The recursion of kitsch
Like the double or triple negative (where theoretically pairs of “nots” cancel each other out, but in practice you can’t be so sure) this tidbit of news La Cieca just read has her confused and uncertain. It seems that at a recital in Tulsa last night, Dame Kiri te Kanawa sang as an encore a Jake Heggie setting of Maria Callas‘s final monologue from Terrence McNally‘s Master Class. You know, the one that McNally didn’t actually write but rather collated from some random remarks Callas made in an entirely different emotional context.
There’s a rule of camp that dear Susan Sontag unfortunately isn’t around to codify these days, and so La Cieca is just going to have to make it up make it up herself. A single instance of tasteless mawkishness of course counts as kitsch. But when kitsch is multiplied by kitsch, e.g., a cheesy song is performed in an overblown manner, the two kitsches cancel out and what is left is either boring or supreme camp. (It’s like one of those quadratic equations where there are always two answers to the problem, often one positive and one negative.)
So let’s try to puzzle it out. Dame Kiri singing anything these days has a strong kitsch quotient, as does a Heggie setting of just about any text that has to do with subjects other than surfing nuns. (A Heggie setting of a Sr. Helen Prejean text about the existential experience of surfing is obviously and unarguably camp.) But, again, no surfing nuns this time, so, the product of two kitsches is camp. (One does, however, suddenly dream of a Regie production of Master Class in which La Divina is depicted as a nun on a surfboard: what a metaphor for the central conflict of her life!)
Next, McNally writing anything is kitsch, and by now Master Class is so overdone (with even a Faye Dunaway movie version eternally in the works), that any exposure of the play is kitsch. (Exception: the Tyne Daly version directed by Stephen Wadsworth: mannered actress miscast in a cheap text with a fussy director, that’s a quadrangle of kitsch and so, by the rule, should be camp. But I’m still not going to go see it.)
Anyway, we have so far (Kiri*Heggie) * (McNally * Master Class), which works out to “camp.” The situation is complicated by the fact that this event took place in Tulsa and Heggie himself accompanied, and La Cieca doesn’t know how to factor in the fact that Dame Kiri shared the stage with Frederica von Stade. This mezzo is, as we know, never kitsch (not even in Three Decembers) and camp only when she chooses to be.
It’s no use, the values aren’t precise enough to yield a non-trivial answer about all this triviality. So La Cieca is simplify matters and say that, given Dame Kiri’s track record as Verdi’s courtesan, her singing or even speaking the line “The sun will not fall down from the sky if there are no more Traviatas” should rank as one of the purest and most hilarious examples of camp in that serene lady’s seemingly infinite career, right up there with the underwear-throwing lawsuit and that hat she wore at the royal wedding.
As she often (not always) does, La Cieca invites the cher public to offer YouTube examples of how kitsch applied to kitsch can rise to the level of camp.