In the 19th century, opera was an art form that was reserved for the social elite. Ticket prices reflected the audience that the operas wanted to draw in, only affordable to a certain socio-economic classes.
Opera’s popularity quickly declined with the rise of other entertainment forms like radio, movies and television.
Today’s theater is going out of their way to fight the stereotype of elitism, particularly towards the younger crowd. Through student discounts and “student nights,” modern theaters are making ticket prices more affordable.
In this vein, VCU Opera makes their spring and autumn shows free of admission cost in an attempt to make the art form accessible to the younger generations.
Melanie Day, an associate professor at VCU Opera, said that presenting operas can be incredibly expensive, especially when it comes to period costumes. She says that many larger companies are presenting updated, or “modern” versions, of opera in order to save on production costs.
According to FiveThirtyEight, The Metropolitan Opera reported their seats being only 74 percent full during their 2014-15 season, compared to their previous season where seats were reported being 77 percent full.
Alan Chavez, a senior music student at VCU, disagrees with the notion that “opera is dying.” He says in fact he thinks it’s growing and becoming more popular with students.
“The crowd is really becoming younger, in my personal experience,” Chavez said. “Every year I go to the opera the crowds get younger and younger as opposed to the decline that it had been going in in which the crowds were getting older and older.”
Tiun Duong, a junior VCU music student, said that past performances have played to a full house in the 500-seat theater.
Devonte Saunders, who performed in the last weekend opera performance “A Date with Destiny,” agrees.
“I think it’s important to know that opera is for everybody,” Saunders said. “The stories that we tell are for everyone, and even though they are set in different time periods, they always can be applied to today.”
Chavez said the stigma of elitism surrounding the art form scares many young people away. A stigma which he disagrees with.
“Look up opera, and listen to it,” said Chavez, “Give it a chance.”
Mary Lee Clark
Mary Lee is a senior studying journalism. She currently interns for RVAmag and GayRVA.com, in addition to writing for the CT. She previously worked as a makeup artist at Darkwood Manor, did lighting design at Trackside Theater (where she is now on the Board of Directors) and photographed for the Page News and Courier.
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