Author Topic: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die  (Read 19654 times)

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Offline jwinter

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Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« on: August 20, 2019, 12:03:38 PM »
For your consideration, an editorial in today's Washington Post:



To save opera, we have to let it die


By Olivia Giovetti August 19 at 7:43 PM

Olivia Giovetti is a New York-based classical music writer.


The summer of 2019 has been a fraught one for opera. In June, diva soprano Anna Netrebko came under scrutiny not only for her use of skin-darkening makeup to sing the role of Verdi’s Ethiopian princess Aida but also for her blunt defense of a practice that has been widely discredited. This month, the legal battle between the Metropolitan Opera and its one-time music director James Levine — which began when the former fired the latter last year after accusations of sexual misconduct — quietly ended with a settlement. And last week, nine women accused superstar singer and conductor Plácido Domingo of sexual harassment over the past 30 years. (I previously worked for a consulting firm that did work on behalf of both singers.)


It would be hard to come up with three artists more famous and beloved. Netrebko and Domingo have especially transcended the insular world of opera to make names for themselves in popular culture. Despite the headlines, fans and colleagues have defended all three musicians. All are regarded as assets in an art form that has been considered to be “dying” for decades due to declining ticket sales and an aging audience.


But to really save opera — and classical music in general — we have to let it die.


Imagine if Hollywood were to issue shot-for-shot remakes of D.W. Griffith’s gauzy history of the Ku Klux Klan, “The Birth of a Nation ,” every few years. Imagine Tom Hanks re-creating Mickey Rooney’s infamously slant-eyed Mr. Yunioshi in a new “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” or Morgan Freeman cast in a live-action remake of Disney’s “Song of the South.”


This is the reality of opera-house programming year after year. It is an art form that, like Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations,” insists on wearing the same wedding dress every day for the rest of its life. Only one of the 25 operas scheduled for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019-2020 season, Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten,” was written in the past 50 years. And if you ask certain administrators and artists, this is a genre we must save.


Opera grew out of a tradition of court entertainment in Renaissance Italy. As it became more widespread with the advent of public opera houses, the tastes of the 1 percent continued to govern which operas were performed. Many productions rely on designs and staging conventions from the time of their premieres, which date as far back as 1607, with Monteverdi’s “Orfeo.”


For many fans, this is the ideal. The Facebook group Against Modern Opera Productions has 60,000 members committed to seeing the works staged in accordance with the composers’ intents. A stark production of “Tosca” that opened to some boos at the Met in 2009 was replaced last year with a production that returned the work to its gilded 19th-century setting.


But selling opera to the next generation means selling opera to a more diverse and liberal demographic, which has more options than ever for entertainment.


And for singers, who go through years of elite training to land on stages such as the Met, championing the classic works they’ve studied for years doesn’t excuse them from examining these operas in the context of life offstage, either. In a statement given to the Associated Press, which broke last week’s news of the #MeToo allegations against him, Domingo said: “The rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past.” But if we continue to cleave to the rules and standards of the past, production after production, season after season, how can we possibly be expected to also meet the rules and standards of today?


Perhaps it’s time to decentralize the star system that currently fuels opera. There are plenty of composers, performers and directors who manage to reflect on the canon even as they create works that speak to audiences today.


Many work on the fringes, but some are coming to main stages. Next year, the Santa Fe Opera will give the premiere of Huang Ruo’s “M. Butterfly,” an adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s play of the same name, which rethinks Puccini’s opera via the lens of a real-life encounter between a French diplomat and a Chinese spy. The Tuscan-born Puccini’s themes of exoticism and orientalization will be repurposed by a composer born in the Chinese province of Hainan.


Calling for the death of opera doesn’t mean calling for the Met to close. Nor does it mean the wholesale abandonment of composers such as Mozart and Puccini. It does, however, mean we must no longer romanticize the bygone eras of opera’s so-called golden age so much that we fail to imagine the genre’s future.



The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Offline jwinter

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2019, 12:12:59 PM »
While the article makes a few scattered good points, to me the central argument and line of reasoning seems way off the mark.  At times the writer seems to be conflating the choice of 18th-19th century performing repertoire with Domingo's alleged behavior and the work environment that enabled it -- this seems completely nonsensical to me. 

