I am an opera maker, and realise the terrible truth: opera needs money, desperately, all the time.
Let us assume that the chance the next government will increase funding is only slightly better than the chance it will improve the rights of refugees and trans people.
Therefore we may choose between wealthy donors and mass audiences.
Mass audiences is, in principle, the end goal of ‘relatable’ opera. Diversifying audiences is not an end in itself (except, to an extent, as a way to justify government subsidy, treating opera as a public good); it is a means to the end of having a broad opera going public that can financially sustain the form.
The idea is, in brief, ‘if we present a [MARGINALISED GROUP] onstage, then they will come.’
Yet the rest of those productions seem to have forgotten the end goal (music, staging, source material). That means we need to revert to the old model.
Where we see Rodolfo, desperate poet with a rich uncle, Alfredo, emotion-filled aristocrat with a wealthy father, and Onegin, wealthy aristocrat surrounded by other wealthy aristocrats, having so many feelings.
Even Fledermaus and Rosenkavalier, where we see terribly rich people very much like those who funded it enjoying their lives and being sad.
If we are to become reliant on resources from wealthy donors, than we must understand that the goal is not idealistic pandering.
Our goal is creating relatable content for an ageing wealth-accreting class.
The central message must not be ‘the world is unjust’, but ‘the world is terrible for you, my darling audience, and we understand. We understand how many feelings you have, how strained you are, how tired and empty life is, yet definitely necessary for you to maintain several homes, some of which you might like to pass onto your children. Yet truly, see: the end of these anguishes onstage in the beauty of art. Specifically opera. Fund opera. You will be happy by giving us money.’
That is to say, Rich Old Men Have Problems Too.*
Or, like, we may need to get a bit more serious about how we can create efficiencies, monetise what we have, and generally serve a general audience.
But I reckon that kissing wealthy backsides is the likely path right now.
*Obviously also women and every other gender, but that makes the reference less funny.