Last weekend I had the honor of performing at a memorial service for two of Wolf Trap Opera’s longest and dearest friends, Keith and Barbara Severin. Today’s brief post is dedicated to them and to all of the beautiful people out there who donate their resources, time, energy and efforts to help sustain and promote companies like ours.
Our industry is pretty obsessed with attracting young patrons. Ideally, this obsession is focused on giving students and young adults a chance to discover opera so that some of them (let’s be real here: just a few of them, as opera is an amazing but very specific taste) can begin their lifelong love affair with Verdi. But too often our pursuit of youth careens out of control. One day we turn around and realize that we’re completely focused on trying to appeal to 20-somethings. And when we fail (as we will do in this exercise, again and again), that sense of failure seeps into our culture. Into our work. If the Millennials don’t flock into the theatre, something must be wrong.
Sorry; that was a little harsh. Of course, it’s incumbent on us to connect with every generation in a way that gives them a chance to get acquainted with opera. Not for a minute would I suggest that we close our art form off in a historical bubble with nary a thought about our future audience. What I do hate, though, is the way that the pursuit of all things hip has the potential to kick our current sustaining generation to the curb.
For sure, it’s flattering for a fusty old art form to brush itself off enough to be attractive to a busy younger generation. But every time I learn more about the fascinating lives lived by our older donors and patrons, I am struck by a feeling of gratitude and humility that these people choose to support us. These people, who have made a lifetime of valuable and varied contributions to the world around us – they choose us. Talk about being flattered.
I wasn’t sure where I was going with this, but I think I won’t edit it too severely. Please accept it in the spirit in which is was offered. And remember to thank all of the Keiths and Barbaras who lavish seemingly unending good will on your efforts.