I am not delusional to expect unadulterated opera or classical music in a mass entertainment event like the Closing Ceremony, but seeing an artist of the stature of Susan Bullock as a ridiculous be-feathered “Brunhilda” next to Eric Idle was edging on the insulting. It was near an admission that opera is this desperately irrelevant, form of music that is only good for visual jokes that involve shields and a plumed helmet. Many of Bullock’s colleagues on Twitter thought it was “cool” and “fun” but what image of the opera world did this appearance dissipate?
Being able to laugh with the art form and all its impressively out of date attributes is a healthy reaction to a fast, digital world that doesn’t feel it has enough attention span to sit through a whole Ring.
But when that one appearance in a three hour ceremony is the only presence of opera as a genre it becomes more problematic. Bullock was embodying the popular cliché of the trident armed high singing soprano additionally surrounded by roller skating nuns and traditional Indian dancers.
The whole ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ segment can be discarded as a bit of throwaway comedy that Britain is so great at producing but it should also be seen as a projection of the lack of self-assurance in the part of the opera world to allow its very credibility to be trashed in front of a billion TV viewers. It made for depressing viewing and made me seriously uncomfortable that this was seen as entertainment in 2012. A missed opportunity to show any other genre except for pop/rock that is disproportionately monopolising those type of events.
The 1992 Olympics managed to have Montserrat Caballé sing the barnstorming Barcelona with Freddie Mercury which presented an operatic voice as an awesome instrument, measuring against a great rock vocalist. It may have been light on concept but it surely was presenting a more cultured face for Spain than the cheap joke route Britain took last night. Unlike with Caballé’s performance I can’t imagine anyone this morning looking up what opera is on Google.
The other two chances for less mainstream culture to feature prominently were also missed, the LSO were not even credited in the broadcast, while the Royal Ballet danced as a circus troupe with a long retired head that was there on the back of some reality TV few years back (sorry Darcey, a decade ago you were great).
It could have been uplifting and inspirational but I am afraid I was left disappointed that some of my favourite art forms ended up a cheap backdrop to a painfully nasal Liam Gallagher and his multi-millionaire friends. Ironically enough Norman Lebrecht was much more interested in the leggy string quartet…I rest my case 😉