Things That Make You Go “Buh?” Overheard At The Opera

You have to shake your head at some of things you overhear during intermission. For example, this past Friday at the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s opening night of LuLu (Marlis Petersen was fantastic), I was standing around during the first intermission minding my own business enjoying the view of the building’s grand foyer when two patrons walked up next to me and engaged in one of the most remarkable conversations I’ve overheard in some time…

Black people don't go to the opera?

Man #1: “There sure is a big crowd here tonight. [pause] But I don’t see any black people.”

Man #2: “I don’t think black people go to the opera.”

Man #1: “At least I know it’s that way in St. Louis.”

I didn’t have the heart (or stomach) to point out the group of black patrons immediately behind them or the fact that beginning next week, the Lyric begins their production of Porgy and Bess. I don’t think they could have handled the news that blacks not only go to the opera but write and perform in them as well (and even become president!).

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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