater (plays, like Shakespeare and before him, Greek Tragedies) was the medium the common folk flocked to and enjoyed, along side royalty…which was usually their oppressors. Subtle mockery of the class structure was common. Rebellion, aggression and sometimes overt messages to revolt were imbedded in many operas by Mozart, Verdi, Mussorgsky and others. Sometimes riots/fights broke out during operas once messages were realized or even if a singer did not perform to par!
OPERA IN ORANGE COUNTY
But that was then and this is now. We found this article about the healthy state of Opera in America by The American in July 2007, just as the economic meltdown was starting. It stated that there were 125 American Opera Companies in the US…more than Germany and Italy and roughly more Americans “attend live opera performances as attend NFL Games.” Roughly 20 million Opera admissions per year. Here, in Orange County we had Opera Pacific, a great alternative to the OC Commute to LA Opera. There were even talks of the company going year-round. Poof! Gone! All in a matter of two years, the corporate and private subsidies dried up and the doors were closed for good.
TICKET SALES DON’T KEEP A THEATER OPEN
Private money does. Corporations, private foundations, and a few still-existing national endowments keep the doors open. Season subscribers keep butts in seats and the General Mangers, their jobs. Beloved operas like Carmen, Madama Butterfly and La Bohème are all-time audience favorites attracting novices and seasoned theater go-ers to alike. Season subscribers love the standards. Another conundrum if you are the General Manager of an Opera Company. You have to please your base but offering new operas and educating the public on them is absolutely necessary if the Operatic Art Form is to survive.
Art is timeless. So is great Opera. But the medium on how we receive our art is changing. The Metropolitan Opera in New York has, in the last two years, desperately tried to reach out to the general public by making their opera performances more accessible by offering them in regional movie theaters. Now, one can purchase a ticket at a fraction of the price of a live performance (and save you the air fare to NY City), get some popcorn and sit and watch a LIVE Metropolitan Opera Production in HD streaming directly in the movie theater. Cool! Very cool. As a bonus, the viewer is privy to backstage footage and live interviews of the stars singing as they enter and exit the stage. That’s amazing access. But is it reaching new audiences? The jury seems to still be out.
Orange County California is one of the most affluent Counties in California. With over 3 Million residents, it is the 3rd largest population-wise but the smallest land-wise in Southern California. The main artistic center is the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Segerstrom Center for the Arts provides all kinds of entertainment year-round and is the former home of the now defunct Opera Pacific.