Missing the real thing

All across our country the performing arts have been on a kind of deep-freeze. Large organizations like the Metropolitan Opera have bled enormous amounts in lost ticket revenues with no end in sight, while musicians, chorus members, principal singers, stage hands, and artistic-administrative personnel live on, barely scraping by financially, some relocating outside of New York, others moving in with parents, while waiting for it all to be over.

In Cincinnati, a microcosm of the larger national arts debacle, live theatres remain closed, while the larger and financially resilient, such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra play a limited number of performances with reduced orchestral forces, in shorter, intermission-less concerts, to socially-distanced audiences.

Summer-arts organizations hold off announcing their plans hoping things will soon change. Same goes for the smaller arts organizations, some of which may never come back. Cincinnati’s two major museums – the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Art Museum linger on with reduced hours and no major exhibits.

The College-Conservatory of Music – in its heyday the largest presenter of live arts events in the State of Ohio – is exclusively presenting digital performances with carefully-distanced student musicians and dancers, while its ensemble-centric programs – musical theatre and opera – remain on hold for the time being. After a one-year hiatus the 173 year old Cincinnati May Festival bounces back in a modest version of its old self when it opens on May 2 with three programs of mostly smaller pieces involving reduced forces.

Audience members manage to get by watching on-line performances – many archival ones dating back years – of operas and concerts available on You Tube, the Metropolitan Opera’s digital presentations, and European on-line sources like Opera Vision. But every music and theatre and visual arts fan of my acquaintance aches for the return of the unique and irreplaceable in-person experiences of sitting in a concert hall or a darkened theatre or standing in front of a work of art in a museum as great art unfolds before our eyes and ears.

In a private exchange a musician friend wrote:  “I had to take a year off and start a business venture, in case our orchestra world imploded! I could certainly share what our experience has been during the pandemic and how that will impact us moving forward.”

Oh, how we understand!