So, what has happened, is happening, will happen to opera? It is easy to fear, resent, or demonize the space that the digital increasingly occupies in the landscape of opera, but it is clear to me that the opera in the digital world is simply more of the same — the same failures and successes, the same postures and vulnerabilities, the same artistic pinnacles and economic bottom lines as opera has always had, only amplified a little, accelerated a little, playing out in front of more eyes in more countries. Even in this accelerated sameness, Live in HD and digital opera are following established tracks, as more of the same has always been opera’s worst tendency (more of the same Puccini classics programmed, more of the same white men getting commissioned, more of the same orientalist tropes and violently misogynistic storylines), even as it does provide some of the enduring appeal of an institution like the Met, where you always know where you stand, what you’re going to hear, and which bar you’re going to hit up at intermission.
There exists, of course truly disruptive opera, opera that is actually doing some of the landscape-shifting work that people project onto HD Live. New York City is full of small, indie opera companies, groups like Heartbeat Opera, Fresh Squeezed Opera, Harlem Opera Theater, the Little Opera Theater of NY, and many many more, discoverable through the website of indie opera consortium New York Opera Alliance. These groups are staging diverse and innovative productions of historically under-performed works, radically re-imagined classics, and new music. Even BAM stages as much or more contemporary opera than the Met, in between, of course, Live in HD screenings. With the Met continuing to dominate American opera discourse (especially now that the Met has a port in every town via Live in HD), it is nevertheless possible to find opera's own less beaten paths, and frequent them — the more attendance, energy, and money we move into the world of indie opera the more possible it is to move opera's more hidden discourses into public view, and the more likely it is that finally something will happen to opera.