Growing pains.

There are a lot of growing pains in the operatic world today. San Diego Opera’s closing has elicited strong opinions from administrators and singers. My Facebook feed is full of commentary: some productive, some vent-tastic.

We’re accustomed to companies closing because of crushing debt; mismanagement. But when a seemingly healthy company like SDO chooses to close to go out on a high note, there are questions. Why? What are they doing with their assets?

The larger, unasked question, is “Is this a fool’s errand?”

We know that, measuring the answer solely by dollars, the answer is yes.

We also know that, measuring the answer by lives touched, the answer is no.

We struggle to maintain a high standard of performance, despite the growing costs and dwindling resources. We ask so much of our singers. Often, we ask even more of our administrators, stage managers, shop staffs, ushers.

We are losing. Losing audiences. Losing administrators. Losing artists.

We could chalk this up to the inevitable backlash of the expansion of the 90s, sure. But that’s a glib, too-tidy answer.

My two-penny thoughts, for what they’re worth. (maybe not even two pennies, actually.)

  • We need more collaboration, less ego. We can make more with less, but only if we work together. Across departments, across organizations. These partnerships are always messy at first, but they can grow in tandem into beautiful things.
  • Artistic standards must be impeccable. Every time you sing, it’s someone’s 1st time in the opera house. As an artist, it’s not enough to sing – it’s a ministry, and to ensure the continuation of the art form you need to convert the newly baptized. A singer a friend voiced on FB that we’ve all seen mediocre or poor performances: the ante is much higher now, and phoning it in means empty seats. (I’d extrapolate that this ties in to every kind of venue and performance opportunity…but I have a feeling you understand what I’m saying.)
  • We, as a community, don’t get to decide when one of our members walk away. We know a very small sliver of the story, and to prescribe action for a company with which we’re unfamiliar isn’t wise or helpful. (We can’t know what goes on behind closed doors: it goes for families and marriages and most likely opera companies, too.)

This news comes as I’m in the middle of a several-day spate of internship interviews. While the rest of the nation may be decrying the work ethic and writing skills of these Millenials, I’m finding these several days rewarding and frustrating, in equal measure. Rewarding, because these young people love opera, love the art form, want to gain experience and knowledge in this wacky, wonderful artistic medium. Frustrating, because their opportunities are shrinking.

We’ve been a niche for a long time, we opera folks. And part of me wishfully hopes that, someday, we’ll be cool again – like bluegrass and mandolin, like using Bach in techno samples. I think it can happen, but I also think that it will take a highly individualized, community approach.

So y’all? Bring a pal to the opera this season. Just one.

You’ll be glad you did. And we will be, too.

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