Headshot of La Cieca

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  • steveac10: Yes, you’d think they would want a challenge. When I was doing chorus work back in the... 9:49 PM
  • Krunoslav: http://tinyurl.com /qyp8osq 9:30 PM
  • Constantine A. Papas: Concerning unyielding, monolithic authoritarianism of some on this blog, on June 18,... 9:25 PM
  • manou: Not even gold hens. 8:23 PM
  • RudigerVT: Because, if you had achieved a position that is 40 times more competitive than getting into... 8:07 PM
  • Krunoslav: Not “Nice” ? 8:02 PM
  • BB: Far less. There was no safety and they could explode in your face. Never thought that moment was... 7:35 PM
  • Clita del Toro: PS I bet in those days guns were even less safe. 7:20 PM
  • Clita del Toro: Tenor, are you kidding? Gun accidents happen all the time–and even less plausible ones... 7:16 PM
  • mjmacmtenor: Some very interesting and thoughtful modernism. However, the bit where Alvaro throws down his... 6:56 PM

Getting our canards in a row

“An opera house should never apologise for being what it is, or bend to what others may want it to be. The best way to attract younger audiences to an art form that, of necessity, appeals to a discriminating élite, is to do good work, without embarrassment. That means engaging top-class conductors and singers, and hiring directors humble enough to recognise that the composer must always come first…. Let us do away with Regietheater, and the upside-down world of ‘concepts’. From Monteverdi to Mark-Anthony Turnage there is enough work for an opera house to present without recourse to the predictability of bogus radicalism. Masterpieces are not there to subvert; they are there to explore.” [The Spectator]

69 comments

  • DonCarloFanatic says:

    BY ITS NATURE, opera is not easily accessible to everybody in today’s world: not only is it a relatively expensive pastime, but also -more importantly- it requires a certain amount of initiation, preparation and familiarization with the genre that the majority of people cannot be bothered with. Opera is thus elitist OF NECESSITY, just like -say- philosophy is elitist of necessity.

    The elitism of opera is also a matter of established practices. The world of opera is a pretty closed one, in which audiences have a vested interest keeping it closed. Firstly, opera audiences feel that their knowledge of composers, singers and singing traditions differentiates them from hoi poloi. Secondly, there is a self-reinforcing social motivation to keep things this way, to preserve the distinctive distance between the “initiated” and the “masses”.”

    I take issue with both of these statements.

    1. Opera does NOT require education beforehand to be enjoyed. Especially today, when surtitles tell us the exact words as they are spoken, it is possible for a complete novice to understand what happens on the opera stage as it occurs, down to the subtlest bits. And reaction to music and drama is visceral, not educated. It happens or it doesn’t. You can be educated to believe you ought to like opera, or to appreciate the intricacies of the music, but liking it, or loving it as in my case, is a personal thing that cannot be dictated, taught, socially pressured, etc.

    If I attended a professional football game, I would need education to understand what the hell was happening. I am aware that quite intelligent and educated people actually like football. So there must be something to it that I am missing. But it does not speak to me viscerally, so I have never bothered to investigate it beyond being bored watching the Super Bowl on TV. And how is my attitude to this sport any different from the usual non-opera person’s attitude toward opera?

    2. The elitism of opera is enforced by the non-opera listening and going public, not the other way around. It’s the people who don’t go who act as if opera is the high altar of art and culture to which they are not qualified for a visit. It’s the hoi polloi that perpetuates absurd stereotypes about opera because it reinforces their cultural comfort with other forms of entertainment or art. How many times have you seen the “Mona Lisa” held up as if it is the only and the best classic oil painting? In the same context, opera is usually represented as a fat guy singing “O Sole Mio”--and this happened BEFORE Pavarotti’s big success with that album. When people learn I like opera, their first concern is that “it’s in a foreign language, isn’t it?” which makes me wonder if being third generation immigrants, which many Americans are, typically involves rejecting any hint of foreignness. If opera’s big cultural loss actually stems from the all-Americanness of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants. Something to consider.

    • olliedawg says:

      +1

    • tancredipasero says:

      It’s worth noting that the statement “reaction to music and drama is visceral, not educated” doesn’t completely fit the facts. People with different levels of education in music (and/or early-life exposure to it, and/or innate talent for processing sounds) actually hear different things. In music education, part of that is codified and taught in what most schools call “aural skills.” And though I doubt anybody would say you need those skills at the level Pierre Boulez has them to appreciate opera, still, they do make a difference. The visceral reaction is *to the part of the music that has been perceived* -- and one of the great things about opera is that it has a lot to offer even to those who perceive only what somebody else might call the surface level of the music or its interpretation. But it’s also pretty great that it has still more to offer as the ability to hear it grows -- basically there’s no limit; the better you hear, the more there is to hear.

  • jackoh says:

    “I would go further and say that there is a cultural legacy of snobbery about opera: people who lover opera are better than people who don’t — more intelligent, more “sensitive”, deeper.” -- Ilka Saro

    And, yes, we certainly are!

  • tancredipasero says:

    This is a broad topic that won’t go away in our lifetimes, but La Cieca needs to realize that there are people who are not nostalgists, not even conservatives, not unsophisticated about theater, not closed-minded, and who nevertheless feel strongly that the shift of interpretative interest and focus to the stage-director side has been harmful to opera.

    Regietheater can’t be all bad -- there wouldn’t be so many talented people committed to it or so many perceptive people finding something worthwhile in it -- but cherry-picking flimsy attacks on it for mockery doesn’t advance the argument.

    A perfectly good case could be made for performing most operas, most of the time, in arrangements reflecting the music of today, and with pop-style voices. If somebody does that in a sufficiently convincing way, it will become a movement and find champions. Other people will disagree -- and some of the champions of the new movement will dismiss those other people as hopeless troglodytes, nostalgists, etc. etc. etc., and will be impatient with any discussion of the trade-offs. Just like now.