I’ve been tagged in another flash mob opera scene.

My singer friends are all posting about the closure of Opera San Diego, a refrain of the closure of New York City Opera.

People seem surprised.

“It’s an amazing art form!”
“People don’t understand how incredible it is! If they understood how incredible it is, we couldn’t keep them away.”

Whose job is it to show the potential audience how incredible it is? The producers, the directors, the company owners. Yes, the artists.

For years now, people have been able to be completely immersed in their experiences. Create an avatar and be the center of a story. They can pretend to know how to play instruments and compete with themselves or their friends. They can create a simple melody and software will build an orchestra around it. They can sing badly into a microphone and their pitches will be, on the fly, corrected.

You want them to sit in a darkened theater, silent, watching antics in a language they don’t understand? For three hours? Get over yourself. Puccini didn’t even want that. Puccini’s audience sat in the orchestra section of a lively theater, eating, drinking and smoking. They cheered for their favorite singers. They booed mediocre performances. They spoke the language. They understood what was happening, because it was modern. They got every subtle political reference. Librettists were broke artists who made fun of the bourgeoisie, and the common man ate it up. They turned Verdi’s name into the battle cry for the people. They didn’t sit and listen to operas in English, studying them in advance, trying to keep up with a translation. They didn’t want to do the work to enjoy a performance, and neither do kids today. And you don’t get to fault them for that.

If you’re complaining about people not being willing to do the work to enjoy opera,
You’re a stagecoach driver.
You’re a scullery maid.
You’re not wrong; it’s amazing, and it’s sad that it’s falling by the wayside. But it will go by the wayside, I promise you.

What opera has become, at a time before I began singing, before I was born, possibly before or around the time my parents were born, is an affront to everything I believe about opera. About music. About performance. Really, Wagner was a big part of the faux aggressive sophisticizing of opera.

Why do I love opera?

Because I get to participate in it. Because I understand it. Because I am engaged, involved. Because I have spent much of my life as a broke artist, and I’ve often said that, if the elite who can afford full-priced mega-opera knew about the antics of the people performing for them, they’d reel in revulsion. We are not high brow. We do not know which is the right fork to use. We speak more languages than you do, and we tell inappropriate jokes backstage to break the tension. We act well enough to blend into a $1000 plate setting, but we cannot wait to get home and crack a beer. When I need a break from memorizing music, I blast rap.

Upon finding out I’m an opera singer, people abashedly (or sometimes with near-angry bravado) tell me they’re not fans. As though I’ll be upset. I am the first to vehemently tell them that it’s the fault of the opera world that they feel this way. That it’s been presented wrong. I ask them if they like Cirque du Soleil. Of course they do. Cirque is amazing; a near-immersive experience of amazing expertise in multiple media; acrobatics, music, audio-visual. Cirque is the new opera. (Cirque hires opera singers, too; they’ve requested my materials three times and I’m hoping against hope that, some day, it will stick and I’ll get to run away with the circus). Cirque was created somewhat recently, to play to modern audiences. Clearly their MO of “hip-ifying”, decreasing performances, decreasing ticket prices, and performer flash mobs, has been successful.

Oh, wait. The opposite of that.

The opera (and symphony) flash mob is the worst bait and switch I have encountered. Well, I suppose anyone who uses a flash mob as an advertising tool runs the risk. It is just the one with which I am the most familiar. You’re telling potential new audiences “We’re fun! We’re exiting! We’re zany and cool. Join us! Come, follow the piper. We’re wonderful, beautiful, exciting. Totally spontaneous! Come sit with us in a dark theater. Correction. You’ll be completely removed from us. So, instead of being amidst us in a grocery store/a coffee shop/a town square, you’ll sit there in the dark while we party in the spotlight onstage.” That’s cruel. That’s telling the kids they’re going to Disneyland and bringing them to the dentist. That’s the opposite of what you should be doing. Consider, just for a moment, a change. Consider if the flash mob was the actual performance. The moneymaking performance. Not a publicity stunt. THE stunt.

You already know your potential audience loves it. You already know your performers are dying to do more stuff like this.

Opera storylines aren’t relatable? Tell that to the people who made Moulin Rouge (based on the book upon which my favorite opera is based), to the people who did RENT. Live theater and Shakespeare aren’t interesting? Tell that to the people who do Sleep No More.

