As someone in their 30s who spends more time at indie-rock shows than at the sort of cultural events where you have to dress up, when I told people I was going to the opera on Saturday night, the reactions were generally varying plays on befuddlement. Most people tilted their head and said, "Really?"
That's the strange place the opera falls in these days, I suppose. The core audience is getting older, and there isn't an aesthetic of hipster cool that has stuck to opera as an art form yet. I have friends who have randomly taken up the cello lately or who are regular attendees of modern dance performances or who have unironic loves for the cheesiest musicals around—yet, the opera doesn't seem to be on their entertainment radar.
After seeing Carmen on Saturday, I wondered why I haven't personally gone to the opera more. It's not the language thing, since I've gone to Sigur Ros shows and had no idea what the guy was singing, and Arizona Opera provides translations projected on a screen above the stage. Sure, the experience is a little dry, considering there were multiple male audience members wearing bowties and female viewers wearing actual furs—but once the production began, it didn't take long to be swept up in the drama of the whole thing.
The opera's plot isn't anything too surprising (other than passing along the message to not trust gypsies), but between the stellar dance elements and the spectacular singing, it was good to see incredibly talented people doing something extremely well. Even if the context of opera as an art form was unfamiliar to me, it was hard to not appreciate the very essence of the art itself.
My question: What could Arizona Opera do differently to bring in a new audience? They have a number of affordable tickets available for their performances here, so there can be legitimate financial competition between a concert priced at $30 or more at the Rialto and a huge stage production for $25 at the Opera. Maybe it's just the same unfamiliarity I experienced.
But when you hear one of the arias performed live, it's easy to become a fan quickly, so maybe there need to be more opportunities in the public to hear opera performed.
I hope for the best for the Arizona Opera, and that they can find a new younger clientele—because I'd definitely like to go again and be able to take my kids in the future.