The challenges facing young singers are becoming ridiculous. The art form is in transition, but thousands of students continue to study the art of operatic singing. Why?
Why does opera continue to resonate with a steady number of undergraduates? While there have been reports on the decline in English majors there is no correlating decline amongst music majors.
If the number of students is staying relatively the same then why is opera attendance declining? In other words, where’s the disconnect?
I’d have to say it comes down to marketing. Opera rarely shows up where the attention of younger audiences resides, and when it does it’s mediocre. Yes, I'm talking about the social media platforms.
Thirty percent of all online time in the United States is spent on social media sites. That is a number based on ages 16-64. Two hours per day on social media sites is the average. If we look at the number for teens it's nine hours per day.
Meanwhile, opera companies continue to invest in glossy direct mailers and billboards. There are opera companies who are on social media but they don't do if effectively.
I follow the Facebook and Instagram feeds of several opera companies and have yet to be enamored by anything going on there. It’s the same old stuff — a picture of a singer with a caption full of superlatives. I’m sorry but that blows.
Facebook ads can be effective if they are good. You can’t put shit up on Facebook and hope it doesn't stink. It always stinks.
So there’s my nutshell reason for declining audiences.
I only bring it up because the deck is stacked against the next generation of singers. There are going to be fewer opportunities for the same, or even a larger number of singers.
Becoming an opera singer is a huge undertaking. The application fees to graduate programs hover around $1000. That’s a non refundable application fee. Then there are the years of study which pay little to nothing followed by years of hoping to get cast in an entry level production which will pay, maybe, a couple thousand bucks.
By the time the current class of undergrads become fully fledged opera singers we will be in the year 2025, and who knows what will have transpired by then. Yet young singers continue to flock to the art form. Why? Because once you experience what opera can be it becomes your master and you become its willing servant.
Will young singers be able to participate in the art form? I say yes. However, they're going to have to create their own paradigm as the current mode — expensive out-of-town talent, full orchestras, labor unions, and millionaire donors — is on the way out.
Garrett Harris and the singers of Point Loma Opera Theatre
In the accompanying video I talk with four young singers after [their performance of Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief. Their enthusiasm is contagious. The sound quality is bad. Apologies. No external mic yet.