“You’re Not Welcome”
Here’s why you- yes, you, the person reading this, are personally invited to any opera performance you’d like.
Artistic Director, MRO
When we were first kicking around ideas for how to #makeoperafunagain we realized that we probably weren’t the best people to be making that call. Having degrees in and careers devoted to opera and classical music makes us already well and truly on the opera train.
So I asked around my non-music friend circle and the answers I got weren’t entirely what I expected. Of course, there were the occasional tried and true “it’s boring” and “foreign language” reasons, but what came up over and over again was a fear that they weren’t welcome or wouldn’t belong. As someone who’s well aware of how nerdy my profession is and how out-of-my-league cool some of my friends are, I was completely flabbergasted. It was like the popular kids telling me we weren’t friends because they didn’t think they were welcome at my lunch table. They all had different reasons, varying from aesthetic to education, so let me address some of those concerns.
1. “I’m Not Welcome Because I Don’t Look Like an Opera Patron”
So you’re worried that your bright hair, ink, and piercings won’t sit well with the other patrons. Or you’re worried that your dark skin and natural hair will stick out in a sea of traditionally melanin-deprived faces. I totally understand where you’re coming from. But luckily things are changing in our little corner of the world.
Not only are alternative styles starting to be welcomed at the opera, but they’ve also even gone so far as to be celebrated in costume design. Consider the bright wig, tattoos, and sleeveless skull tee that the Vienna Volksoper depicted Vivaldi in for a production about his life last year. And as far as people of color are concerned, the opera world is well aware that we won’t survive without you all. So bring your beautiful selves on in- we’ve saved you a seat here at our Opera in Savannah!
2. “I’m Not Welcome Because My $9/hr Job Means Box Seats Aren’t In the Budget”
So you want to go to the opera, but you don’t own your own tux. Heck, you own exactly one suit of any kind that you had to buy for your buddy’s wedding ten years ago that still kind of fits and its color has only been described as heinous by two of your five previous girlfriends. Or you think the ticket prices will put you on a ramen diet for a month. Fear not! Most opera companies are taking a new, more fiscally inclusive, approach.
Though at some opera houses you’ll still see folks dusting off their tuxes, it’s mostly for the fun of it these days. MRO isn’t the only company offering less formal performances with a smaller price tag to attract a more diverse crowd. Heck, even a full-blown performance at the Met doesn’t have as stringent a dress code as you might think.
And if you’re living that Millennial “student debt, living at home, I hope I don’t get sick because I can’t afford life insurance” life, know that the opera world hears you. On top of those cheaper events, some companies will even offer discounted tickets to a younger crowd in sympathy to our plight.
3.“I’m Not Welcome Because I Don’t Know Anything About Opera”
I’m not gonna lie to you- there is a small subset of the opera world that will scoff if you make a rookie mistake like calling The Phantom of the Opera an opera or saying Jackie Evancho is your favorite opera singer. It’s the same knee jerk reaction to protecting something that you’ve been ridiculed for being interested in that produces songs that poke lighthearted fun at people jumping on the geek train or the more toxic tearing down of the “fake geek girl.” What can I say? Every group’s got jerks in the mix.
But what you’re more likely to run into are people that are super hyped to share the music they love with you, even if you “make a mistake.” I, for one, haven’t had a single conversation about Phantom without bringing up that ALW got into trouble with the Puccini estate over the melody of “Music of the Night.” If you open the door to a discussion about opera, we will spend as long as you’ll let us telling you everything we’ve learned with that fancy music degree.
And you can always do some research on your own! May my high school teachers forgive me, but Wikipedia is a super easy way to find out more about an opera in advance. (Believe me, reading the wiki before will make so many operas so much more enjoyable when you get there.) And of course, you can always follow MRO on social media to get bite-sized bits of opera info on the regular.
Long article short, no matter why you don’t think you belong at the opera, just come! The opera world likes your shining faces, it needs your shining faces, and most importantly it wants your shining faces. You are wanted! When was the last time a movie theatre wanted you? And if you come out to a performance of Moon River Opera in Savannah, GA, I will personally come out and compliment your tattoos, your sweet jeans, and your Wikipedia skills.