Is the inference that this could have been prevented by performing more John Adams and less Verdi?  And is she really trying to argue that Netrebko wearing make-up for a role, even with all of the US racial undertones of blackface, minstrelsy, etc. understood, is equivalent to sexual harassment and possibly even assault?  I sympathize with a good deal of what she says, but yikes...
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2019, 12:06:48 PM »
I appreciate that you're trying to get a conversation going, but sadly this board seems to be slowly dying. If you'd posted this a couple of years ago I'm sure you would have gotten plenty of responses.

I don't really follow opera closely enough to react to this article specifically. I'd probably say what I usually say when a "classical music is dying" article is posted - that the audience for modern and unusual stuff is bigger than a lot of people think, and opera companies might be pleasantly surprised if they took a few risks.
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2019, 04:01:04 PM »
It's an interesting opinion.  I think that if opera really were driven to rock bottom, which with the inertia both of the wealthy patronage/endowments and celebrity culture, is doubtful. It might never reemerge, in the present cultural/political climate.
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Offline Cato

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2019, 04:34:21 PM »
While the article makes a few scattered good points, to me the central argument and line of reasoning seems way off the mark.  At times the writer seems to be conflating the choice of 18th-19th century performing repertoire with Domingo's alleged behavior and the work environment that enabled it -- this seems completely nonsensical to me.


Is the inference that this could have been prevented by performing more John Adams and less Verdi?  And is she really trying to argue that Netrebko wearing make-up for a role, even with all of the US racial undertones of blackface, minstrelsy, etc. understood, is equivalent to sexual harassment and possibly even assault?
  I sympathize with a good deal of what she says, but yikes...

It would seem to be a case of guilt by extension, as well as association.


 - that the audience for modern and unusual stuff is bigger than a lot of people think, and opera companies might be pleasantly surprised if they took a few risks.


Was there not a most excellent turnout in Amsterdam for Stockhausen's LICHT operas?

https://www.wsj.com/articles/aus-licht-review-a-kaleidoscopic-production-11560197541

It's an interesting opinion.  I think that if opera really were driven to rock bottom... it might never reemerge...

True, which is why a rebirth of opera seems necessary by giving new works, "new" being defined perhaps as anything under 50 years of age, a chance more often than not.

I once wrote a short story - now lost, except in an outline in my memory - where a future society deliberately "mothballs" everything painted, written, composed, etc. from 1500-2100, so that creators will not need to compete against Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Goethe, Beethoven, Browning, Poe, etc.  One can make a case that with e.g. symphony orchestras acting like "Museums," (Leonard Bernstein's term, I recall), the modern composer and his symphony in manuscript has little chance against the bias that his unknown name and unknown work will not and can not find an audience, paying or otherwise.

Perhaps it is time - to prevent cultural ossification - to give Aida a rest, and offer a contemporary composer a spot on the stage.  Or at least to offer the latter a stage, while Aida plays elsewhere!


« Last Edit: August 21, 2019, 05:01:13 PM by Cato »
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Offline jwinter

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2019, 06:00:08 PM »
I appreciate that you're trying to get a conversation going, but sadly this board seems to be slowly dying. If you'd posted this a couple of years ago I'm sure you would have gotten plenty of responses.

I must confess that things are a lot quieter here than when I last frequented the board several years ago, but hopefully the trend may reverse itself over time.  I suspect a large reason why we've seen so few replies on this thread is due to the website issues over the past few days -- I was unable to log in several times, and I imagine there are others in the same boat.

Either that or I started a dumb thread.....  Nah!
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Offline jwinter

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #6 on: August 21, 2019, 06:35:07 PM »
I certainly agree with the idea that newer works need to find a spot in the performing repetoire... the problem is, how to convince the conservative folk who fund orchestras and recordings that it's a sound investment.  Not that this is a newsflash or anything, but unfortunately much 20th and 21st century music has a reputation of being dissonant and difficult for new listeners, as opposed to something like the popular symphonies of Mozart or Dvorak that goes down like chocolate ice cream on first listen.

