29. May 2010 · Comments Off on Ah, Opera! · Categories: Opera

I love opera. I really do. Dan and I have season tickets to San Francisco Opera. It’s costs a bundle. But it’s the one thing we splurge on.

I’ve seen puzzled looks and heard comments about opera from those who aren’t as familiar with it.

“The story was unbelievable!” “The plot was silly.” “No one falls in love that quickly!” “You can’t sing and die like that!” “Those girls are too stupid to see that those guys are their boyfriends in disguise?!” “She’s singing a song of farewell to her table? Huh?”

Um. Right. We know that. It’s opera.

Some folks, though, are really unhappy with opera:

Like anyone involved in the opera world, I’ve done my time trying to explain to bemused friends and strangers what precisely is the point of it all. Ever since I was seduced by it, I’ve been as much of an evangelist as any convert. I’ve been writing about opera for about a decade now, and over the years, as I’ve watched one companion after another’s eyes glaze over, or close gently, during a show, I have begun to wonder: what if I’m wrong about this? What if it actually is all rubbish, self-indulgent, glittery, adolescent, incontinent, with a vastly inflated view of its own importance? Can opera ever be more than a diversion for people with too much money and too little taste? And was it ever intended to be, anyway?

You hardly need me to tell you that opera is pretty stupid. Ask the audience: plenty of them will tell you the same, if you can get them to wake up. Is there any other form of entertainment so frequented by people who do not like it?

You can read all of opera reviewer Robert Thicknesse’s article, and ponder.

Tom Service responds:

Robert Thicknesse accuses opera – or rather, the opera world – of indulgent incontinence. Some of you, unless it’s just me, may be wondering if the same isn’t true of his scattergun rantings. First off, there’s the question of how far his tongue is stapled to his cheek, as his last sentence makes clear: “So if you ask me to, I can still make a case for it [opera] – but that would be another story.” For all its apparent iconoclasm, this is in reality a piece written by someone who is immersed in the opera world as an author and critic, and who is passionate about the art form.


But best of all, Jessica Duchen responds, and what she says includes this:

But as for Thicknesse’s remark about ‘what’s the point of opera?’ – well, what the point is, please, of football?

Yes, football. The dear old British pastime that consists of the unholy spectacle of a bunch of grown men getting covered in mud for the sake of kicking a ball into a net. For some reason, thousands of people think the arrival or otherwise or said ball in net is a reason to jump up and down yelling and screaming, sulk for days if “their” team misses target, spend a none-too-small fortune on travel to watch more of same, spend another small fortune on associated overpriced merchandise, all the while being whipped up into a pseudo-patriotic frenzy that is cynically manufactured to manipulate them into spending all that money, and, in some cases, drinking too much and beating up anyone who dares to support something other than “their” team – violence that is always excused ‘cos it’s football, innit. Football, not opera, makes city centres revolting arenas for pavement pizza and brainless bodily harm. And it’s tremendously sexist, of course – women can’t take part except in their own designated teams, and those don’t draw the same crowds because, in the main, women have more sense than to go anywhere near it.

Opera may be pointless, like most forms of entertainment – the same is equally true of pop concerts, Glastonbury, West End musicals and approximately 99.3% of television – but football is not only pointless, it is also harmful. And these days the premier league is more expensive than opera, but where are the inverted-snob tirades against that? Football brings out the worst in human nature. Opera stands some chance of bringing out the best.

When my niece was 14, I took her to see Le Nozze di Figaro. In Italian, with surtitles. She was entranced from start to finish. At the end, she turned to me and remarked: “Isn’t it amazing that such a wonderful sound can come out of a human body?”

That, dear readers, is the point of opera.

Please do read all of what she writes.

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