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News

Art Failure

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The Utah Symphony & Opera is in financial trouble, and though no one is pointing fingers, the fact is, it’s your fault.


You see, both the symphony and the opera—which combined in 2002 into one entity—rely on what’s called an “audience” to make money. They sell what are known as “tickets” to patrons who then sit in chairs and listen to and/or watch the performances. The company gets donations and grants, too, but they still depend on those elusive “audiences” for a large portion of their income.


Attendance has been down lately, and no one is sure why. Some say producing lesser-known 20th-century operas such as Jenufa, which is full of music yet contains not a single hummable tune or catchy theme, and which features a woman being slashed in the face with a knife, and which isn’t in one of the acceptable opera languages (French, Italian or German) but in Czech, scares audiences away. Others say advertising and promotions have not been up to par, and that not even conductor Keith Lockhart’s appearance fully nude in Playgirl could entice new audience members.


But I think the real problem is not the material, or the way it’s promoted, but the simple fact that for the most part, people don’t go to the symphony or the opera. Oh, sure, some do. Some even go often. But most people don’t see more than one or two operas in their entire lives, and attend the symphony only slightly more often.


When you’re trying to convince someone that a particular city is nice, it’s always the artsy things you mention. “My heavens, Salt Lake City is a fine city!” you’d say. “It has some great museums, and a world-class symphony!” And it’s true, we have those things, but do you ever go to them? No. (Neither do I, but we’re talking about you here, not me.) Instead, those things languish on the outskirts of profitability, kept alive by generous donations and by the few people who actually patronize them.


The thing is, I’m not sure we really deserve fine art anyway. Last month US& produced Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an opera that has the added difficulty of being based on a Shakespeare play. Not to suggest that certain Utahns are yokels who put on their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes and spray their hair up real high when it’s time to go to the ahpruh, but there were some embarrassing specimens at the performance I attended. For example, after some reveling had taken place in the fairy-inhabited woods onstage, the man behind me remarked to his female companion, in a “whisper” loud enough for all around him to hear, “It looks like a fraternity house the morning after a party.”


Now, leaving aside the idiocy of pointing out that a scene depicting the aftermath of a party looks, in fact, like the aftermath of a party, what happened to this man that made him think it was OK to talk during the opera? A blow to the head? A viral infection during infancy? The man made other comments over the course of the show, too, and I hope he is reading this so that he will know what a jackass he is.


That’s assuming he even has the class to read an artsy publication such as this, which I should point out is kept alive by generous donations—of time—from readers like you.