I have to admit that this is largely true for me; there's a lot of 20th century music that I respect, but there's not a lot that I truly love.  Part of that is lack of exposure, and part is just personal taste.  But I think another part of it is a pre-conceived notion of (not to say the inherent nature of) the music itself, the notorious modern movement away from simple melodies and sonata form into music that "pushes the artistic boundaries," going back a hundred years now to riots at Stravinsky concerts, 12 tone music, and all the rest of it.  It's the same way in many art galleries, see how many folks stand in line to see the old masters, and shake their heads in puzzlement at Jackson Pollack.  And they have a point, to a certain extent -- a beautiful portrait or landscape is easier to understand, without prior experience or training for most people.  For most, Chopin goes down easier than Ligeti, there's no point denying it.  The financial folks who schedule orchestra seasons understand this.  And yet what's the answer? Dumbed down art for the masses?


It's an old question, but one that still needs answering.  How do you balance support for the modern arts and the "avant garde," versus giving the average joe what they want?   And how do you keep exposing that average joe to new things, while making a tidy profit?
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Offline 2dogs

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2019, 08:05:09 PM »
I watched the 4 hour-long episodes of the documentary “Our Classical Century” on the BBC this year hoping to get some overview of 20th century music, but no, it was all about how much the general public in Britain enjoyed the popular classics and how they accompanied various events such as the Coronation and Torville & Dean’s ice skating. “Modern” music never got a look in, no mention for example of British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle. He wrote a dozen operas, I wonder if any of those get performed?

Offline some guy

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2019, 08:53:13 PM »
the notorious modern movement away from simple melodies and sonata form into music that "pushes the artistic boundaries," going back a hundred years now to riots at Stravinsky concerts, 12 tone music, and all the rest of it.
Well there's one problem right there.* The attitude that "modern music" pushes boundaries in a bad way predates the one right at one Stravinsky ballet (which was not called a "riot" until 1924, just by the way), predates dodecaphony, predates "all the rest of it" by at least a hundred years.

Not only that, but two of the more significant peaks of anti-modernist sentiment occurred around 1870 and in 1900, both peaks occurring well before the "notorious modern movement" you cite. As well, it is perhaps sobering to observe (Slonimsky's schimpf lexicon is perhaps the easiest place to observe this) that the criticisms of modern music after 1908 or so (and it's of course very unlikely that Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide could have been heard widely enough to have ruffled any feathers) are not in any way different from any of the criticisms of modern music from the 19th century that preceded them. It's the same "noisy, dissonant, unmelodic, incomprehensible" lineup that was hurled at Beethoven, at Chopin, at Berlioz, at Bizet (you are aware, aren't you, that Carmen was criticized for having no melodies?), at Tchaikovsky (who wrote a piece that stank to the ear, you'll recall), at Brahms. And so forth.

Since you brought up your own personal response, it may interest you that there's a lot of 20th (and 21st) century music that I truly love--love even more than music from any other era. You could certainly help to counter the thing that you refer to, correctly, as a pre-conceived notion by refraining from presenting it as either historically accurate or aesthetically valid.

*There are actually two problems--the other being the presentation of "simple melodies" and "sonata form" as in any way equivalent. But that's as may be....

Offline Jo498

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #9 on: August 21, 2019, 11:08:12 PM »
For a semiprofessional music writer that's not very informed.

"Many productions rely on designs and staging conventions from the time of their premieres, which date as far back as 1607, with Monteverdi’s “Orfeo.”
is simply wrong, if taken at face value. A historical recreation with close copies of historical sets and costumes of an 17th or 18th century opera is very rare. It has been done but it's like recreating Shakespeare's "Globe" and would be rather different from "conservative modern" stagings.

Furthermore, stagings that upset a certain type of conservative audience are at least around 60 years old (Wieland Wagner's "empty stage" in 1950s Bayreuth), probably a 100, like the Le Sacre "scandal" which was not mostly about the music but about the costumes and way of dancing, I understand.
Additionally, in some parts of Europe we have the opposite complaint that daring/disfiguring stagings are spooking away conservative opera fans... As most opera takes places in Europe this should at least be taken into account when forming a verdict about the current state of the art form.

