The first opera I ever saw was Carmen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during a dress rehearsal. I went with hoity-toity charlatans who told me repeatedly that this was a ‘good introductory opera’ with an air of disgust for my lack of exposure to the art form. Now, I hate that opera and everything it personally stood for (not to mention if I hear the music in another commercial I might just take up arms). I digress, opera is meant to be shared, explored, and enjoyed with a company of feelers rather than judgers. My first experience was less than extraordinary; yes, Milena Kitic was stunning, and yes, the spectacle was more than I imagined; but the taint of others is still palpable.
Since then, I have been to many operas during their actual runs, and enjoyed some more than others. What sticks in my craw; however, is the lack of diversity of the audience. As a college student who received free tickets through a generous donation to my university, my ‘kind’ was outnumbered. The audience was a veritable sea of pink and purple hair (if you don’t know what that means, it’s the color of elder women’s hair).
The last opera I went to was over two years ago, when I was still in LA. This time I was with a friend at Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, a far cry from Carmen. It was exquisite. Thus was the end of my opera going days, with Opera Pacific shuttered and difficulty in affording a ticket to the LA Opera.
My path back to the opera took an unexpected turn this weekend in the most unusual of venues with the most unusual of audiences seeing one of the greatest operas ever written. Opera in the Outfield at National’s Stadium streamed the live performance of Don Giovanni from WNO‘s performance at the Kennedy Center. The crowd assembled was massive, the entire outfield covered in blankets and the sweater-clad. Up into the stadium near half the lower level was filled with people of all ages and creeds. Children were running around or like the little one next to me, positing questions about the show to his parents. The entire audience on a whole was a good 30-40 years or so younger on average than the crowd inside the Kennedy Center. For once, my age group was the majority.
We were free to talk and comment, free to check our phones for everything from the score of the Orioles/Red Sox game to information on the opera itself, free to eat M&M’s and drink coffee, free to sit wherever we pleased, and free to enjoy the way we wanted to enjoy. I didn’t have to pay for a ticket (although I would have happily paid up to $20 – it was chilly, outside, and the seats weren’t super comfy). I’m sure thousands of others (for indeed, it was in the thousands) who attended would have paid as well; but we were not asked, nor were we solicited for donations. Instead, we were simply expected to see and hear.
WNO brought the opera to the masses, in an old custom akin to the Opera Buffa days of Mozart. People still love opera. The current problem is the delivery system, but by focusing on social aspects rather than financial and puritanical artistic facets, opera succeeds.