When folks have no background in the arts, too often all they see in culture is "cult": small bands of devotees ritualistically going to look at and listen to often wild-eyed adherents of certain aesthetic creeds. It takes real skill and persuasion to convince arts outsiders that this is no strange fringe religion, but a part of society that belongs to and can speak to everybody, and Austin Lyric Opera's Joe McClain has those qualities in spades. When he talks about his chosen art form, it's clear he's a believer – his eyes gleam like a tent-show revivalist's – but he doesn't just preach to the chorus, as it were. He describes the stories of the operas (and how they were created) like they're thrilling films or novels and provides illuminating details about his approach to staging a work and how it comes together, peppering his delivery with references to pop culture, current events, and daily life. In short, he finds a common ground on which everyone can relate to this rarefied art form and where his enthusiasm is infectious. And then he backs it up with operatic spectacles that are accessible, engaging, and habit-forming. No wonder ALO has made thousands of converts in this previously opera-indifferent city.
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