Saturday, November 7, 2009

Will opera die?

In many of the opera's I have seen, the hero or heroine or sometimes both die. Unfortunately I sometimes wonder if that will be the fate of opera. Increasingly it seems that I am the youngest person attending the operas and I am over 50! I hope that opera will continue to live and to be available to everyone and not be thought of as arcane and elitist and a thing of the past not worth listening to in an age of competing entertainment.

Sadly, the death of music programs in many schools, because they want to concentrate on what they see as the fundamentals, has meant that many children, unless they are fortunate enough to attend well funded private schools, are simply not exposed to great music. This fate has not only befallen great music, but I was told by many teachers that for a long time Shakespeare was not taught in schools as it was wrongly seen as 'elitist'

Great music, the classics, the soaring works of Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven and the operas provide us not only an insight into Western culture and Western civilization, but provide us with an outlet for many of our deepest emotions. As Shakespeare provides us with a vocabulary and a means to articulate what we feel, opera and the classics enable us to hear what we feel unfold before us.

Opera provides the best example of this interplay between passion, culture and our emotions. I have seen Madame Butterfly many times and yet I sob when Butterfly kills herself. Why is this? No doubt because Butterfly is a dramatic example of unrequited love. She loves an unworthy man! Similarly when a villan like Tosca's Scarpia is killed, I cheer. Why? No doubt because this represents a desire to right all wrongs. Opera therefore is a play that paints archetypes in music.

No doubt there are those who will argue and say, these themes can be represented in modern music, or movies. In part, they are correct but that is like saying we can live on tofu and water. We can, but life would be rather dull. Opera is greater than life, the characters full of passion and we secretly wish we could live like that! There is nothing so romantic as a love duet in a grand opera. When Delilah sings to Samson about her love (albeit for evil gains!), and begs him to respond to her kisses and tenderness....there is not a woman in the audience who has not asked for the same thing, although few have the vocal capacity to sing it in such a manner!

Not to expose children to the classics, is perhaps to doom them to a life where they will be unable to articulate their deepest passions and feelings. How can they express that they have a love that they would die for? Calaf would die for Turandot. How can they express that they would sacrifice everything to protect the one they love. Well, Traviata does this! Opera has a cleansing effect on one's emotions. After I see a great opera, and cry and am moved by the sheer beauty of the voices and the drama that unfolds. I am always thrilled and empowered!

I have met many people who say they don't like opera, but they have never been to an opera! They have a notion that opera is boring, or about fat ladies singing. Nothing could be further from the truth! To listen to the dramatic tones in Mozart's Don Giovani when the statue drags Giovani to hell...is surely not boring. The very flames of hell are licking at the edge of the opera stage!

Young people often escape into their music to find some way of expressing or articulating their turbulent emotions and passionate feelings. Unfortunately the music they listen to is often as banal and empty as what they are trying to escape from.

I am sorry that more teachers and parents do not take their children to the opera. The HD performances in cinemas are inexpensive, exciting and enables one to see live performances from the great temple of opera, the metropolitan opera of New York. I hope that they do lest this tremendous art form become almost extinct!

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