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Thread: To worry about the number of operagoers or about the quality of singing?

          
   
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  1. #31
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Yes, the Countess is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. Funny enough, I haven't asked her about her views on this, in detail (I will). I suppose she generally agrees with me, because she shakes her head when I'm trying to expose our son to opera, and says "you're wasting your - and his - time."

    Your take is that the phenomenon is not specific to opera. Possibly you are right, although I have my doubts: opera is definitely an art-form with an average audience age that is older than those of other - even similar - art forms, such as non-operatic classical music, so maybe there *is* something specific to opera that makes it this way. But regardless, whether or not you are right about this being a general phenomenon rather than a specific one, it doesn't change the fact that whatever causes the phenomenon, it makes of the efforts to undo it a less than effective strategy. Sure, if we were to understand the root causes better, then maybe we'd be able to better combat it, so there is indeed a point in trying to find out what makes it so.

    But the standard response so far has been one that assumes (without an ounce of hard evidence, I think) that what causes it is lack of exposure, so people go out and try to expose the youngsters to opera. What if it's not lack of exposure? I'd think it is not, just from the empirical evidence: you try and try to expose them, and most of the time (with exceptions, such as Natalie's children, but no anecdotal evidence will convince me if it doesn't apply to the population as a whole - I'll discount them as those very few exceptions I've been talking about) what you get is that they become even more turned off. So, likely, lack of exposure is not the culprit here, which is exactly what defeats this outreach push.

    So, if we were to engage in serious sociological research to find out what causes the phenomenon that accounts for the fact that in general, youngsters dislike opera, without assuming a priori that it is an exposure issue, then maybe we'd advance our cause a bit more.

    I think the big problem here is how people are conceptualizing this thing without giving serious thought to it. I mean, it *sounds* right, yes? It sounds like you plant the seeds and the trees will grow; you expose them to opera and they will come, right? We mean, why wouldn't they (we think, from *our* standpoint, since opera is so great!)? So, it must be the thing to do; then let's do it, yes? Well, no, because you expose them, and they *don't* come! (Not in significant numbers anyway). It's about time that someone notices that there is something wrong with the premise.

    I mean, what other better evidence do we need to figure out that we're going wrongly about it? Think of it. Most major regional opera houses and some of the national ones have outreach programs. They expose *thousands* of school kids to opera! They get these teachers to bring the entire classroom to the dress rehearsals, the entire school actually. Opera Carolina for example sits 1,500 school kids in the theater for a dress rehearsal. They get their trainee program and go perform opera at the school, for the kids. At dozens and dozens of area schools, several times per year (at a hefty cost); dozens and dozens of other opera companies do the same. So, we're reaching out to literally hundreds of thousands of kids. It's unprecedented, it entirely dwarfs all the other efforts to reach out to other demographics, put together. By all accounts regarding these dress rehearsal initiatives, the kids do seem to have a good time (you know, it's an outing, something different and curious, maybe better than staying in the classroom listening to the math and English lessons). OK, so, by now, if we were getting through even a tiny percentage of those hundreds of thousands of kids, we should have our opera houses teeming with kids; they should be fighting over those discounted tickets, right?

    Erm... no. You look at the audience in show days, and among the 2,000 gray-haired patrons, you see... three kids (looking bored, and trying to text message with their smartphones until moms snatch them away and tell them it's bad etiquette). Great! The strategy is working really well!

    Have you seen the satirical "The Onion" piece about this? It pretended to interview one of the above hypothetical three kids, and she then said, "You know, my mom forced me to come here and sit through this so-called opera as a punishment because I misbehaved - you know what? After going through this colossal bore, I'll make really sure that I won't misbehave any longer!"

