- Blake Hill-Saya
This new year has already delivered a payload of stress for us to process. It is in times like these that I find it helpful to reconnect to my values, revisit my central principles and circle the wagons of my psyche around what really matters. Crisis is a crucible where we can choose to become a new and stronger alloy, or we can dissolve into a form that is externally determined. I am personally in the molten stage both as an artist and as a communicator. I believe our art form is also in a crucible of its own and searching for ways to reconnect.
The question becomes, what do we reconnect to? What principles do we ground ourselves in, and where do we build a new foundation for the generations of opera interpreters, administrators, instrumentalists, composers, craftspeople and audiences to come?
Well, I am writing this, so I am going to tell you what I believe. I believe that Opera is fundamentally about people, ALL people. Opera is about the raw and visceral experience of being human in the world. When Opera ceases to be about the human beings that must participate in it in order for it to exist, and it becomes about buildings, endowments, individual egos and socioeconomic mythology, it becomes a dead art. If Opera is to survive this indefinite hiatus it is going to have to invest in the people that make it able to live in the first place and not treat them like cannon fodder or a rummage sale. If Opera is going to be of interest to audiences wider than its standard demographic, it is going to have to take a real interest in what those audiences are needing, feeling and hungry for. If Opera is going to become more than ornamental in the community it will have to invest time and energy in building a rapport with other organizations, vendors and community service providers. Being part of a community cannot be a side venture, it needs to be central to the season and to the footprint of the company. If Opera wants to change its collective image and audience then it will have to create more honest and constructive partnerships in the spaces between companies and between productions that foster creativity, boost morale and support brave leadership in new directions. Flow of ideas, talent, vision and common dedication to what makes this art form matter is critical to lifting it off of the wreckage of political infighting, the leveraging of access in exchange for cheap and docile labor, and gate keeping that breeds division and competition instead of unity, support and mentorship. In short: taking care of each other should be an easy call and producing content that is made in equitable conditions for audiences made up of every class and demographic should be at very least on the table after all we have been through. The character of the producing organization shows in the music and is revealed in the connection and impact it is able to make in the lives of all it touches.
Opera is not a pageant, or a pop-up installation. Opera contains within its tool box the ability to be of service as well as be a diversion or a celebration. We are not a circus of antiquities. We are a living, breathing tool for processing and interpreting the present moment as well as the commonalities we have with the voices of the past. Opera is big enough to be about more than big names or big locations or even big budgets. The lives and talent that breathe it into being are not disposable, arbitrary or a garnish on the plate of an institution. They ARE the institution.
When you stop caring about people, you start losing what makes us all feel truly alive: connection, a job to do that we are proud of, dignity in compensation, love enough to spare, and hope. I will be reconnecting however I can to the things that make me feel alive, connected and human. I wish for you the same. I know that we can offer you more beautiful, living opera in the years to come that will demonstrate how collaboration, cooperation and coordination can produce harmony that heals. Until then, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”