Friday, August 05, 2005

Dept. Of Do You Really Want To Know

by Tom Bozzo

We interrupt the Friday music staples of new wave and indie-pop esoterica for this "serious" music note.

A while back, I'd received the Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2005 audience survey, administered by the University of As Fancy Pants As You Get In The Midwest Survey Lab. The survey asks for reaction to every production (as applicable) since the 1999/2000 season and gauges interest in various future productions. It also has the broadest range of income categories I've ever seen in the demographic section of a survey. Amusingly for a survey that seeks to distinguish the million dollar a year set from the two million dollar a year elite, the reply envelope is addressed to suggest that each response will individually be read by General Director William Mason. (*)

Some of the questions turn out to be much more open-ended than others.

The Lyric has been running mostly contemporary American opera (e.g., John Harbison's The Great Gatsby) every year, and short-series subscribers are asked whether they'd like to have that opera every year, every other year, every third year, less often, or never. OK, fine, that's one of their big artistic initiatives.

In the '03/'04 season, we saw a rousing performance of The Pirates of Penzance, and another item asks how often we'd like to see Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. We're not exactly G&S fanatics — not like Chief Justice Rehnquist, for one — but have seen a couple of Madison Savoyards productions over the years. The allowed preferences from the survey are every six years, every seven years, or less often. (Pirates was the only G&S production in the six seasons covered by the survey.) I can also surmise from an item seeking interest in specific operettas that my chances of seeing Iolanthe at the Lyric in my subscribing lifetime are much better than those of seeing H.M.S. Pinafore.

Likewise, reflecting what turns out to be something less than an artistic initiative, musical theatre productions are offered in another item at the same frequencies of every six years, every seven years, or less often. (Two advanced musicals, Street Scene and Sweeney Todd, have been produced in the survey period; we'd consider Street Scene to have been one of the highlights of the '01/'02 season.) I'd surmise that however much we might like these productions — and presumably also Sir Andrew Davis or they wouldn't have been programmed in the first place — some other Person(s) of Influence must be less than thrilled that they've displaced more conventional opera repertoire.

In both cases, I took the liberty of writing in that I would accept G&S and/or a musical more often than six years. I'd be interested to know how my notations in the margin will be handled by the U of AFPAYGITM folks. The temptation does arise to write the Institutional Review Board — there to protect my rights as an opera-going respondent, small type on the front of the survey instrument assures me — to complain that I feel marginalized by the leading survey design, or whatever language will bear most weight in IRB-land.


(*) A card thanking me for my reply, or in the alternative encouraging me to respond, requests that tardy surveys be sent to a researcher in the U of AFPAYGITM Survey Lab.
U of C over DePauw, the "Harvard of the Midwest"?

We who are stuck with only NYC offerings--where the aging of the market makes anything not either already familiar or by someone who has written film scores (e.g., Corigliano, Tan Dun) rarer than steak tartare--look longingly at the Chicago schedules (usually discovered retroactively through the WSJ) and wish that some of those shows would appear here.

Would gladly trade you a few G&Ses for McTeague, for instance.
To clarify, I wasn't complaining about the Lyric's contemporary and/or challenging programming, but rather the limited frequency choice in those items.

This year's Lyric offerings are actually the most conventional we've seen in quite a while. While I don't think they've had any serious crises there, I think the arts economy has been shaky enough that they aren't risking empty seats.
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