I’ve been to the opera quite a lot for someone my—let’s go with “millennial”—age. There was that time I splurged on tickets for my mom’s birthday, that time I got baller discounts, and those times my ridiculously generous friend bought box seats and we basically acted like a band of Monopoly guys for the night. There were many many more times, too. A colleague noted that I “opera a lot,” and it’s true. I do. Though the experience is almost always an arduous slow-crawl, I keep going back. I love it all, from the hyper-real grandness to the unbelievable talent to the septuagenarian, fur-hatted audience.
Yet, it’s easy to see why places like the Met are ailing in sales: young people just don’t go. It’s too expensive, too arcane, too massive. To be sure, the onus is on the opera houses to do a better job of catering to the young; but there are still many reasons why young people can enjoy the experience right now.
To be a singer, musician, costume designer, set designer, prop guy, or even a coat checker at the Met, you have to be the best in the world. In the world. The collective training in an opera house makes Broadway look like Instafame. The opera is the very pinnacle of human ability and creation. It’s not every day that you find yourself in the presence of total mastery, all tightly packaged just for you. It’s a very moving experience, and I’ve cried more times at the opera than I care to admit.
One time, during a particularly climactic scene that was all cymbals and spine-tingling soprano, I noticed a spirited pit band member going to town on a triangle, just “ping”-ing for his life. That dude was living his truth, and you know he has a million degrees. I loved him so much in that moment that I teared right up. I barely had to get through college to do what I do, and yet more young people will read this post than go to the opera this weekend. That’s not right. The master triangle player deserves way more love.
Whoever thought it was a good idea to clad an entire building interior in red velvet is a true hero (PS, it was this guy’s idea). The Met lobby feels like a Communist fever dream, or the scene of an ’80s gangster movie shootout. It’s a strange, rare glimpse into old luxury that’s neither deco nor Gothic nor anything else that defines most New York architectural gems. You can’t get a more immersive kitsch experience, and we all know young people love that kind of sh*t.
Like everything else in the world, the opera is a lot more fun if you have gobs of money. You can eat at the fancy in-house restaurant, you get better seats, and if you’re one of the mythical donors keeping the opera house alive, the perks are untold. But if you’re like me, there are $25 rush tickets. There are student tickets. There are GroupOn deals. It’s affordable if you just dig a little. With the Met trying to attract more young people than ever, it’s possible the deals will get even better.
Currently, the opera audience isn’t diverse at all. You’ve never seen a sea of more white wrinkled faces in your entire life (unless you’ve seen Get Out). As a result, there’s no real incentive for opera houses to work with inclusive casts or source material. There’s no outcry when the lead of Madame Butterfly is in yellowface. There’s no bump in tickets sales because a supporting lead actor in Rusalka is black. Young, multicultural, woke audiences need to push the opera to evolve into something better. It needs our outrage, our encouragement, and of course, our thinkpieces.
Although Lincoln Center has kicked people out their attire before, you’re not required to look like a robber baron to see an opera. But still, it’s fun to break out that costume jewelry, that hideous stole and those coattails. Or, if you’re not an insane person, you can just aim to look damn good. The red velvet backdrop makes for excellent selfies.
It’s actually surprising that older people like the opera so much, because it’s very hard work. Some operas run for almost four hours. The bathroom lines are long. It can get pretty disorienting and crowded. In other words, it’s practically a rave. By the time you’re in your mid-30s, the opera will be physically exhausting. Best do it while you’re young.
I know, I know. Here comes a treatise on why dead European guys are masters of the human condition. I don’t know about all that. In fact, a lot of operas are very sexist, insipid, messy and slow. A lot of poor choices are made on the regular, like staging Puccini to look like Casablanca and The Hurt Locker had a baby (looking at you, Manon Lescaut). But when an opera is good, it does feel relevant, and it can impress you with its timelessness. The Met translates the foreign, dated languages into succinct, palatable bits onto a screen for you. The dialogue will make you genuinely laugh, cry, freak out and get angry. Topics like globalization, misogyny and despotism arise regularly in operas and doom us all to repeat history—which we do.
If that doesn’t do it for you, rest assured that a lot of your favorite stuff is probably based on an opera (Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Rent), and seeing the source material will make you feel warm, fuzzy, and smarter than everyone else.