Of all forms of classical music, many would argue that opera is the most ‘highbrow’, the most unapproachable for the musically uneducated. It’s easily generalized as a lengthy, sentimental, melodramatic, and above all, expensive art form.
The 21st century has witnessed an expansive effort by both operas and symphony orchestras to modernize, technologize, and entice new listeners with a younger, social media approach.
New operas, too, have been added to the repertoire of such opera giants as the Scala and the Metropolitan Opera, along with astounding new technical gizmos which render the world’s famous opera stages the most mesmerizing pieces of theater equipment in the world. But where is opera’s digital-age rebirth?
For the most part, opera’s main repertoire has been locked in the same cycles since the early 20th century. An offering of Wagner, Rossini, Puccini, Strauss and Verdi graces every season’s programs and audiences are nothing short of outraged if one of these classics is missing.
But few can name the masterpieces of the later 20th century or even of the past 12 years. For the most part, modern opera is not the melodic, audience pleasing panache of lush chords and Viennese waltzes which the opera classics are replete with. Modern opera – that is, the more atonal and flat out bizarre opera – which is currently being written is not going to gain the new audiences that opera theaters yearn for.
Melodic and tonal opera, in a sense, have been replaced by the Broadway musical. Singable melodies with melodrama long since jumped downtown from the Met to Broadway. If opera is to survive, it needs nothing short of a new batch of melodic, singable new operas. It needs to abandon the pretensions which riddle so many new operas, and ticket prices need to be greatly reduced. As sensational as the classics are, they cannot be the only pieces which attract a respectable and dependable audience, season after season.