While driving from Glimmerglass to Opera New Jersey, I heard Nicholas Carr talking about his essay in the July/August issue of THE ATLANTIC. Carr worries that google and the internet are changing the way we read--that we are becoming a nation of skimmers. He cites a colleague who says he has "almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print." He says we may be losing the ability to read "deep."
It is a worry for us who work in music's longest form. Is the audience losing the ability to "listen deep?" I know that I have one of the shorter attention spans in the opera business--a long opera can put me to sleep in the theatre, even if I am excited about it. It makes me into an artistic director always on the look out for musical cuts, in order not to test the audience's patience.
On the other hand, some long operas were written for another era. When it took a long time to get to the theatre, the length of the entertainment needed to be worth the trip. Plus it is clear that often audiences weren't really paying full attention to the recitatives--they were waiting for a pretty aria to pull their attention back from their box seat to the stage. Honestly, that's the way we watch sports and no one has any issue with that.
I tend to be an optimist and feel that shorter attention spans simply mean that artists need to do a better job at entertaining and intriguing and that often, being longwinded is just being a bore/boor. Opera is a special opportunity for deep listening.