I will take as good coin from those who are more erudite on the current state of opera as to being somewhat diminished from its early 20th century Golden Era and with it the stature or celebrity status of the opera singer. I believe this can not be detached from the general degeneration of all cultural forms over the last several decades, especially when one speaks of American culture or North American culture (almost an oxymoron.). Today’s society revolves around the commercialization of all things including the arts and the artist. All art is subordinate to the bottom line.
The film industry appeals to the lowest common denominator of public taste, mindless special effects dominate the movies, replete with stereotypic characters usually containing no relevant content about current social-economic political life. Much popular music is manufactured in the recording studio and doctored to make mediocre musicians sound competent with a homogenized populist sound. And live pop performance is not about singing so much, but about shocking the audience alle Lady Gaga or being ultra sexy ( Byonce) with the theatrics contributing little to enhance the artistry and more often degrades the music performed as limited in scope that music might be.
One only needs to look at the Susan Boyle episode from Britains Got Talent .
A prejudgment of failure based on appearance was shattered by a fine performance and actually became a dominant part of the Susan Boyle story. Someone who didn’t look like a pageant beauty queen could sing with artistry and most importantly , could move the audience with pure vocal ability. That this was a major event is almost sad, but a comment on the current state of values in society.
The decline in stature of the opera singer since the Golden Age can not be separated from the decline of the quality of the singing and artistic staging as both have been supplanted for appearance. Insert more soap-opera good looks and often receive lower quality opera. Yes , all about marketing to attract a broader audience made necessary as the National Endowment for the Arts and Corporate support declines for all the arts in the current debt crisis environment. As I write this, the NYC Opera faces a huge downsizing - with only a few productions proposed for the 2011-2012 season. Many symphonies have closed or cut their seasons drastically.
If the general public accepts artistic/ musical standards of poor quality they should not be blamed. The media moguls cater to a populace of their own creation. The masses are bombarded in mind numbing fashion with a message to worship appearance. Cheese cake (the sexy female or male in every ad) is dominant. Men will have social success if they wear the right pants, cologne, drink the right beer, buy the right car.) Alas! Hasn’t worked for me yet.
Public schools have ripped music form the curriculum in the lower grades as an extravagance. While now and again one hears a classical piece or aria imbedded in an ad, I remember when opera was part of most child cartoons. The Lone Ranger series played the William Tell overture and Nelson Eddie and Mario Lanza made bad movies. The music TV variety show is dead, the musical movie is dead ( High School Musical not withstanding). Broadway often plays it safe with revivals rather than take a risk on a new show.
Accessability to Opera has three sides- being affordable for the working class that today often chooses between buying food, paying heating bills and medical costs, and rent. It is certainly accessible in the logistical sense via film and the existence of more local Opera companies. If the masses feel distant from opera or classical music, the music media and our educational system has fostered such ignorance, a dumbing-down, where the artistic essence of historical musical pieces is compromised for the sake superficial visual gratification. The life dramas portrayed in century old