This weekend I’m heading to the Lyric Opera again, this time to see Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg. It’s a Wagnerian spectacle, 5 1/2 hours long, which I’m looking forward to a great deal. So when my dental hygienist asked me yesterday about my weekend plans, I told her about the opera. Her response was interesting. She said that she’s been thinking of going to the opera, but that she thinks she’s going to start by going to one of the showings of the Met at a movie theater. She said she thought that would be more accessible. I agreed that Wagner probably wasn’t the right start for an opera newbie.
The conversation got me thinking about the audience problem that opera has. Except for the operas where parents bring their children, like the recent Hansel and Gretel, I’m one of the youngest members of the audience. There are very few people in the audience who aren’t white, even as the cast inches toward more diversity. And I’m probably one of the least wealthy people in attendance at the opera. In short, opera is a narrowly elite endeavor. As their audience ages, this is a huge problem for opera houses in the United States, one that they try to remedy through outreach programs.
These thoughts brought me directly to computer science and the issues that the field has. It too is a narrowly elite endeavor: most computer scientists are white and male. We have problems with recruitment, in part because computer science is seen as something that isn’t accessible to a broad range of people. And we try to address it with outreach programs, with pockets of success. So I wonder which of the two fields, opera or computer science, will be the first to successfully diversify. And will they address the issue of elitism in the process? Neither of them can afford to fail.