Paul Appleby: I’m hopeful that the crisis that was averted here at San Diego Opera was averted by the people. That’s what’s so inspiring with this story. So many of us across the country were devastated by what was going on here and then uplifted by the outpouring of support from the community. I’ve read a few articles about how well attended La Boheme was. The engagement by the community is so enheartening because that’s what needs to happen.
San Diego Reader: This could be one thing that is changing about opera. Instead of having a few very rich people give tons of money--and we thank them for that--it could be time for companies to reach out to a broader audience. Obama, love him or hate him, broke records for his campaign fundraising by going broad with millions of people instead of deep with just a few. Opera companies can and should continue to have big donors. Those big supporters have been around since the very beginning of opera. However, if companies can cast a bigger net and engage people where they are then the financial stability just might return.
PA: It all ties into the technology and the internet. In some ways everything is being fractured and these big institutions are facing an uphill battle because of this. Take record sales for instance, there are not anywhere near the number of record sales as there were before the internet. The best-selling record of this year will pale in comparison to the best-selling record of 1989 because of the fragmentation of distribution. Part of that is because of streaming services and the internet but part of it also because we have access to so much more music. Everything is a niche now. There’s no top 40. The fact that there is a big enough opera community in San Diego to support a 3,000 seat house is awesome.
SDR: That’s true but I think opera needs to take an evangelistic approach, you know, something like two Mormons knocking on your door to talk about opera. By and large I don’t think people are opposed to opera. You might find a few who have tried opera and hate it but usually it’s that people just don’t know where to start. They don’t know what is good or not. I had a friend go to an opera and afterwards they sheepishly asked about the tenor. It was obvious that this person did not enjoy the tenor but wasn’t sure if they were simply ignorant of what was good and what was bad. I assured them that their instincts were correct and that the tenor had done a poor job. That dynamic is always at play in classical music. Someone who is experiencing classical music for the first time might hesitate to express what they like and don’t like. The risk my friend was taking was me saying, “Oh you didn’t like him? Well he was great and you're an idiot” — or something along those lines. That same dynamic is at play with new compositions. If a composition needs to be explained in detail in the program by then I’m not sure its an effective piece.
PA: I think that’s a very valid point. I also think the Millennial composers are getting away from that very exclusive type of musical composition. The history of the musical academy in America is interesting. In the 50’s and 60’s the approach was that classical music had to be incredibly difficult and unapproachable to anyone who wasn’t an expert. It was in many was a reaction against the ascension of pop music. All the way up to the '40s the popular music was still big-band music and you needed people who were musically literate to compose it and perform it. A lot of pop musicians don’t know how to read music in the way that a trained musician must. There was something of an over-reaction to that saying not only must you be able to read music you must also be able to hear quarter tones and analyze this 12-tone piece after six years of studying for an advanced degree. Mozart takes popular idioms that his audiences would have recognized and marries them with his own musical genius.
Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview are also available.