People-watching was as much fun as the music during the 37th annual Opera in the Park yesterday afternoon! Lying back, bellies full, soaking in the magnificent arias delivered with such verve and polish from the stage, humming along with one luscious melody after another, watching the ragged edge of fog competing with blue sky overhead, we in the audience were feeling mightily content!
Sitting up to survey the crowd, I was struck by how eclectic the audience was . . . much more so than the usual opera crowd at the opera house. Ages ranged from infants to octogenarians. Dogs present, of course. Fashions included shorts, tutus, leather, chains, leg-warmers, flip-flops, a skin-tight spider-woman suit. How many in this crowd, I wonder, would also attend an opera at the opera house, pay the high ticket prices, sit for four hours or more, wait patiently through the slow unfolding of melodramatic plots and lengthy recitatives for these gem-like arias?
One goal of Opera in the Park, of course, is to build support and enlarge the audience for opera (hence the 50% coupons distributed to the Sharon Meadow crowd yesterday). Probably impossible to accurately measure success in that regard, but thinking along these lines I realize that there are a number of parallels between Opera and 19th-century parks like Golden Gate Park. Both are forms of popular entertainment (and historic forms of art!) that are struggling to stay relevant in our time, to adapt to the changing tastes and mores of contemporary culture while retaining core values and structures dating to an earlier time. In both cases, management must walk a fine line between the expectations of the traditional audience, grounded in tradition and familiarity, and the possibility of expanding that audience through imagination, experimentation and innovation.
More on this subject later, but food for thought: which will prove to be more adaptable in the 21st century . . . Golden Gate Park or the San Francisco Opera?