Discovering opera: a rock artist’s perspective

Discovering opera: a rock artist’s perspective

If you’ve never been to an opera or even considered attending one, I beg you to give it a try. As a music lover, you might be surprised by the richness and the drama opera has to offer.

For those unfamiliar with me, Anastasia Elliot, I’m a rock artist with classical influences — trained in opera and classical piano. Growing up, I frequently attended various classical art forms, like ballet, symphony, and opera; each performance inspired me with its grandeur and attention to detail, from the costumes and sets to the music, all infused with my favorite element — drama.

Recently, I extended a trip to Los Angeles to attend Opera America’s Opera Conference, the largest gathering of opera professionals worldwide. Initially, I was uncertain about what a rock artist could gain from an opera conference. However, I left feeling profoundly inspired and more determined than ever to bring opera to the mainstream.

The opera industry has been declining, as younger generations feel less connected to it.

There’s a noticeable tension between those who want to innovate and those who cling to traditional methods. From my conversations with singers, producers, and more, it’s clear that breaking free of tradition and making opera relevant to contemporary culture is vital for its survival.

One significant difference between the mainstream and classical music worlds is the sheer number of people involved in staging an opera. As an independent artist, I handle many aspects of my work myself. In contrast, an opera production requires composers, librettists (opera’s version of a lyricist), singers, producers, directors, intimacy directors, stage and choreography experts, theater rentals, ushers, and more. This creates a substantial barrier for new and innovative work, which often struggles for funding and support from an industry focused on traditional repertoires.

Photo cred: Anastasia Elliot

At the conference, I met brilliant new composers and librettists who weave modern stories into their pieces, aiming to appeal to contemporary audiences. It’s puzzling that these works are not more widely known, highlighting a disconnect between the industry and the public.

I felt like I was in a new underground world of opera revolutionaries. 

Few singers attended the conference, partly due to high ticket prices. Those I did meet shared a sense of discouragement — a sentiment I see across all music genres. Singers are undervalued and underpaid industry-wide. On the second day of the conference, I went to the flower district and bought a few dozen roses to uplift their spirits. We shared many tearful moments as I told these singers that I see them in their struggle and that every performer who pours their heart into their art deserves a rose. I spent the day giving pep talks to as many singers and composers as I could find. We need them. Opera needs them. Innovation needs them. The hierarchy in the music industry feels inverted, with artists at the very bottom, which is unsustainable. At several artist networking roundtables, I heard how even at the higher levels of opera, making a steady income, let alone saving for the future, is nearly impossible. This is a problem all artists face as art continues to be undervalued.

Photo cred: Anastasia Elliot

In the evenings, I attended performances of Turandot with sets by David Hockney, a bilingual Madame Butterfly, and the groundbreaking Magdalene put on by Beth Morrison. Each opera was unique and moving, showcasing the diversity within the genre. Just as rock encompasses various sounds and styles, so does opera. There’s truly something for everyone. For example, Magdalene featured a nude dancer, challenging traditional expectations and sparking debate, proving that opera can be as provocative as any rock performance. I witnessed an older man at the conference earlier that day talking about how vulgar Magdalene was and I instantly knew I would love it.

We need art that challenges us to expand our worldview and perspective.

During the final keynote, a group of women protested an all-male panel, demanding inclusion. What an amazing opera-worthy way to go about it. They were brought up onstage and immediately heard. Their courage was inspiring, highlighting the urgent need for change within the industry. Meeting innovative companies like Beth Morrison and White Snake confirmed that evolution is happening and that opera’s passionate supporters are committed to its future.

Opera needs your help to thrive. Check out local programming, attend both traditional and new works, and discover the beauty and emotion opera offers. There’s something in it for everyone and, I assure you, you’ll be moved. After Opera Conference 2024, I feel personally invigorated to be at the forefront of helping the opera revolution reach the mainstream. I am committed to helping and getting involved with the leaders in this genre to see what can be done to bring more awareness to this beautiful art form. I don’t think I will ever miss another Opera Conference! 

For more on Opera Fest LA 2024 check out the website here.

Anastasia Elliot links: Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

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