No apologies

6 Apr

No apologiesIt is a subject I have been thinking about for a while. How the average opera fan and many people in management positions in the companies around the country have one common characteristic…being nearly apologetic every time they talk to the media and the people around them about the art form.

We seem at times embarrassed or unsure to tell the world that we love opera for all it’s faults and bastard hybridity. For years I was also one of those people when asked by colleagues about opera to throw in a joke and not challenge the stereotypes they had in their heads. Becoming essentially part of the joke perpetuated the popular view that opera is a non worthwhile pursuit and that it had nothing to offer to today’s audiences. By implication agreeing the acting was bad and that the singers resembled white whales. I would frequently catch myself lowering the volume of the car sound system when had to talk to a parking attendant or the such. You see, playing the current top 10 hits  carries very little embarrassment  but playing Cherubini’s Medea may somehow disturb the outside world…what a load of nonsense!

In today’s Observer, Kasper Holten, the Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House sent a letter that resonated with me with its totally unapologetic tone. A voice I only found in the last year or so. I stopped going along with and tolerating the unfounded derision that many hold for the field. As this blog largely encourages, I want them to give it a chance and trying to see it as a living art form that can be pure escapism but also has something to say about the complexity of living in 2014 and being able to transform ideas into something tangible.

Enough with the apologies and being always on the defensive we should instead be ready to fight preconceptions and be the face of the world of opera as the people who support it with our frequent attendance and also be the ones that make others realise that it may be a night out they may enjoy. Have given out recordings and videos to many friends and colleagues to gauge reactions and to see what they thought. Have convinced some to come to recitals and their sheer astonishment at the unamplified voice is always worth the effort. They may not be at the right time in their lives to have the time to spend attending frequently but at least we owe it to all the artists and everyone behind the scenes making our favourite pursuit happen, to smash media constructs that have them believe it is a world alien to them, an exclusive milieu they can never fit in.

Look around on Twitter and all around you before a performance, for every oleaginous, thick-skinned plutocrat there are four times more people from much more unexceptional backgrounds, students, pensioners, office workers, teachers, tourists. We are a diverse, passionate crowd and we are also the ultimate weapon against preconceptions of elitism. We can combat the popular beliefs by speaking from experience and extending a friendly hand to those who may want to join us. No more apologies and self-defeatism.

5 Responses to “No apologies”

  1. Mirto Picchi (@Mirto_P) 6 April 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Loved the Kasper Holten letter, and especially glad you – unapologetically – mentioned ‘pure escapism’ in this important post. It’s kind of a side point, but I’ve long hated the argument that opera/classical music should be encouraged because it is good for you in the sense of boosting your math skills, or your baby’s IQ, or ‘relaxing’ you, whatever – like medicine, or acupuncture, or some kind of behavior modification therapy. Opera’s dirty little secret is that it offers some of the best fun, best entertainment you can possibly enjoy, with endless possibilities and variations, over a lifetime. Indeed it’s as varied, perhaps more, as any other entertainment form. People say they ‘like sports’ or ‘like movies,’ but when pressed nobody likes all sports (I can’t abide basketball) or all movies (ditto anything directed by Spielberg). Opera is exactly the same – some people even don’t like Wagner, can you imagine such a thing? (heh!) – yet people have no idea that if they don’t like Rossini they might be blissed out by Berg, or vice versa. Of course those of us already initiated are aware that opera is also much more than entertainment, but I think most of us started out by simply liking – OK, really liking, a lot – how something we happened to hear just sounded. Our math skills improved later.

    • George aka OperaCreep 6 April 2014 at 4:06 pm #

      Ha!ha! I agree with you on all counts. Selling it as self improvement makes it sound so dull.

    • dehggial 25 April 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      I don’t like Wagner ;-) and my math skills are average. But I’m crazy about anything with coloratura in it for one reason only: it’s fun. Gimme roulades (baked ones, too) or gimme death. In my recent experience if you’re enthusiastic and unapologetic when speaking about it people are a lot less likely to give you a hard time. Most people I talked to confessed they were very curious about attending an opera.

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