    That's the result of our "brilliant" outreach strategy, so far.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 14th, 2013 at 03:30 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #32
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    OK, I asked the Countess. In her opinion, in addition to the attention span problem - which she does deem to be real and important in terms of brain maturity (the issue of incomplete myelination in young brains) - and unfamiliar musicality, and the peer pressure / belonging phenomenon that you've identified already (so it's not "cool" to like something that peers despise) she believes that the over-dramatic content in many operas doesn't resonate well with teenagers who have a hard time relating to these complex emotions, being typically at this age more interested in the superficiality and faster gratification they can find in action movies, videogames, and romantic comedies. According to her, teenagers are often into suppressing these complex emotions, sublimating them, and denying them in order to keep the omnipotent cocky illusion that life is great and the belief that they are invulnerable to life's setbacks, while opera will often insist on a wake-up call that they are not willing / are not prepared to hear. They tend to see the operatic content as "adult issues" that they can't identify with.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  3. #33
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I mostly agree with you on this - certainly, I think that investing the enormous resources opera companies tend to devote to building younger audiences in what is not a particularly accessible art form might be more thoughtfully allocated.

    However, there is something to be said for exposing children and young adults to new experiences, including opera. I grew up in a public school system that included music class even back in elementary school - an increasing rarity today, I believe. By junior high school, music class included films (I know - films - this is really dating myself) of Leonard Bernstein conducting and narrating Young Peoples' Concerts and teachers encouraging students to consider learning an instrument (I lasted with the cello for about 6 weeks) and school trips to NYC (from Albany, NY): we saw the Mona Lisa when it traveled to the Met in 1962 (7th grade), a live Young People's Concert the following year and, in 9th grade, a trip to Broadway to see a revival of West Side Story.

    Combine that experience with my stories of my Dad torturing my sisters and me with the Met Opera live Saturday broadcasts in the car when going skiing on Saturdays. That led up to, when I was at summer camp on Lake George (NY), and they offered a day trip to the Lake George Opera for an English language Cosi fan tutte, I was open to the idea. I was 15 or 16, and have little to no memory of the performance, other than it was offered and I went and, at least, didn't hate it.

    All that background succeeded in leaving me open to new experiences, especially when presented with the almost daily cultural offerings presented by Schiller College, where I spent my junior year in college in Heidelberg, Germany, leading to my first opera in (then) East Berlin during the year - my gateway drug. For the record, I also saw Yehudi Menuhin play the Bartok Violin Concerto #2 and a very young Christoph Eschenbach play in a piano recital, among other events, that year.

    A lot, I know, to pick up one potential audience member. Very telling, I think, is a story that TyroneL. tells, that he did not include in his dialogue with you - that of his wife, who grew up in Moscow (if I have the story correct), where attending opera/classical music performances was not out of the ordinary - just something one did (lots of exposure). Anna (?) still doesn't have much of a passion for opera, but isn't adverse to it, either (although doesn't want to listen to it while she's driving).

    So, I think exposure may be a complex thing. I've started working on a couple of my nephews - very, very gradually. My one nephew took a date to to hear Handel's Messiah at the Kennedy Center last December, and was able to come back and enthusiastically tell me about which of the soloists was good and not so good, and the high points of the performance. He grew up listening to Messiah every Christmas, and loves it. There is something there that can be built on, I think - short attention span notwithstanding. He's smart enough that I have to think at some point he will have an 'a-ha' moment. My other nephew will be a harder nut to crack. He grew up in a family strong on sports interests and pop culture with little or no exposure to classical music, and very little interest.

    My real interest isn't so much to work toward building an audience (although, if it works out that way, it's all to the good) as it is to share the real joy of something that has given me almost lifelong pleasure, and try to make sure people have at least a kernel of understanding buried within at a young age that has the potential of blooming into an appreciation as they mature. As you so eloquently laid out: not an easy task.

  4. #34
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    I appreciate your thoughtful answer, Hoffmann, but I must clarify my position a little bit. It's not that I find any of the above undesirable. I'm all for it. It's wonderful to expose kids to classical music and share with them the joys that we classical music lovers (including in it the operatic genre) experience. Hopefully some of them will get into it.

    It's just that I'm questioning its success rate as a strategy for opera companies (a rather specific situation), including, in economic terms. I'm just saying, if an opera house has a given budget allocation for outreach and the goal is to get more season subscriptions, that allocation of money will get a better return if they use it to contact senior centers than if they use it to contact middle and high schools.

    It's as simple as that.

    Is it desirable to expose the youngsters to the joys of classical music? You bet!
    Is it efficient in terms of achieving a sizable return that can help the bottom line of opera companies? Probably not.