As for sexual harrassment, opera/classical is not more tainted than "successful" popular culture (after all #metoo started with Weinstein, not Dutoit or Domingo), so that's another moot point.

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I knew the night had gone.
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Against the drums of dawn.
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Offline Florestan

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2019, 01:50:28 AM »
it is perhaps sobering to observe (Slonimsky's schimpf lexicon is perhaps the easiest place to observe this) that the criticisms of modern music after 1908 or so (and it's of course very unlikely that Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide could have been heard widely enough to have ruffled any feathers) are not in any way different from any of the criticisms of modern music from the 19th century that preceded them. It's the same "noisy, dissonant, unmelodic, incomprehensible" lineup that was hurled at Beethoven, at Chopin, at Berlioz, at Bizet (you are aware, aren't you, that Carmen was criticized for having no melodies?), at Tchaikovsky (who wrote a piece that stank to the ear, you'll recall), at Brahms. And so forth.

There's one problem right there. The music of Beethoven, Chopin, Berlioz, Bizet, Tchaikovsky and Brahms ---- to take your examples --- has been criticized by professional critics but it didn't take long for most of the lay audience to begin loving it. Actually, in the case of Beethoven the love predates any harsh criticism and in the case of all others the love has been far more widespread than the criticism. By contrast, much "modern(ist)" music has been praised no end by professional critics yet has failed to achieve any significant popularity with the lay audience: while it's true that the subset of "modern(ist) music audience" is larger today than it was 100 years ago, it's still a tiny fraction compared to the subset of "Classical and Romantic music audience". So the problem I'm referring to is this: in the 19C, new music was criticized by critics but mostly loved by the audience, while beginning with 20C new music was loved by critics but left the audience mostly cold. Now, how one solve the problem depends on one's perspective on what, or rather whom, music is for: is it for the audience, as it apparently was until the second half of the 19C? or is it for the critics and fellow composers, as it apparently is beginning in the 20C?

*There are actually two problems--the other being the presentation of "simple melodies" and "sonata form" as in any way equivalent.

In no way did jwinter imply such an equivalence, which is entirely of yown making.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2019, 01:53:45 AM by Florestan »
“I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.”  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline jwinter

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2019, 02:22:30 AM »
Well there's one problem right there.* The attitude that "modern music" pushes boundaries in a bad way predates the one right at one Stravinsky ballet (which was not called a "riot" until 1924, just by the way), predates dodecaphony, predates "all the rest of it" by at least a hundred years.

Not only that, but two of the more significant peaks of anti-modernist sentiment occurred around 1870 and in 1900, both peaks occurring well before the "notorious modern movement" you cite. As well, it is perhaps sobering to observe (Slonimsky's schimpf lexicon is perhaps the easiest place to observe this) that the criticisms of modern music after 1908 or so (and it's of course very unlikely that Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide could have been heard widely enough to have ruffled any feathers) are not in any way different from any of the criticisms of modern music from the 19th century that preceded them. It's the same "noisy, dissonant, unmelodic, incomprehensible" lineup that was hurled at Beethoven, at Chopin, at Berlioz, at Bizet (you are aware, aren't you, that Carmen was criticized for having no melodies?), at Tchaikovsky (who wrote a piece that stank to the ear, you'll recall), at Brahms. And so forth.

Since you brought up your own personal response, it may interest you that there's a lot of 20th (and 21st) century music that I truly love--love even more than music from any other era. You could certainly help to counter the thing that you refer to, correctly, as a pre-conceived notion by refraining from presenting it as either historically accurate or aesthetically valid.

*There are actually two problems--the other being the presentation of "simple melodies" and "sonata form" as in any way equivalent. But that's as may be....

Thanks for the considered response!  :)

Just to be clear, I am very happy that you love a lot of modern music, and I don't consider my personal response to the very small percentage that I have heard to be in any way a reflection on the artisitc quality of fhe music. 

Historically you make a lot of good points.  A caveat is that Tchaikovsky and Brahms and Mahler eventually gained broader acceptance through continued exposure in concert halls.  For whatever reason, that's no longer the case -- today, you still get big doses of Mahler, etc., but not much beyond that.

