Opera’s fight for survival in the 21st century

The New York City Opera, a 70-year-old company that served as a paradigm for both the classical music world and the entertainment-driven city, closed its doors for good on Oct. 1 of this year.

The New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy after failing to cover its costs last month. Opera is struggling, but for many, it’s alive and well. (AP Photo)

The landmark may have closed for financial reasons, but the termination of the opera company posed a larger question: How can this classical form of theater stay relevant in younger generations?

“Not many people have an opinion — at least an educated one — about opera,” said Dan Malloy, a junior music education major with a vocal concentration. “Most people didn’t grow up going to the opera.”

One of the main problems is that many people, particularly young adults, find it hard to connect with pieces that are sometimes 100 years old. Despite this, Malloy is one of many students at the College who study and perform opera on a daily basis. These students are passionate individuals who work meticulously at perfecting this complicated art form.

“There is a certain way of breathing and support, a certain amount of space in the mouth and throat, a certain way to shape vowels and spit out consonants to make the texts that you sing (both) clear and expressive,” junior music major Kyle Sheehan said.

Students with a vocal concentration at the College can also take multiple classes and private lessons to help improve these techniques of opera and voice.

While some see opera as a dying art form, these students find performing this type of music exciting and refreshing, offering them a different type of outlet to express themselves.

“There is something special about singing opera that captures me in a way that nothing else can,” Sheehan said. “There is a certain structure, a certain beauty that is captured by the smooth lines of a classical aria or a huge opera chorus blasting away while the orchestra billows from the pit.”

Aside from vocal ability, students who study and perform opera learn a variety of other skills. They get experience by performing in front of others, learning about history and studying various languages. Many operas are written in other languages, such as Italian, and require students to ardently study and focus on the lyrics.

“By studying opera and singing in general, I have learned to think on my feet,” junior music education major Diana Befi said. “I have also learned that, when performing, you need to let yourself be completely in the moment.”

Befi and other students are learning skills that can help them outside the world of opera, too.

“These skills of time management, persistence and collaboration are always useful and vital to surviving in the real world,” Sheehan said, discussing opera’s impact on his future after college.

Regardless of how they got their start, Malloy, Befi and Sheehan all believe that opera is a crucial part of our musical culture and heritage.

“It’s an important part of our history … our generation needs to understand this and experience this just like past generations have,” Malloy said.

The only way to preserve opera in our culture is to get our generation involved. The College, for example, has an extensive music program in which students diligently work, and they should be rewarded with support.

Aside from recitals, the music department also has an organization called Lyric Theater run by staff member Lars Woodul. Lyric Theater’s fall production, Mozart’s “Impresario,” will be performed with the TCNJ Orchestra on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. in Mayo Concert Hall.

Although these steps may seem small, they all sing opera’s praises to a new generation, preserving its importance.