The arts have always been a vehicle for social commentary. They have always acted as a way for artists to address issues varying from local topics to large-scale world issues. Whether a piece directly articulates how that specific artist is feeling about an issue or a member of the staff or artistic team dedicates a production to a specific cause, an audience of a piece that is commenting on social matters is generally aware that a message is being expressed. I personally feel that art must contain some kind of message, again be it large or small it does not matter as long as it says something.
As artists, I feel that there is a huge expectation coming from our society around the world to be the ones to voice issues and bring light to concerns that a group of people may have. Often when times are difficult I find that the weight coming from society can be a bit overwhelming. We cannot address every issue that is on the table either. We have to pick and choose. But how does one pick what makes the cut and what does not?
After reading Why Met Won’t Bow to Protest of Anti-Gay Law: Peter Gelb a brief statement addressing the buzz about why The Metropolitan Opera (MET) won’t be dedicating its opening performance of Eugene Onegin to the cause of gay rights in Russia, I started to think more about what constitutes a worthy reason to dedicate a performance.
Last April, Boston was greatly affected by the horrific events of the Boston Marathon tragedy. There was not a person in this city that was untouched by what had happened. For most of us at the Collage of Fine Arts it not only affected us personally but it canceled rehearsals, performances, openings, and concerts. We knew we could not continue on with these events without addressing the events that had just occurred. The CFA created a web page dedicated to the artists in their community who were responding artistically to the tragic events. The closing performance of La Clemenza di Tito was dedicated to the city of Boston.
“Against a curtain backdrop of “B Love,” the Opera Institute’s acting director, William Lumpkin prefaced the performance by thanking the audience and explaining that the unusual performance was an opportunity to share a message of resilience and community with the city of Boston.”
As artists we spoke because we felt it was needed for both the city and for us. It was our responsibility to address the pain that was being felt throughout Boston.
As opening night arrives at the MET there will be people who strongly feel that as a professional opera company filled with artistic collaborators, they should be addressing the issue of the oppressed gay citizens of Russia. But as a company, particularly an artistic company, you need to make a collaborative choice amongst your team about what you wish to address. With the MET’s choice to not address the issues in Russia they are in no way saying that they condone the laws that are being passed; in fact they even state, “We stand against the significant human rights abuses that take place every day in many countries.” They just have to choose what they focus on, just like we did (do) here at the CFA, and thousands of other artists around the world. We have to make a choice and sometimes we have to know when to take a risk and when to play it safe.