A Ray of Hope
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
by Blake Hill-Saya
As spring buds begin to bloom across the nation and vaccination numbers climb, so opera is beginning to feel the winds of change shift from gale force to a chilly but infinitely preferable zephyr. Signs of life are percolating through the operaverse. Seasons are being announced, shifts into the digital space are being navigated, innovative and intrepid administrative efforts are slowly but surely showing encouraging results. Gritty leaders and tenacious boards have brought many regional opera companies through the long night of the pandemic and many are now taxiing down the runway towards the possibility of a new lift off. Excitement is growing in the world of singing and classical music as we all anticipate being together again. It has been a long and traumatic musical drought for so many. Festival Opera is proud to be among those regional companies who have survived! Their new HD digital recital series, SalON Demand, offering titles like “Un Raggio di Speme” (a ray of hope), not to mention the now available recital entitled “And Yet She Persisted” reflects their innovative attitude and resilient stance. Opera and accessibility are seldom mentioned in the same breath, but for Festival Opera the experiment of this new recital series, complete with captioning and shot with both artistry and intimacy in mind, has been a revelation! A nationwide audience is not only attending these events, but sales records from previous in person performances are being shattered. Accessible, inclusive and user friendly classical music is making an impact, and the audience response from “And Yet She Persisted” has been downright thrilling.
There is a lot of talk, and many books and podcasts are circulating in the business world about the reimagining a new, more flexible business model. Artists and musicians have had to use their creativity and empathy to build resilience in times of change for hundreds of years. The pandemic seems to have brought some of those concepts fully into the tech and entrepreneurial sectors. For instance, companies like Netflix have built flexibility and less idealistic and rigid terminology into their mission statement which has baked in a more fluid mindset. This structure and mindset helped them to respond decisively to the speed of technology and societal change in ways that other less nimble companies have not been able to manage. Leadership models are being re-imagined to include a more empathetic and less rigid approach to work-life balance. Companies in general are being held to a new kind of standard by consumers who want to feel aligned with the values of the brands they incorporate into their personal and financial blueprint. The ability to insightfully and responsibly respond to movements for inclusion, diversity, equity and societal change has become a benchmark for viability and success in this new climate. In other words, consumers and communities are wanting to feel involved, heard and represented when they spend their money and their time. What a great time for opera and classical music to plug into the zeitgeist and discover that value can be abundantly exchanged when good business and good art are not ensconced in opposing camps. The arts provide tremendous value, and lasting and rewarding memories. We could also evolve toward a more welcoming and responsive space, that integrates interprets and reflects what their audiences are craving.
I personally believe that regional opera in particular presents an extraordinary opportunity to prove that entrepreneurial business practices can translate into the performing arts space and the nonprofit sector. Regional opera is by its very nature more intimate, immediate and plugged in to the communities it serves. Regional opera is nimble, more streamlined and its operations stand a better chance of being responsive to change in ways that a company more associated with tradition might have trouble rolling with. Regional opera is the grass roots gateway to the art form, and these days grass roots is often seen as infinitely more authentic and trustworthy than mainstream; especially by younger and newer audiences. Regional opera stands a better chance of being in the room when communities are honest about what they expect, have been conditioned to believe opera means, and are longing to experience when they do take a chance on the classical arts. There is a user friendliness to the regional opera space and therein lies a monumental opportunity to signal that we care enough to learn how opera can serve the public of today; how it can strive to not be a static theme park experience, but a relevant, living and healing thing.
The events of this past year have brought home to so many of us that there are conversations we must have and large and complex wells of historic baggage that are long overdue for inventory and repair. Opera may have significant societal baggage, but it’s origin story was built around it serving as a tool for community catharsis; a microcosmic dreamscape in which to trouble shoot our human foibles, passions and patterns.
I believe that if we can combine this original formula for public healing with an evolved and informed entrepreneurial mindset, there may be more than a ray of hope for the future of opera; there might just be a glorious and triumphant sunrise for all of us to share.