Vox Populi and the Houston Grand Opera

Anthony Freud is the new General Director of Houston Grand Opera and believes that his opera company is essentially a cultural services company.  His mission goes beyond selling tickets to the mainstage productions and education outreach (opera camps, opera in schools, preschool opera programs).  Freud has developed a program called Song of Houston in which he co-commissions and produces operas about the various ethnic groups that live in Houston, i.e. vox populi works.  He’s hoping these works will resonate with African, Central American, Indian, Mexican, Pakistani, Soviet-era Jewish and Vietnamese immigrants.

All this is an attempt to help opera shed its “snooty image” according to Wall Street Journal writer  JUDITH H. DOBRZYNSKI.

I am all for inititatives that bring new folks to opera, but I will never agree that opera is snooty.  Perhaps some operagoers are snooty, but ultimately I think that it’s human nature to feel uncomfortable in a setting that is unfamiliar, whether it’s eating at a French restaurant, visiting a foreign country, or sitting in an opera for the first time.

My husband and I took our family to a restaurant that we love last night – an old Civil War era flour mill that caught fire and was resurrected five years ago by an entrepreneur with a vision.  We hadn’t been there for months and when we sat down we immediately realized that things had changed:  the player piano had disappeared and was replaced by an extra bar,  the music was the same dancebeat music we’d just heard at the local roller rink the week before, the menu was a shadow of its former self, and the wait staff was wearing jeans and tightfitting black shirts. 

The owner came over to talk with us as we were waiting for our meals so we took the opportunity to mention that we had noticed that he had made some changes to the restaurant.  He told us that he was trying to respond to the cultural climate.  He was making an effort to become more pedestrian and attract business.

I have always thought of the term pedestrian as having a negative connotation and so I went home and looked it up in my dictionary – just to be sure.  Here’s what the dictionary says:

pedestrian -adj. 1)moving on foot; walking; pertaining to walking 2)pertaining to common people; plebeian 3) commonplace, prosaic or dull, as prose or mechanical verse

Do we really want to convert all life to something prosaic and unimaginative?  Opera is beautiful, lively, and fabulous and we shouldn’t make apologies for it.


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