I applaud Anne Midgette’s recent article in the Washington Post regarding classical music at the White House. Her ideas for future White House classical programming are wonderful (and one day could perhaps include UrbanArias!), but her warning that classical music can stifle its own growth by taking itself too seriously is one we should all take to heart.
People want to be entertained. This is not to say that symphonies and opera companies should dumb down their programming, or rely exclusively on gimmicks to get people in the door – but I do think there is a lot of room for “audience-aware art”. Why not pay attention to the Zeitgeist, and offer audiences pieces they can easily enjoy? Why indeed is “accessible” a dirty word in some circles? “Accessible”, “entertaining”, and “sophisticated” are not mutually exclusive qualities – certainly the operas of Mozart are perfect examples. And in our day, think Jake Heggie, Stephen Sondheim, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Tom Cipullo, just to name four composers.
UrbanArias received many enthusiastic comments after our production of Tom Cipullo’s ten minute mini-opera at the Kennedy Center, and the comments centered around four things people found enjoyable: excellent singing, an American opera with text they could clearly understand and whose story they found touching and relevant, a musical palette they were drawn to, and (dear to our hearts at UrbanArias, as we’re making this our credo) an opera that has an impact in short form.
I think that paying attention to those four elements will be the key to success at UrbanArias, and will allow us to take our place in American Opera of the present and future. By presenting short, moving, approachable pieces that are well-sung and -acted, we can help new audiences explore an art form that has so much to offer – and perhaps also reinvigorate the interest of opera fans who are yearning for something new that does not need to command their attention for 3+ hours.
At any rate, we continue to feel we’re onto something, and we look forward to giving our audiences even more reasons to find classical music enjoyable.