A 2015 survey by blogger Mae Mai reported that 260 new opera companies started since 2000 in the United States. There are 80 opera companies now working in New York alone.
Over the past couple months the New York Opera Fest showcased many of the New York companies. For the most part, these don’t look like your grandpa’s operas – just clicking the website confirms that. New opera embraces the multi-sensual experience of performing in unusual places, often under unusual circumstances, and in collaboration with all manner of other creative expression. Earlier this year, Jennifer Rivera compiled a good list of the characteristics of the successful 21st Century opera company.
For a good overview of the offerings at this year’s festival, WQXR’s Merrin Lazyan and Amanda Angel, who write the Operavore blog, went to many of the 25 productions in this first-time event. So who’s the audience for new opera?
If people don’t come to the opera, take the opera to them. This seems to be the modus operandi for a number of companies involved in the festival. And one of the most exciting elements of the festival was watching this in action. It turns out that once barriers of a refined setting and a pricy ticket are removed, audiences who may have never thought to attend an opera at Lincoln Center are turned on by the art form.
And what’s the attraction? We live our lives now straddling two worlds – the physical and the virtual. Many smart minds are trying to figure out how our increasingly online world relates to the real one. The Pokemon Go phenomenon is an early example of how the two are melding in real space.
Opera has always played in the space between fantasy and reality. Early opera offered oversized stories packaged in the kind of spectacle you couldn’t see anywhere else. The kind of music you couldn’t hear anywhere else. Opera has always been an intensely physical and visceral experience. Movies have long since stolen the crown for projecting visual spectacle, but opera still sits at the intersection of physical space and fantasy. Until recently we’ve described movies/video as multi-media. In truth, the real 21st-Century multi-media is opera, to become more and more provocative as our virtual and physical worlds converge.