Broadway opera

Sadly, the fat lady did you-know-what for you-know-who.

Broadway operaAbout two and a half years ago, I blogged about New York City Opera’s shocking move out of Lincoln Center to . . . nowhere.

It didn’t take a Harvard MBA to know what that meant . . . that fat lady was taking a big old breath and getting ready to sing one helluva note.

Two and a half years later, she let ‘er rip.

And that’s the end of my feeble attempts at humor, because this ain’t that funny.

New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy last week, ending an era of “affordable opera” for NYers, and leaving a ton of people without jobs, and an already beaten-up art form, up against the ropes again.

While articles like this one point to a whole bunch of missteps by the opera management over the years, there’s a bigger issue that those of us in the theater should pay attention to.

The opera audience just ain’t as big as it used to be.  And for the ones that are around, there’s not much for them to see anymore that they haven’t seen before.

How many Toscas can one see?  How many Bohemes?  Aidas?  Traviatas?

Sure, there are new productions and new stars, but they are the same ol’ operas done again and again and again.  New operas are still written, of course (NYCO’s last production of Anna Nicole was one of their most courageous works . . . ever), but they are not done nearly at the frequency of other artistic mediums (plays, musicals, novels, movies, etc.).  Partly because there isn’t the audience for them, and partly because it’s exceptionally difficult for authors to make money writing them!

So, opera companies put on the same ol’ productions or the same ol’ operas that they have been seeing for . . . centuries.  And well, that gets . . . old.  Literally.

The same could happen for the theater.  We’re a decade and a half away from the 100th anniversary of the modern theater (I peg its birth around the time of Show Boat) . . . and doesn’t it feel like we’re running out of revivals?  How many times can you see Oklahoma?  Or go back further . . . how many productions of The Seagull can we take before audience members stop going?

I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons why our attendance has been waning over the years.  Too many revivals, and not enough interest . . . unless, of course, they’ve got massive stars (but even those productions don’t run long enough to make a difference in attendance).

Takeaways from the New York City Opera story?

If you’re a theater company just focused on revivals, you’re in for a bumpy ride . . . unless you’ve got a ton of Hollywood stars on speed dial.

And while producing revivals is an important component to keeping the tradition of theater alive . . . it can’t be all that we do.  Our own fat lady will be belting out something as well . . . and it won’t be a show tune.

 

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