Opera, It's Not Just Fat Chicks with Horns!
The opera establishment, and I freely include myself in that as a music major, needs to make a decision. Do we want to make money and reach the masses and have more than just the cognoscenti in the audience, or do we want opera to be a viable form of *popular* art and entertainment? Pick one already! Because the snobbery and the bickering and the in-fighting has got to stop. The biggest problem with opera is the attitude. Baz Luhrmann is absolutely right, there's this feeling that the opera house is some sort of temple and there's all this scary, intimidating, confusing pageantry and history and protocol that you are so terrified to screw up if don't know better. But you know what? That was not what it was meant to be. This was the musical theatre of its day, it was not high art any more than Phantom or Les Mis are now. The reason that Baz's Boheme was successful at all was because it didn't take itself so seriously. It was a popular film director, a bunch of young kid opera singers, in a theatre just like any other cheeseball musical comedy a tourist would see while in NY. It was still in Italian, it was still an opera, it was as Puccini envisioned it. Beautiful and hysterical and fun and *relatable*. Those are characters people understand. The characters in most non-historic opera are at least as easy to relate to for a contemporary audience as a late 19th C. Parisian soprano or a bunch of early 19th C. student revolutionaries. You cannot tell me that average contemporary audiences would have any more trouble following say... Figaro than The Importance of Being Earnest or even How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days! These plots are really not rocket science at ALL once you get past the intimidation factor of it being "Opera".
The biggest reason that hasn't happened entirely and won't happen any time in the near future I don't think is that opera snobs love their snobbery, and love their exclusive little club. I can understand that, and I feel that way on many an occassion, but when opera afficionados spend their time looking down on musical theatre as their poor cousin who one day will grow up and see the error of its ways, that's when you ask for people to want to avoid the entire genre. Opera isn't intimidating just because it's usually in a foreign language for us Americans, it's intimidating because the entire culture around it is intimidating. In short, it's intimidating because the opera establishment MAKES IT INTIMIDATING. If we can get people to go see Phantom and Les Mis in droves for YEARS, for fuck's sake we can get people to go see real opera if we 1) stop making it so prohibitively expensive 2) get the singers to act for fuck's sake (this is happening now and I'm thrilled but it still needs work) and 3) stop marketing it as some horridly pretentious and exclusive thing.
Opera is a beautiful, immediate, emotional, exhilirating art form and if the establishment treats it as such and not the utmost pinnacle of culture. Because you know what? I hate to burst the opera snobs' bubbles, but isn't! You can't tell me that Sweeney Todd is somehow less of an achievement than say... Gounod's Faust. In fact I'd venture to say that Sweeney might have the more coherently written score. Opera isn't all the Ring cycle, and musical theatre isn't all The Producers, and the sooner both sides realize that and start working together, the better off the arts as a whole will be.
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