Monday, September 8, 2008

Why the ABCs are important

London's The Guardian recently ran a story called "I'm A Rock Chick, Get Me Out of Here". The article touches on opera houses trying to attract new audiences and sends Guardian rock critic Laura Barton to a variety of operas to see if she can be won over.

She cannot.

The article, which is linked above, is quite good and worth a read even if you don't personally agree with her.

I do not personally agree with her.

But my disagreement stems from some glaring flaws with her article.

First, she picks some of the worst operas an opera newbie could pick: The Rakes Progress, Dido and Aeneas, Handel's Samson and The Marriage of Figaro. These are operas you graduate to, not begin with (I still have on my training wheels myself when it comes to these).

What happened to the ABCs of opera? Aida, Boheme and Carmen? These are the most popular and enduring operas for good reason. Stunning stories, great music, memorable melodies and some of the most fascinating characters ever put on stage. Would her experience have been different if she had tried one of these? I think so.

It also seems Laura's first experience with opera (minus a performance 10 years ago) was for this article.

Now, I'm a rock dude myself and you can often find me driving a few blocks down to the Casbah on Saturday night after the opera is over to check out the newest band to come through town (I'm the dude in the tux who just spilled beer all over your date) but my first introduction to rock didn't happen in a live venue. It happened in my bedroom, dancing around to my parent's records, singing in the mirror to Duran Duran, mimicking The Smiths or listening to the same damn Cure album over and over until I understood the subtle nuances of each song. It was only then, after I became a fan, did I start seeing live shows. The same applies for opera which I listened to on my parent's stereo for years before I went to the opera house for the first time to see a performance of Faust.

Laura makes mention of listening to Madama Butterfly repeatedly in preparation for her article. One has to wonder why she didn't give a production of this opera a try? It is one of the opera's most popular works for good reason. She could've then experienced the magic of seeing something she was familiar with come to life on stage which is what we all long for when we see a live performance be it rock, jazz, classical or opera.

She also makes mention of the rude crowd she had to deal with. I can't argue with her there but she forgets that rude people are everywhere these days.

I'm sad Laura didn't have a good opera experience and I hope she won't wait 10 years to try it again because when done right it can be the greatest art form in the world. So, should The Guardian pay for Laura to cross the pond, I'd be delighted to welcome her to Tosca, Rigoletto or Madama Butterfly here in San Diego and afterwards we can even go catch a gig at one of our indie rock venues. Heck, I'll even buy the first round.

- Edward

1 comment:

Felicia Mehl said...

You sang in the mirror to Duran Duran? That's so cute. I was a Culture Club fangirl myself. :)

But back to the article, I think the author would've enjoyed her opera experience more if she had asked someone she knew well, who was an opera fan, what to go see. In addition to knowing a lot about opera, they'd also know her personal tastes and could guess what kind of operas or which singers she might like.

Also, I think if you start liking a particular singer, it's a great way to learn the different operas. For example, the first singer I listened to a lot was Franco Corelli who I saw on Youtube in a clip from '50s Turnadot and fell in love with immediately (if you've seen the clip, I'm sure no explanation is necessary ;)). I started with "The Very Best of" CD and moved to his full opera recordings. From there, I became a fan of Bastianini, Tebaldi, Del Monaco and so on. I guess it was something like the six degrees of opera. :)

I definitely think she should take you up on your offer of opera-going and partyin' in SD!