Monday, July 23, 2012

I've been thinking: OPERA NEWS and the optics of the future

August 2012 issue of OPERA NEWS
A word has been thrust onto the political stage over the last few years. It's actually not a new word, but during the last two or three election cycles the word has gone from being an obscure one that was chiefly used by political operatives, to being commonly used by the media ... the word is, optics.

Look up the word optics in a dictionary, and you're likely to find a very scientific definition along the lines of 'the study of light and vision'. Put in the context of a politician or political campaign, optics refers to the way a situation is perceived by the general public; how an event, course of action, etc. looks to the general public.

It's the politically motivated definition that I'm chewing on today.

On Saturday, I received my August issue of OPERA NEWS magazine. And, as many of you know, I do tend to glom onto - and save - my OPERA NEWS magazines ... yes, I save them all. I have every issue since 1999.

Cray-zy. I know.

Generally when I see the cover at first, I can tend to be a little critical if the image isn't good. Sometimes, I even wonder - quite out loud - "Who is in charge of picking these damned cover photos?" There was one in particular in which a female opera singer was wearing a summery sun-dress, under which, she clearly could have benefited from a well fitting undergarment.

But, I digress.

August's issue of OPERA NEWS might take the critical-cake for me, though. The issue highlights Opera's Next Wave - The Voices and Faces of the Future. On the cover [upper right], we see soprano Ailyn Perez, bass baritone Luca Pisaroni, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, conductor Michael Christie and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, seated or standing in various positions, all looking quite happy and jovial against a white backdrop. The photo itself, taken by James Salzano, isn't bad - but, to be honest, it looks more like a high school dance photo than it does a magazine cover.

Latonia Moore as the Met's Aida
Now, let me be perfectly clear, I have no doubt whatsoever that these folks are, or at least have the potential to be, the future of opera ... as are the many who are not featured on the cover but, are featured inside the magazine: sopranos Angela Meade, Amber Wagner and Latonia Moore [pictured right], mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, composer Nico Muhly, conductor Anne Manson and the like.

As OPERA NEWS very carefully explains in their Viewpoint section:
This issue of OPERA NEWS takes a look at some of the people we feel will be increasingly important during opera's next decade. The list of names that we have chosen isn't meant to be exhaustive or all-inclusive; in a field as well stocked with talent as opera, there were literally scores of possibilities for this issue. We chose to concentrate on individuals whose artistic and professional progress had caught our attention in the past few seasons - and whose exceptional talent, ambition and energy have allowed them to thrive in a field that will always be rich in challenges. These are men and women who have come a long way in the past decade: for example, in 2002, the majority of the singers featured in this issue had not yet made their professional debuts.
Let me be clear, again... the biggest issue for me has nothing to do with those listed as the future of opera. Indeed, my biggest issue has to do with optics.

There's that word, again - optics - how an event, course of action, etc. looks to the general public.

OPERA NEWS has stated that the question of how to attract new audiences to a seemingly "old" art form is one that needs to be answered urgently, as consumers today are bombarded with a mind-boggling array of entertainment options. And, the Met in particular, has spent quite a lot of time and money trying to make opera appear to be more accessible. Not only by physically making it accessible through its Live in HD and On Demand programs but, also by making the productions themselves look more mainstream ... more "Broadway-like".

The saying goes: as goes the Met, so goes the REST of the opera world.

In the opinion of Yours Truly, the Met has spent precious artistic resources trying to shove opera into a small, mainstream box, rather than using their powerful position to educate the audiences about what makes opera different, grand, unique - and, in fact, what sets opera apart from everything else out there.

And now, here we have what is undoubtedly opera's premiere news magazine - published by the Met's Opera Guild, NOT the Metropolitan Opera - discussing the future key players in opera. And, on the cover of the issue, we see the future of opera in dark jeans and white shirts against a white background ... plain, vanilla, stark, barren and, quite frankly, vapid. THIS is the future of OPERA? Generic, void, cold, bland and characterless?

My God, I hope not.

OPERA NEWS, you might do well with a short course in optics. Perhaps after which, you might think differently about how you visually portray the future of this distinctive, exceptional, unparalleled and most epic of art forms.


martha hart said...

James, I completely agree that what makes opera special is the different, unique, out-of-the-ordinariness of it. What first hooked you? I posted a snippet of my story on my FB page (Ml Hart) the other day... all to do with the movie THE GREAT CARUSO.

Vanilla? Tapioca pudding? Nah, that's not it.

But I disagree that the photo isn't bad... it's dreadful. Composition/posing is a mess, props don't contribute, and what's with the guy in front and his brown shoes?? Contrast with the rather fun shot on p. 16 - safe and vainlla-y, but better.

Grrrr... sometimes I'm a photographer-writer rather than writer-photographer.

Artist-Athletes said...

I'm more terrified of a counter tenor being an important part of opera's future.

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