Move over hip-hop? Why opera is seeing a boost in younger fans

Anthony D. Anderson, performs on stage. He was introduced to opera through a music teacher at Duke Ellington School for the Arts in D.C.(Courtesy Lisa Helfert Photography )

Classical music performers say they’re seeing a boost in younger opera fans.

Opera singer Anthony D. Anderson said younger listeners are finding more ways of becoming exposed to the genre and they’re tuning in.

“Finding it, for me, was a fluke,” he told WTOP. “I didn’t know classical music was a thing because I grew up primarily listening to R&B and soul in my household.”

Nearly 400 years ago, classical music was the popular sound of its day. Until about 50 years ago, when other music forms, like R&B, pop and hip-hop took the top popularity spot.

The image of opera changed from music developed by young, creative composers to music only for affluent, older audiences, said Alvise Casellati, conductor of Opera Italiana is in the Air, a nonprofit that hosts free, outdoor concerts to expose younger listeners to the genre.

“It has been wrongly perceived as music for the elite,” he said. “As something that does not belong to the young people anymore. [Nowadays,] youngsters think that it’s something that doesn’t belong to the present.”

Casellati and Anderson teamed up this month to show younger music lovers what opera truly is. Opera Italiana is in the Air brought the classical sounds to stage in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

It’s a taste for younger listeners who don’t know what they’ve been missing, said Casellati, whose open-air concerts travel each year to multiple other cities including Miami, New York and Rome.

“I plant a small seed inside of them, whether they know it or not,” he said. “I offered them something that they might use later.”

It happened for Anderson as a student at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in D.C., when a teacher opened up the world of opera music to him.

Anderson believes opera is in the process of getting a modern makeover, as composers are using contemporary themes that attract younger people.

“People are telling stories that are coming from minority homes and out of homes where they weren’t rich,” Anderson said. “It’s (stories that deal with) sexual trauma or injustice. They feel like stories of today.”

Anthony D. Anderson, performs on stage in a rich baritone. He was introduced to opera through a music teacher at Duke Ellington School for the Arts in the District. He said classical music has the ability to attract young audiences.

However, R&B and hip-hop still dominate the charts. The style makes up nearly 30% of music streamed across the country, while classical music is less than 1% of the music being selected to stream.

Anderson and Casellati don’t see classical music eclipsing the top genres any time soon. But perhaps, some music collaborations are on the way.

“I have ideas,” Casellati said with a laugh. “I might do something in the future on embedding rap music into opera.”

Anderson can see it.

“We’re seeing so many artforms fuse and blend together,” he said. “It’s beautiful because it’s breaking these cultural boundaries and music has the effect to do that. It looks like ‘the now.’”

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