Where to Begin?

If you aren’t already following Adaptistration‘s annual Take a Friend to the Orchestra blog series, you should check it out.  I contributed a few years ago, and every year Drew taps a terrific range of writers to talk about their experiences with and advice on introducing people to our world.

If you have just a minute, start with Scott Spielberg’s recent post on taking a friend to The Marriage of Figaro – twice in one weekend!  Here’s the summary,

There is value in repetition. The context has changed, because we are different people when we cross that stream the second time. There is too much pressure put on inexperienced listeners to understand everything in a musical work in the first hearing. Mostly this pressure is self-inflicted, but we aficionados can also cause damage by smirking at ignorant questions or showing off with a bunch of technical jargon. What we need to communicate is that the best classical music has such a wealth of information that it requires and rewards repeated hearings and study. The more we emphasize that to new listeners, the more they will get out of their classical music experiences. There is value in repetition.

Amen, brother.

Are we just too impatient to buy into this?  The faster our world gets (and from where I sit, we’re hitting warp speed pretty soon…), are most of us unwilling to do anything for which the rewards aren’t immediately noticeable?  (I’m not lecturing.  Really.  I include myself in this incrimination.)

Taking a Friend to the WTOC

I’ve answered this question a lot in recent weeks:  “Which one of your performances this summer would be the best one for a new operagoer?”   I haven’t answered it very cleanly, but perhaps that’s for the best.  Just as I wouldn’t recommend any particular restaurant for all palates or any fashion for all bodies, it seems foolhardily (is that a word?) simple to dispense a one-size-fits-all recommendation.

Here are my answers.  Know your new operagoer and choose the best fit!


  • Recommended for brevity (2 hours), sheer beauty of Mozart’s musical style, intriguing production that will let the audience choose the ending each night.
  • Caution: It’s a dark, serious story.

Turk in Italy

  • Recommended for its broad comedy, light-hearted and colorful set/costumes, sheer entertainment value in Rossini’s adrenaline-drenched musical style.
  • Caution: Plot involves disguises and mistaken identities; could be a little confusing.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Recommended for the basic familiarity of the Shakespeare play (and its various movie incarnations), the wealth of different and colorful characters, the modern sonic textures in Britten’s score.
  • Caution: Would seem to be a contradiction, but rabid, die-hard fans of the play often don’t like the opera; it’s as if Britten makes too many choices for them.

Got that?  Can’t choose?  Come to one of each – they’re conveniently spread out in June, July and August! :)


John Greiner

I wish you would have let me know about the Zaide production before I bought a ticket. From the recent brochure Wolf Trap sent out, it looks terrible. I left at intermission on the “Return of Ulysses” production last year the production and direction was so incompetent. (The brochure didn’t look like it was going to be a weird production, so the marketing was a deliberate lie.) This time I give you credit for telling the truth on the brochure, but you should say so sooner when tickets go on line that it will be a bizarre concept prodcution (set in an insane asylum or police state from the looks of it) as I literally would never had bought a ticket for Zaide if I had known you were going to do a production like this.


Mr. Greiner –

I’m sorry to hear this. I’d like to address a few of your concerns and invite you to contact me personally (wtoc@wolftrap.org).

The majority response to the 2009 ULYSSES was overwhelmingly positive, but I recognize that opera patrons have a wide variety of production tastes and preferences and that it may not have been to everyone’s liking. But the marketing was not a deliberate lie, just a victim of circumstance.

Because we can’t do our casting and rep choices until December of each year (we wait until we hear the singers in our audition tour), our directors and designers aren’t hired until January. It takes a few months to zero in on and refine production choices, but our marketing materials must be created months before we know what the show will look like. Based on early discussions, we make our best guess as to the general aesthetic of a show; but last year’s ULYSSES turned out differently than we had anticipated in January. All by way of saying that the disconnect stems from an unavoidable scheduling conflict, not from an intention to lie to our potential audience.

When we created this year’s brochure, we did know that the approach to ZAIDE would probably not be 18th-century and would be modern or post-modern in some way. Now that we have the costume sketches (coming to the blog within the week), I know that the brochure image is different from what the show will actually look like. But I’m not sure that will do much to comfort you, for it still isn’t Mozart/Schachtner/Voltaire-era.

Again, I’m sorry that you’re disappointed, and I would welcome the chance to speak with you.

Kim Witman

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