I do wonder what you mean by "aesthetically valid" above.  One's response to a work of art is deeply personal, and as long as it's based on actual exposure to the art, as opposed to just adopting hearsay or popular opinion, it would seem to be valid.  It may be superficial, or hampered by ignorance of the creator's method or intent, and thus may change with repeated exposure and consideration.  Or it may not, but it's still a valid response I would say.

Cheers!
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Offline Florestan

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2019, 02:24:57 AM »
One's response to a work of art is deeply personal, and as long as it's based on actual exposure to the art, as opposed to just adopting hearsay or popular opinion, it would seem to be valid.  It may be superficial, or hampered by ignorance of the creator's method or intent, and thus may change with repeated exposure and consideration.  Or it may not, but it's still a valid response I would say.

This.
“I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.”  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Cato

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2019, 03:04:45 AM »
When I was teaching German in an all-boys Catholic high school, I announced at the beginning pf the year that the students would occasionally be treated to hearing some excerpts of operas, or even complete operas (short ones, like Schoenberg's Erwartung. )

It was not unusual for someone to comment: "I hate operas!"

To which my response was always: "Oh?  Which ones have you seen and heard?"   ;)

The answer, of course, was "none."   8)

I am not sure how many students were converted to liking operas, but I think it was more than a few.

In my grade-school Latin classes I have occasionally played some "edgy" things e.g. Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Omnia Tempus Habent and have used Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and part of Elliott Carter's Symphonia sum fluxae pretium spei.

The reaction from these students was much more receptive than one might think.

So perhaps a culture which has Kinderkonzerte with excerpts of contemporary operas might be a way to "grow the audience" for the future.

Or is the hyperactive nature of "popular ?music?" with 17-year old girls screaming suicide notes into a microphone while they bounce around their bedrooms too difficult to compete against?
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

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Offline Florestan

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2019, 03:25:05 AM »
In my grade-school Latin classes I have occasionally played some "edgy" things e.g. Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Omnia Tempus Habent and have used Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex and part of Elliott Carter's Symphonia sum fluxae pretium spei.

The reaction from these students was much more receptive than one might think.

So perhaps a culture which has Kinderkonzerte with excerpts of contemporary operas might be a way to "grow the audience" for the future.

Or is the hyperactive nature of "popular ?music?" with 17-year old girls screaming suicide notes into a microphone while they bounce around their bedrooms too difficult to compete against?

Well, according to your own experience, Zimmermann, Stravinsky and Carter give those teenager girls a hard run for their money...  :laugh:
“I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.”  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline some guy

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #15 on: August 22, 2019, 03:36:14 AM »
I do wonder what you mean by "aesthetically valid" above. One's response to a work of art is deeply personal, and as long as it's based on actual exposure to the art, as opposed to just adopting hearsay or popular opinion, it would seem to be valid.
I was countering what I perceived as another example of a common fallacy, that one's deeply personal responses have any validity beyond one's own person. That is, my personal responses are not valid for anyone but myself. If my personal responses are based on experience rather than hearsay or popular opinion, the experience might be said to have some weight, but you were referring to a situation in which hearsay and popular opinion have ruled for far too long.

In that situation, how easy is it to have such a thing as "actual exposure to the art"? One brings one's biasses and prejudices into the experience, and those biasses and prejudices affect how the experience will go. I was extremely lucky in growing up almost completely isolated from anyone else who liked "classical music," so I could experience the things themselves with very little overlay from outside. There were program notes on the backs of the lps I acquired, of course, but I learned very early that those notes corresponded very little with what I was hearing, and I gave up reading them almost entirely. When I first started listening to music of the twentieth century, I knew nothing of the standard canards about it that litter discussion boards on line. They were there, lurking in the program notes I had learned to eschew and in the opinions of other classical fans. I came to know of them almost instantly after my first exposure to twentieth century music, but even almost instantly was too late. I was well and truly hooked and have remained so for almost forty years--forty very lovely and delightful years listening to very lovely and delightful music, sullied only by the incessant carpings of (some of) those around me who were convinced that the musics I found so easy to like were unlistenable in the extreme, were the cause of audiences abandoning concert halls, were the literal death of good music--and by the persistent perception that my simply liking this "horrible crap" was a personal insult to (and even a personal attack of) those who disliked it.

