Recently, a huge figure in the other niche industry I write about (video games) suffered a huge loss. Ryan Davis was a huge figure in the video game industry, not just because he was amazingly funny but also because he seriously worked to define what video game journalism should be. It was (and is) an incredibly ambiguous field to work in, and he tried to cover the industry in a refined, intelligent, and personal way. It will be a great loss to the field to lose him.
Reflecting on his legacy caused me to wonder about opera, because at their hearts opera and video games are rather quite similar. They fall into the “arts and entertainment” umbrella, but are mostly regarded as niche areas of journalism that no one quite knows what to do with. Video games has a slightly easier time of it, because in addition to video games there’s an entire financial side of the business one could write about. You can write about company upheavals, stocks going up and down, and even about the technology behind the newest games coming out this year. But what is the right way to write about opera?
For a long time, reviews were the only way to go about writing about opera. There were a few lovely articles about the inner workings of the biz, like the lovely Adventures of a Supernumerary written by Tom Jokinen. But overall, it was mostly all reviews and history articles. A few have tweaked with this formula, such as the Opera Novice series at the Telegraph. I’ve been impressed with it so far, because it combines review with historical background surrounding whatever opera the reviewer is currently reviewing. It’s the same reason why I love the San Francisco Opera Podcast, even though the host regularly talks like a drag queen. Which makes me love it even more.
But review-only opera coverage opens the door to a lot of ambiguous coverage, both in terms of worth to the readers and to the image of opera itself. The most recent example that comes to mind is the coverage of the crazy drama surrounding the breakup of a certain famous soprano and her apparently abusive tenor husband. In no way do I want to downplay the horrific nature of abuse. What this woman alleges happened to her is absolutely horrific. But why is this tabloid-esque story next to performance reviews and stories of leadership shuffle within opera houses? The article I linked to earlier in this article is a very classy take on the incident, using it as a jumping-off point to discuss why we as an opera society are fascinated with divas. But most articles I have seen treat it as a quick-thrill tabloid story, and not for no reason.
I would love to have access to the analytics of sites that cover opera. Are people reading the tabloid news more than anything else, and that is what compels this coverage? That’s a bloody rotten way to write about art. The most popular post on this blog as of July 8th is the review of Falstaff. From my training in SEO I can definitively tell you that multiple factors played into its popularity. I was lucky enough to find great images. It was the longest review up to that date. It was a review of a production by an opera with a recognizable name. The very fact that the title contained a name from a play by Shakespeare play may have helped it earn views. But these statistics don’t mean that I only intend to review live opera performances, or that I won’t stop writing reflection pieces. This blog is for what I believe is best for talking to people about opera right now. People get bored of just reading reviews.
We’re still figuring out how to cover opera in a way that helps everyone, and it will probably take a very long time. Opera News ended its more-than-slightly-murky relationship with the Met last month over bad reviews from critics. The AP recently stopped most of its opera coverage. For now, it’s much safer for me and the Opera Teen and all of our comrades to just keep doing our thing. Maybe we’ll get hired by one of these newspapers to write about opera, but I doubt it. Newspapers are bleeding money, and it’s safe to say that most of their opera reviewers are the same people who review dance and film. But not music, that’s for the hipster interns.
Things are still being sorted out, and it will take a while. As a fan, I have to accept that. But I just have one request for opera magazines and news outlets: Please let your interns run the Twitter feeds. Let them do it, not you. Tweets like this are not helping your image whatsoever.
About the Author: Brit McGinnis writes regularly for nerdy blogs, awesome magazines, and random video game sites that feature Sasquatch. In her free time, she edits and writes even more things. You can see some samples of her work on her website. She also loves running, watching horror movies, and playing video games.