    Of course the main objection to my line of thought would be - "aren't you thinking too much of the short term and forgetting about the long term results of having today's youngsters come back in the future if they are exposed now?"

    Sure, *if* early exposure does indeed work (and by "work" I mean *in sizable numbers,* as a rule rather than as an exception), but I'm not convinced it does. I think the evidence actually tends to support that it doesn't. I suspect that Eli's wife's case is actually statistically much more frequent than the cases of those few people we can find who did engage with opera given an early exposure. I think that at best, the modality of the early exposure will determine whether or not it produces just indifference (like in Eli's wife's case) or hatred (like people who are forced to learn the piano by her parents and put through mandatory lessons, and then once they grow up and become independent, they hate it with a passion and drop out of it, like in my wife's case - she told you about this experience, in person).

    So, in case early exposure just doesn't work, my take of forgetting about it and focusing elsewhere, might not be undermining too much the long term outcome, anyway.

    I wonder if the cases for whom the early exposure does work, wouldn't get interested anyway, regardless of the exposure. How do we know that what brought these people into opera was the exposure, rather than some brain wiring that makes them more predisposed to be receptive to classical music? You know, brain wiring *is* different. If we take the brain of a Mozart, and we compare it to the brain of someone who is incapable of putting two notes together, I bet that if we had instruments to analyze those brains for their ability to discern sounds and organize them harmonically, we would find real differences.

    So, maybe the few youngsters that do get driven into opera by early exposure are the ones who would have done it anyway, and the vast majority, while not being actively turned off, will fall into Eli's wife's situation.

    If the people who will come would have done it anyway, then again, the opera companies are spending money the wrong way.

    All the above said, I have nothing against sharing classical music with the youngsters.

    There are many things we do in life that are pleasurable and desirable but not cost-effective. Having a baby, for instance, is not cost-effective - have you seen how much those thingies cost, from pre-natal care all the way through college, correcting for inflation and compounded interests if the money were to be used differently? Millions! Literally millions! Still, having babies is pleasurable and desirable and people do it all the time, by the millions. But if people were to think of it cost-wise and return-of-investment-wise disregarding the desirabilty and pleasure-inducing factor, they'd get a cat instead of having a baby. For one thing, cats don't go to college. Am I against babies for saying so? No, I love babies. I had two of my own. But they are definitely not cost-effective. Fortunately we have babies for different reasons than the economic factors - we do it for love, basically, and to preserve the species. But they are expensive, the little creatures.

    So, if I were an opera company's chief financial officer bent on survival and cost-effective budget strategies, I might think that the love for the art form might drive me to expose youngsters to opera (maybe this would rather be the line of thought of the artistic director, not me the CFO), but the pragmatic considerations of my role would lead me to spend the company's money in a different way.

    What I've been questioning is not the desirability of such effort (exposing youngsters to classical music), but rather its cost-effectiveness.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 15th, 2013 at 09:06 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  5. #35
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    I'm glad you brought up the point of the long-term perspective. I do think the long-term perspective is important, which is why in many developed nations, the education of children is one of the paramount issues concerning society.

    I definitely appreciate and respect the Countess's views as a professional in the space of younger minds. Do these observations though apply to children / young people over the age of 16? For example, as I have observed, standard IQ test instruments seem to show IQ plateaus around age 16, which would seem to imply that elements that compose those measures (such as attention span) should also plateau around that age. If elements such as attention span improve after age 16, then why don't IQ scores on adult IQ instruments show a trend upward from age 16? If attention span continues to improve over age 40, why do IQ tests show IQs dropping for people over 40? I know that young people now seem to have a very short attention span, but I've always wondered if this was "nurture" vs. "nature" playing its part. Modern media with its quick scene changes, action movies where everything is happening at the same time, TV remote controls that just seem to want to change the channel by themselves during commercials, etc., etc.
    Last edited by tyroneslothrop; July 16th, 2013 at 12:12 PM.
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
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  6. #36
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    I'm glad you brought up the point of the long-term perspective. I do think the long-term perspective is important, which is why in many developed nations, the education of children is one of the paramount issues concerning society.

