April 22, 2014

Dateline April 2044: The Demise of American Opera

Thanks to my contacts in the field of psychic journalism, I have obtained a copy of an article which will be published in the New York Times on or about the year 2044. This is good,  because I'll be either dead or deep in dementia by then, as opposed to now when my dementia level is spotty at worst.


New York, New York.
American opera house ca. 2044?
(Photo courtesy of Nat Napoletano)
American opera lovers are reacting with shock, grief and even nostalgia at the announcement earlier today from New York's venerable Metropolitan Opera that the company will close permanently following the end of the current season. With this closing, live opera in the United States has virtually been eliminated as, one by one, opera houses from California to Massachusetts and all points in between have been permanently darkened since the Recession of 2008.

Despite heroic efforts from various groups determined to salvage the Met, General Manager James Swindell stated at a morning press conference that "attempts to reach agreement on a sustainable business model have imploded catastrophically, leaving us no options for continued operations in a manner representing acceptable professional and artistic standards."

Swindell pointed to a series of closings of regional opera companies during the aftermath of the Recession of 2008, including the fabled New York City Opera and the San Diego Opera, as "the first events heralding what became a perfect storm of dire economic conditions and indifference on the part of an increasingly jaded and uneducated public."

The closing of the Chicago Lyric Opera in 2027 was a key moment in American opera history. Within 15 months of that failure, opera companies in San Francisco, Des Moines, Phoenix, Boston, Houston, and Detroit followed suit. By January 2041, only the Metropolitan Opera was still in business, though (in the estimation of opera historians) it retained only a shell of its former status as the leading professional company in the world.

Asked whether the Met's historic "High-definition transmissions" of live opera into movie theaters in the early years of the 21st century may have contributed to declining opera ticket sales in cities around the country, Swindell said "That's not at all clear. I myself feel that the "HD" presentations, as well as the ensuing holographic transmissions of opera in private homes, served to provide a lifeline of great art to those who no longer could rely on finding it in their own communities."

The effects of the "Opera is Dead" phenomenon (as it has come to be called) are far-reaching, extending to the reduction of opera training programs at conservatories and collegiate music departments. A corresponding boom in regional theater has seen live theater prosper, with experimental and improvisational theaters in particular experiencing robust traffic.

Choices for opera lovers are now very limited. Live opera continues to flourish in nations with robust economies such as Austria and China. Their holographic transmissions continue to be available in the United States, although at a cost few middle-class Americans are likely to pay.

A recent CNN poll indicated that 78 percent of Americans described their attitude toward the art form of opera as "indifferent". Among adults aged 18 to 40, the percentage was 92 per cent.

May it not be so. Pray it not be so. Gross exaggeration? Read about the Met's current crisis-in-the-making regarding impending confrontational labor negotiations and largely depleted endowment. Take nothing for granted, opera friends.


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