Ellinor asked me a few years ago why I still go to Burning Man. I answered honestly that, if I didn’t sing there, I probably wouldn’t go. I showed her the video that Jazz shot of me singing in the Thunderdome. It’s one of the best representations – this is me, this is my element. This is me in the wild, doing what I do best. And people are rabid. How many opera singers know the joy of a crowd of hundreds of dust-covered ruffians screaming and cheering when they hold a high note? Yes, it’s a rush. Let’s be honest. I’m not the best opera singer in the world, I’m not the best opera singer in the Bay Area, and I’m not the best opera singer Alameda. But I’m the best opera singer these folks have ever heard, because I’m usually the only one they’ve ever heard. People who think they hate this artform have never heard a real aria before. They aren’t going to shell out a week’s pay for five minutes of vocal fireworks and 2 hours of recitative. But they will shell out a half month’s salary to go to Burning Man. They know they’re going to get something new and amazing there, something they haven’t experienced before, and I am part of that. I’m beyond proud; I am deeply honored to be a part of that. I don’t want to create art in a vacuum. I don’t want to create masturbatory theater for people who have to be educated in it in order to appreciate it. This defeats the purpose; it’s cannibalism. I am sick of artists, producers, and companies cutting off their legs to feed themselves. It’s unsustainable. It’s bullshit. Evolve or die.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to perform at an event in an underground creek. The producers heard about me, and invited me to sing in this insane series of acoustically amazing tunnels. Hundreds of people came through, I help a marching band to lower its instruments through a manhole. High tea was served. An art gallery lined the walls. There were aerialists. A water slide.

I wore a full-length gown, the required hardhat, rain boots, full makeup. It was insanely challenging. I didn’t know exactly where I was going to sing. I wandered, helped man the water slide, sang. I found another singer – we traded improvised melodies back and forth through the tunnels, often unable to see each other.

Later that afternoon, I drove to Petaluma for an audition. The audition form asked about my most incredible performing experience, and I cited the performance from earlier that day. The next question asked why it was important to me, and I replied that it was bringing opera to new audiences. This is the most important thing we can be doing. Then, I proceeded to sing the hell out of the vengeance aria. For those not in the know, the vengeance aria is one of the most difficult, high pieces in the Soprano repertoire. I nailed it. They haven’t called. Maybe the other singers were better, maybe they knew them, there any number of reasons to not get hired for gig. Maybe it’s because I was honest about my important performances. But if you ask whether I’d rather sing to a bunch of opera fans or a bunch of opera ignorami, well, you have my answer. I know which one will be around. Not the flash mob, not Sleep No More. It’s going to be whoever does the next version of that; whoever evolves.

All of the time, singers ask me how I started singing opera with techno, how I got the gig at Burning Man. This is flawed thinking; I made the fucking gig at Burning Man. My training, my personality, the culmination of my interests and skills. Sitting around waiting for someone to hire you is a good way to ensure you never get hired. The lack of creativity, not in the performers, but in the creation of the performances, is killing us. The classical musical world is building Bugattis, putting them on go-kart tracks and complaining that kids don’t want to drive them when they can’t reach the pedals. The classical music world blames everybody else because Josh Bell wasn’t recognized in the subway. If they wanted him to be recognized, they should have made him a rock star, not put him in a darkened theater and then told the audience to “shhhhh” while he played 64ths like he was on rails. The audience shouldn’t have to know what a 64th is in order to enjoy it. We can do better. Maybe some people won’t enjoy it; maybe some performers will resist. They’re the same performers who won’t busk; you never know how good a performer you are until you’ve done it on the street to a disinterested audience. But, when I am not the only aerialist opera singer I know, I know that times are changing, that most performers are desperate to change with them, and just need to know how.

You want real performance? You want to enjoy without having to learn an extra language? You want opera for a reasonable cost in an intimate setting and to be able to drink wine while you watch?

Come watch my circus troupe perform.
Come to a show by one of my favorite companies with which to perform.
Go to Cirque. To Sleep No More.
Vote with your dollar, as you always have, and don’t let anyone tell you you have to be educated to enjoy it.

We will evolve. We have to. I’ll continue to be at the forefront, in a ball gown in an underground creek, lighting the way.