    I definitely appreciate and respect the Countess's views as a professional in the space of younger minds. Do these observations though apply to children / young people over the age of 16? For example, as I have observed, standard IQ test instruments seem to show IQ plateaus around age 16, which would seem to imply that elements that compose those measures (such as attention span) should also plateau around that age. If elements such as attention span improve after age 16, then why don't IQ scores on adult IQ instruments show a trend upward from age 16? If attention span continues to improve over age 40, why do IQ tests show IQs dropping for people over 40? I know that young people now seem to have a very short attention span, but I've always wondered if this was "nurture" vs. "nature" playing its part. Modern media with its quick scene changes, action movies where everything is happening at the same time, TV remote controls that just seem to want to change the channel by themselves during commercials, etc., etc.
    Attention span is a funny thing. Having had to deal with ADHD/ADD my whole life - and, it wasn't a very pretty picture 50 years ago, I assure you, the attention problem kind of boils down to a zero tolerance for boredom - say, like a 9th grade teacher prattling on about algebra. If something is interesting, attention rapidly becomes riveted - say, like an iPhone with its relentless pinging - demanding that all text messages be answered NOW.

    So, I don't really think that attention span, per se, improves with age so much as the maturation process provides an increasing accumulation of things that are interesting. Of course, then we likely come back to the issue of exposure and have to add in a frisson of IQ, to determine what and how much of a variety of newly interesting things - say, opera - could be enriching a maturing life.

    One 'plus' of the ADHD thing is that everything is of potential interest - the problem being, all at once. The person then rapidly processes the information and quickly sorts out the potentially interesting from the excruciatingly dull - which results are stored for future use. I can say from experience that this is something of a disadvantage if one is a high school student...or a bureaucrat, or...

  7. #37
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    I'm glad you brought up the point of the long-term perspective. I do think the long-term perspective is important, which is why in many developed nations, the education of children is one of the paramount issues concerning society.

    I definitely appreciate and respect the Countess's views as a professional in the space of younger minds. Do these observations though apply to children / young people over the age of 16? For example, as I have observed, standard IQ test instruments seem to show IQ plateaus around age 16, which would seem to imply that elements that compose those measures (such as attention span) should also plateau around that age. If elements such as attention span improve after age 16, then why don't IQ scores on adult IQ instruments show a trend upward from age 16? If attention span continues to improve over age 40, why do IQ tests show IQs dropping for people over 40? I know that young people now seem to have a very short attention span, but I've always wondered if this was "nurture" vs. "nature" playing its part. Modern media with its quick scene changes, action movies where everything is happening at the same time, TV remote controls that just seem to want to change the channel by themselves during commercials, etc., etc.
    Hm, I'm not sure your info is the most accurate. For one thing, there are those who believe that IQ peaks at 25, not 16. Now, attention span and IQ are two different things, and unrelated in terms of their core phenomenology; what can happen is a performance drop in IQ tests due to a low attention span when the subject being tested will start getting frustrated, paying less attention to subsequent questions, and replying in a more mindless way with less effort. A full neuropsych test battery does include validation scales for level of effort so if all is well done and scores are corrected for these intervening factors, the basic IQ (not the performance, functional IQ) should not be profoundly influenced by attention span. In other words, one can be smart, but inattentive, or dumb and very focused. They are different dimensions.

    Attention span, unlike Hoffmann said, can be demonstrated to improve over the life cycle until such time when there is a more global cognitive decline. Hoffmann speaks from the experience of adult ADD but that's the pathology of it; the normalcy of it for those who aren't afflicted by ADD is that it does improve as the brain matures.

    In terms of decline of IQ, several other factors are involved; not the least of them, the fact that neurons in the brain start dying out from a young age (a sobering thought!) and are not replaced, since there is no regeneration of neurons (only and to a limited degree, to the auxiliary cells). So, progressively, brains decline, out of vascular changes, white matter changes, accumulation of toxins and free radicals, etc., related to aging. That's why IQ peaks at a certain point prior to which it was still being driven up by maturing and cell organization, but then declines, as it is brought down by a diminished number of superior, "thinking" brain cells.