Heigh ho.

The music remains, however, and it's still loads of fun.

https://vimeo.com/202616984

Online Brian

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #16 on: August 22, 2019, 08:40:00 AM »
I think, as a person turning 30 this weekend, I was raised pretty differently from most - we had lots of Three Tenors albums in the house growing up. (Any way we can splice those down to two tenors?) So I was familiar with the fact that people singing in foreign languages can be super wonderful to hear.

But entering adulthood, starting to go see full operas staged start to finish live, or watching webcasts, or - heavens! - even listening to operas sung in English?!?! - the 17-21 year old me's reaction soured considerably. The plots of many operas are just so damn remote from anything you might encounter in contemporary art or literature; they seem like they descended from an alien planet.

- contorted love story where everyone is pretending to be somebody else and half of them are royalty in a palace and there's a ball
- two people fall in love and then they die, snoozefest
- ancient mythological/warrior figures do things you're supposed to know about already but you don't because you're a dumb kid born in the 1980s
- whatever the hell you want to call this
- something really cool and bonkers like The Excursions of Mr. Broucek or Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (edit: I'll be honest, The Magic Flute is nuts enough to fit here too)

When I had a chance to interview John Adams in January, he said that he had written operas about historical/political subjects - the bomb, Nixon, etc. - because political events are our cultural touchstones now, in the same vein as bohemian lovers 150 years ago or mythical creatures 300 years ago. He said political stories just resonate more now and get people's attention in a way that a gal dying of cough in an attic doesn't.

Whatever the solution is, opera needs to engage with people today. Honestly, I thought opera performed a cool trick by evolving into musicals. But, just as natural evolution doesn't preclude the previous thing from continuing to exist, we do still have opera. It just gets treated like it belongs in a museum with an interpretive plaque, rather than being something that can grow and communicate in new ways.

Online Brian

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #17 on: August 22, 2019, 08:44:09 AM »
Oh, also, with regard to staging in particular, and this goes for Shakespearean acting too: The hammy overacting needs to stop.

(character says something intimidating)
(everyone else runs around like chickens and hides behind stuff)

(character tells dirty joke, then winks and thrusts hips wildly and makes sure everyone in the back row knows it was a dirty joke)

There is so much pure chintz and cheese in opera direction and it's off-putting.

Offline Cato

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #18 on: August 22, 2019, 09:29:28 AM »

- two people fall in love and then they die, snoozefest
- ancient mythological/warrior figures do things you're supposed to know about already but you don't because you're a dumb kid born in the 1980s



You remind me of a story about Bruckner watching Goetterdaemmerung: after the opera was over, he asked someone nearby why the heroine immolated herself at the end.   0:)

Supposedly he was so engrossed only in the music, that the Gesamtkunstwerk aspect fell by the wayside.

Quote

Whatever the solution is, opera needs to engage with people today.


Amen!   0:)   And while there can be complaints about opera directors who "re-imagine"
 the plot and/or characters (many moons ago there was a performance Der Ring der Nibelungen with the Norse deities portrayed as a motorcycle gang, giving the term "Ring cycle" a whole new spin... ???   ;)   ), one can say that such "re-imaginings" are attempts to make the original "relevant" to modern audiences.

(The Harley-Davidson Ring was loudly booed at the end!)

"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Offline jwinter

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Re: Washington Post Op-Ed: To save opera, we have to let it die
« Reply #19 on: August 22, 2019, 10:00:46 AM »
... The plots of many operas are just so damn remote from anything you might encounter in contemporary art or literature; they seem like they descended from an alien planet.

- contorted love story where everyone is pretending to be somebody else and half of them are royalty in a palace and there's a ball
- two people fall in love and then they die, snoozefest
- ancient mythological/warrior figures do things you're supposed to know about already but you don't because you're a dumb kid born in the 1980s ...

You just knocked out half the works of Shakespeare  ;D

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice