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It’s rare enough that I choose to watch a film at all (I’m just not a fan of the medium in general), but lately, my tastes have become alarmingly specific; I’ve been watching operas. More specifically, I’ve been watching the movie adaptations of operas that were briefly prevalent during the later ’70s and mid-’80s – the 1986 version of Verdi’s Otello that stars Placido Domingo in blackface, the 1983 adaptation of the same composer’s Rigoletto that boasts one of Pavarotti’s defining performances, the 1984 version of Bizet’s Carmen with Julia Migenes in the sexually aggressive titular role, the acclaimed 1979 version of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and so on. Generally, they’re good fun and they’re entertaining enough, and since they’re effectively just music with pictures they’re perfect for someone like me. Yet, one thing is undeniable – they’re not a patch on just listening to the music on its own.

Rigoletto This all ties into something that’s bugged me about opera for some time. Whether you choose to use the term ’snobs’ or ‘traditionalists’, there are a lot of big opera fans that will insist that it’s almost not worth owning an album until you’ve seen the opera performed live; that the music is just one part of a bigger event. On paper, this is completely true – the whole point of opera, in the beginning, was to combine every art form into one spectacle. The composers handled the music, the performers handled the acting and occasionally the dancing, the librettist took the role of playwright and handled the poetry, while extra hands were on deck to provide the high fashion, and sculpturs and painters occasionally got involved the stage design to a degree, too. It was a fulcrum where everybody could meet, a forum for artists to meet and collaborate, regardless of the form they had found themselves working in.

This rather romantic (and Romantic) view was, unfortunately, destroyed by one thing – recording.

The reality of opera is that, since around 1950, the money has come from two very different sources. Performances are fine, but as they’ve only ever been affordable as a regular pursuit to the rich, the audience they appeal to is narrow. Recordings, on the other hand, are different – thanks to labels like Naxos, you can pick up a good recording of any notable opera for less than £10 (or $15 for our American readers). More expensive recordings with bigger names and better sound have remained available, and have consistently sold well, largely to the same audience that can afford to attend opera performances on a monthly basis, but there is a whole new audience for this music that budget recordings have opened up. Which of those would you rather throw your attention toward? Recordings, of course; that’s just good business sense.

The necessary result of this is that opera has become all about the music. Costumes and facial expressions simply can’t be captured on record, and in the English speaking world where the majority of records are sold, it’s doubtful whether the Italian sense of poetry was ever truly appreciated to the full extent it deserves (even the Germans, themselves major players in music consumption, fall some distance behind their southern neighbours in terms of world-famous operas). The music is all that’s left; and because recordings are now where the money really lies, there’s been a knock-on effect on performances. In this day and age, why would a young, talented fashion designer or choreographer get involved in opera when he knows he find much greater acclaim elsewhere, probably for less work? And how many of the people reading the article could tell me who, say, Francesco Piave and Emanuel Schikaneder were without looking them up? Acting has become a lost discipline in the form, too – opera singers are still expressive, of course, but the reality is that very few people enjoy opera because of the acting. They want great singing, first and foremost, and anything else is a bonus; there’s a reason why, even though Justino Diaz out-performs Placido Domingo as an all-rounder in Otello, he can only dream of achieving the same fame and respect.

So the next time anybody insists that you have to go and watch an opera to truly understand or enjoy it, just smile quietly to yourself in the knowledge that they’re talking shit. Take it from somebody’s who never been more than disappointed when they’ve been invited along; not just by the lack of any appeal but music, but also by the crazy decisions some conductors and directors make in order to compensate for it (I’m fairly certain that neither Shakespeare nor Verdi envisioned Othello’s Iago dying by lethal injection, yet that’s what I once witnessed with raised eyebrows). Go buy yourself a copy of Carmen or Lakme and enjoy it on your own terms; you won’t be missing an awful lot.





Iai
03.28.10
Hooray for completely failing to appeal to the Sputnik readership!

klap
03.28.10
what is this "opera"

Athom
03.28.10
i think it's a web browser.


great read.

porch
03.28.10
Interesting article

AggravatedYeti
03.28.10
interesting read, but I cannot say I know shit about Opera. tho I'm a sucker for theater performances, love films and hate movie adaptations of stage pieces soooooooo......

but that whole lethal injection thing -- did you walk out? haha.

Iluvatar
03.28.10
I do not understand this at all.

Urinetrouble
03.28.10
great read but i hate opera. cant stand it. and also jazz>classical music

LeotardMessiah2
03.28.10
Sputnik's getting cultured and shit. It'll never work

Athom
03.28.10
yeah, we're the musical equivalent of NASCAR fans. can't blame him for trying

DaveyBoy
03.29.10
American Idol one week, opera the next. Don't let me hear anyone say that SputnikMusic doesn't cover all forms of music.

Nice read Nick. Interesting discussuion point too. I think it can also extend to theatre shows also.

focksy
03.29.10
there were no tits in that vid dont be fooled

Electric City
03.29.10
would be interested to know what you think of Tomorrow In A Year, which is all modern opera, and the discussion that takes place is whether the visual accompaniment is necessary to truly enjoy the recording

weareshadenow
03.29.10
that video goes best with shampoo commercials.

IRAI
03.29.10
i enjoy operatic performances, but idk. i do like going to see it over just hearing it. i mean, that is how it was meant to be displayed to audiences.

especially when you hear it again later after you see it, you remember aspects of the performance you were paying attention to that back into your mind and you see it unfold again.

it's kinda the same for musicals too, but hey...

or am i alone in this?

Zizzer
03.29.10
I've never been to an opera, but I saw Les Miserables and have the album and I think it would be just about as easy to understand what's going on just from the album. Maybe not though.

Where operas are concertned, unless you actually speak the language the libretto is in you're probably not missing out on much anyway because you would have to spend the whole time reading the translation instead of watching the acting if you went.

Skimaskcheck
03.29.10
'So the next time anybody insists that you have to go and watch an opera to truly understand or enjoy it, just smile quietly to yourself in the knowledge that they’re talking shit.' hahah

elephantREVOLUTION
03.30.10
Pretty interesting. I've never been to/listened to an opera, but one of my friends is an opera singer. If he ever wants me to go see him i'll just tell him to send me a recording.

Oceanus
03.30.10
The whole idea of opera seems very bombastic and hyperbolized to me. The sets, the performances, the music, and even the humor all seem (from my limited experience) to be trivially exaggerated. This in mind, I feel inclined to suggest that the argument of 'well, why experience part when you could have the whole' is not so farfetched. However, this line of thinking does admittedly disregard economic factors.

IRAI
03.30.10
it was conceived in the Baroque era, known for its' exaggeration and 'over the top' EVERYTHING.
thats the point of opera...

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