I was extremely disappointed and angered upon reading the column “Opera is a white man’s game.”
While it is hard to deny that opera is still viewed today as an elitist art form, opera companies and educational institutions around the world are making efforts to make opera more accessible and to broaden audiences.
Opera companies are encouraging audience members to “come as you are” in jeans and a T-shirt, offering educational discussions before the performances to make the stories more accessible, and offering reduced prices for students in order to invite a younger audience to participate in the opera culture.
In addition, professional opera companies and universities have outreach programs to bring shortened versions of operas into schools.
Even IU has a program called Roundabout Opera for Kids in which students and faculty members travel to local schools bringing short operas and relatable characters to schoolchildren.
I highly doubt that all of these schoolchildren are white, and I know for a fact that not all of the performers are white.
Aside from this program, the IU Opera and Ballet Theater offers reduced prices for students. That’s not to mention opening night tickets are general admission, meaning a student can pay $12 to sit anywhere in the theater.
I would hardly call this expensive for a live performance. Even the price of movie tickets these days is upward of $10.
If a $12 orchestra ticket seems too expensive, the viewer can simply go to the Jacobs School of Music website and livestream the performance for free. If this isn’t making opera more accessible, I do not know what is.
I was lucky enough to sing in the chorus of “La Traviata,” the production Sam Ostrowski attended and seemed so turned off by, written by a “famous dead white man.”
Maybe if he had paid more attention to the opera, he would have realized the entire performance was a commentary on the twisted lives of the courtesans of the time.
These white women were viewed only as objects of beauty by their white male counterparts and were left to whither away alone when their beauty could no longer serve the other white people.
The over-the-top production was a theatrical means to illustrate the extremes of the opulent lifestyle of the white man.
I use the terms “white women” and “white men” in the style of Ostrowski, though I doubt he noticed that the cast consisted of white singers, black singers, Latin American singers and Asian singers.
If he had looked to the orchestra, he would have noticed the same.
Addressing P.Q. Phan’s opera, “The Tale of Lady Thi Kinh,” was also a failed effort on Ostrowski’s part.
While he did recognize that IU is situated in the Midwest and that it is impossible to find enough capable Asian singers to double cast an opera, his comments suggested the predominantly white cast took away from experiencing the culturally diverse story.
If race and class systems are such problems in opera, Ostrowski should have been able to look past the races of the performers and enjoy the classic Vietnamese story.
The problem in this case is not the “opera culture” Ostrowski describes. It is his narrow-minded view that if the race of the performers doesn’t match the story, it becomes less valuable as a piece of art.
What distresses me most is that Ostrowski is a theater major who lives with several students who have either sung, or stage managed an IU Opera Theater production.
He should be a proponent of the arts instead of detracting from them.
I am not saying Ostrowski is not entitled to an opinion.
Rather, I hoped that someone so close to the arts would make a more constructive, well-researched argument.
While his article certainly sparked a discussion about opera’s place in our modern society, his column would have better served the arts if he had addressed this need for change and how the change is already being put into action through the means listed above.
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