Observations from the Way-Back Machine

A month ago I started working my way through the WTOC’s 40-year history. (The 1970’s tag will show you the list of posts so far.) I was in search of a way to showcase this most unusual company that is in equal parts laboratory and real world – a place where it’s acknowledged that everyone has many things to learn and conquer, yet all are thrust into responsibility and into the spotlight. I also wanted to gain more context for myself and to have a daily deadline that required me to review and purge our archive files.

What I didn’t expect is the way that reviewing and absorbing this historical information has infiltrated my subconscious and caused me to look at our current operation through a different lens. (Yes, history fans, I know… this is what you’ve been telling all of us all along. But humor me.)

Of these things I am jealous…

The amount of press attention paid to events like the 1978 opera premiere of The Duchess of Malfi. Files and files of clippings four inches high. National, local, reviews, previews, features.

The amount of local press clippings from the 1970’s. Local papers running short articles on the arrival of our artists, the backstage story on the company, the awards they garner after they leave.

The amount of artistic freedom (occasionally run amok, dare I say…) and financial capital foisted on some of the operas in those early days.

But then I remember…

The amount of visibility we have now – thanks to digital media and the abundance of delivery vehicles available in the 21st century – probably trumps a stack of newspaper clippings from the 70’s.

Kay Shouse’s  powerful and single-minded advocacy for the opera company is a thing of past. But decades later, it has widened into the support of hundreds of donors, board members and staff.

And even though the Foundation lavished an amazing amount of money and resources on some of those 1970’s era operas at the Filene Center, it was often done for a cast of top-tier guest stars. The young artists themselves were singing in the chorus – getting valuable experience, yes, but in a completely different way than today. If I had to choose, I’d probably stay right where we are, in an era of fiscal conservatism and visible artistic boundaries.

Over all?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Our landscape may be new, but our dilemmas are ever old. The realization brings both chagrin and relief. And some comfort.

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