    And yes, the hectic modern world is not conducive of good attention span exercising for the brain - much the opposite, like you said, what people learn is to jump from one stimulus to the next, something you and Hoffmann have correctly expressed.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  8. #38
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Hm, I'm not sure your info is the most accurate. For one thing, there are those who believe that IQ peaks at 25, not 16.
    Having been the subject of tons of IQ testing on all sorts of batteries from age 10 to about 17, I just remember that they stop making age adjustments on IQ tests at CA=16. That's really why I assumed IQ was at a plateau at 16, because if it doesn't, I would have thought that they would still make age-related adjustments all the way to 25. Of course, they may now. This was a while ago. I haven't taken anything since 17. Back then, they put me through the SB, WISC, CFIT, and even the non-test, SAT. Circa my childhood, all of those seemed to be normed at CA=16.
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  9. #39
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    Having been the subject of tons of IQ testing on all sorts of batteries from age 10 to about 17, I just remember that they stop making age adjustments on IQ tests at CA=16. That's really why I assumed IQ was at a plateau at 16, because if it doesn't, I would have thought that they would still make age-related adjustments all the way to 25. Of course, they may now. This was a while ago. I haven't taken anything since 17. Back then, they put me through the SB, WISC, CFIT, and even the non-test, SAT. Circa my childhood, all of those seemed to be normed at CA=16.
    The way people standardize and adjust scales and tests sometimes has little to do with modern findings in neurobiological research, including because most of these tests and scales were devised and fine-tuned decades ago before research evolved in may different directions. Since there is no commercial incentive for the copyright holders to run all sorts of field trials to redo standards, they don't get updated.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  10. #40
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Now, attention span and IQ are two different things, and unrelated in terms of their core phenomenology; what can happen is a performance drop in IQ tests due to a low attention span when the subject being tested will start getting frustrated, paying less attention to subsequent questions, and replying in a more mindless way with less effort.
    So, for example, the paper-cut test was one that my daughter was never good at (she also has ADHD and was on an ILP in school for it). That wouldn't have anything to do with attention? I understand your point that a series of such exercises that are too hard would lead to someone like my daughter to just guessing randomly, but even in a single test, it seems like something like the paper-cut test would require some focus and attention, no?
    Last edited by tyroneslothrop; July 17th, 2013 at 03:16 PM.
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  11. #41
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    So, for example, the paper-cut test was one that my daughter was never good at (she also has ADHD and was on a ILP in school for it). That wouldn't have anything to do with attention? I understand your point that a series of such exercises that are too hard would lead to someone like my daughter to just guessing randomly, but even in a single test, it seems like something like the paper-cut test would require some focus and attention, no?
    Yes, testing requires focus and attention for a good performance so a short attention span will result in an artificially lower score. It doesn't mean the core intelligence is less - as defined as the ability to draw conclusions from analyzing facts and to find new solutions, etc. - it just means that the test is not accurately measuring the subject's intelligence because the subject is not performing at his/her best or is not putting forward the best effort. Like I said, some tests do have validity scales and effort scales that try to compensate for this.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  12. #42
    Banned Top Contributor Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Yes, the Countess is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
    Thanks for saying, we can finally understand how does she manage to live with you

    AHAHHAHAHAHA GOOD ONE

  13. #43
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anne of Green Gables View Post
    AHAHHAHAHAHA GOOD ONE
    And here I was sure you were going to ask, "How can she be both a child and an adolescent?"

  14. #44
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Davor View Post
    This devil's question for you guys and gals is, thus, what's the advantage of having many opera houses? Or: why should we transform opera into circus (or TV or movies) in order to attract X new operagoers?
    Having been talking a lot about Benjamin's Written on Skin in another thread, I should point out that another reason to have more opera houses rather than less is to increase the repertoire which is played. Fewer opera houses will probably mean that fewer contemporary operas are staged, which may be ok for now, but would hurt opera long-term.
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  15. #45
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I so dislike taking issue with my good friend TL, but: I don't believe it is easily demonstrated that an absence of contemporary opera will damage opera long-term. That's conventional wisdom in some circles, but I think the contemporary opera fan base is small and may prove to be a 'zero sum game'.

    I do, however, stand ready to be proven wrong!

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