Opera is among the musical genres I enjoy, both as an audience member and as a singer. Opera is not to everyone’s taste, of course, but that can be said of any musical genre. Rap is not to everyone’s taste. Nor is country. Nor polka. The list is quite long.
There’s an unfortunately common perception that all opera fans are elitist snobs, but really, we’re not. Some are, true–no one musical genre has a monopoly on dickish fans. But most of us don’t look down at our noses at all other musical genres. In fact, a good many of us listen to other types of music as well. Here, to keep a running list of what’s been playing on my computer as I write this entry: Vienna Teng. Loreena McKennitt. Lisa Gerrard. Garbage. U2. Amy Winehouse. Elvis Costello. Dar Williams. All not opera.
(That said, I do think some people write off opera without giving it a fair chance. For those who think it’s nothing but fat people singing, I suggest you look at this little clip of operatic beefcake. Even if you don’t find the music impressive, the abs on those guys most certainly are.)
Now, the rant: yesterday I came across an opera-related blog post, and one of the comments on the post accused folks in the opera world of purposely keeping the art form dependent on private donors and grants in order to keep uneducated lowbrow undesirables from listening.
Cue me falling out of my chair in a fit of hysterical laughter.
[sarcasm font on]
Yes, as an opera lover and someone who has spent most of the last decade working in fundraising for performing arts organizations–four of those years at an opera company–I can assure you that it is true: we love begging for money and remaining dependent on the whims of people with deep pockets. Especially the cranky eccentric ones who might stop donating if we take an artistic risk or do a production they dislike. We certainly don’t want to increase revenue from ticket sales; that would bring in the riffraff.
And the grants. As a grant writer, my job description has always specifically stated that I am responsible for securing grants so that we can keep the undesirables out of the seats. I’ve certainly never spent time writing proposals asking for money to fund the education department’s efforts to provide curriculum-based arts enrichment programming to inner-city students whose cash-strapped schools have cut all of their arts teachers and activities. We certainly wouldn’t ask for funding to help bring those kids to see a performance. They might enjoy it and want to come back. We can’t have that.
I’ve also never had to write proposals for marketing initiatives specifically aimed at attracting new and diverse audiences. No partnering with other non-profits for community outreach activities that will be free and open to the public. No radio or television broadcasts. No movie theater simulcasts. No ticket discounts of any kind. In fact, we should probably cut the advertising budget next fiscal year. The elitist insiders know where to go.
And it’s especially fun depending on government grants. Because it’s not like government arts funding sources are ever in danger of being cut.
[sarcasm font off]
On that note, I leave you with an example of how the Opera Company of Philadelphia is trying to keep away the rabble: