BALTIMORE'S major arts and cultural institutions have been doing a fine job of reaching out to young people through field trips, school visits by local performing artists and reduced-rate or free admission to evening theater and concert performances. Arts administrators recognize the value of investing in young people who will become the adult audiences of the future.
Institutions like the Baltimore Opera Company have redoubled their efforts to introduce impressionable young minds to the works of the great masters by making available many seats at the dress rehearsal performances that precede opening night. This is all to the good.
Yet the city's young people assume certain obligations in exchange for the generosity shown them. Foremost is a willingness to abide by the conventions of good concert behavior. Sadly, not all the students who attended the BOC's Oct. 13 dress rehearsal for the season-opener, Verdi's "Rigoletto," conducted themselves accordingly.
A group from Lake Clifton High School that evening seemed to be doing their best to spoil the first two acts for those around them by their persistent chattering and loud laughter. At intermission, one adult audience member had to turn and reproach the kids -- whose teacher was nowhere to be seen.
It defeats the educational purpose if youngsters are not taught ,, how to conduct themselves properly as well as appreciate what they see and hear at cultural events. Lest we sound churlish, we recognize that concert manners have evolved over the past 300 years, that in Mozart's time it was commonplace to converse loudly whenever one's favorite soprano was offstage, and that in present-day Italy spectators still hurl rotten fruit and vegetables at performers who displease them. But these are not examples we wish our young people to emulate.
That many young people have never experienced an opera before may explain their unseemly behavior, but it does not excuse it -- and it certainly doesn't absolve their teachers of responsibility for making sure their charges understand they will be held to a higher standard than that for a gangsta movie or rock concert. Traditionally, dress rehearsal passes were given as perks to wealthy donors to the opera. The privilege of attendance is just that: a privilege. It can be revoked if young people and those responsible for them fail to live up to their part of the bargain.