Social influence of opera

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Social influence of opera

Much to highlight my esteem for the genre, I must stress that opera indubitably achieves the apex of aural beauty. However, discussion of its influence on society I must bring to the table with haste. While it is an excellent form of entertainment, indeed better than film and sport, it has somehow circumvented the established systems of alerting consumers of its content. In film and television, for example, there are ways to rate the content for the purpose of informing others. Why, then, must not opera abide by these same standards?

I propose, therefore, that a rating system be established for the production of opera, and that children under a certain age not be allowed to see opera of a bawdy or violent nature. Perhaps some examples of such gruesome or otherwise inappropriate operatic behavior would be most elucidating:

  1. Verdi, Il Trovatore: infant immolation
  2. Puccini, Turandot and Tosca: public execution, and for most capricious or unjust of reasons
  3. Shostakovich, Lady Macbeth of Mtensk: rape, and lewdness in general
  4. Gounoud, Faust: imagery of and cooperation with devil, fornication, and abandonment of impregnated partner
  5. Wagner, Tristan und Isolde: attempted murder (twice!), drug/potion use, hunting
  6. Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro: general air of stupidity, foolish whimsy, forgery
  7. Mozart, The Abduction from the Seraglio: abduction
  8. Britten, Peter Grimes: questionable relations with youngsters, environmental problems (over-fishing), needless banter

These are just a few examples of the many.

"Some say it is Napoleon, some Hitler, some Mussolini. For me it is simply Allegro con brio." – Toscanini, speaking of the Eroica
RE: Social influence of opera

I don't know about other countries, but in my country, all children, through the songs, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, mythology, poems and short stories that they learn at school are familiar with all of these themes. All of this in no way damages them which goes to show that none of these themes need be, nor in my opinion ever should be hidden from children. The important thing is how they are presented, and if there is a moral framework. While I do thing certain operas should carry warnings for younger spectators, ultimately all this comes down to parenting, and what parents allow, and more importantly don't disallow there children to watch.

RE: Social influence of opera

Well, I think the problem here is that you took me seriously. I guess I was not all that clear, but this was meant satirically.

In this ridiculous proposition, I attempted to bring up a major point about opera: that being, chiefly, that in a majority of operas, the vital characters are almost wholly devoid of reason or good sense of any kind. For this reason, many people dislike the genre because they find it over the top, unrealistic, or too dramatic. However, through careful observation one can see how opera is very much a product of the social context, as a reflection, rather than an influence upon, or projection of, common deeds and sentiments.

Thus, another point on wanted to make is that it is absurd to hide these themes (which seem to be omnipresent in our culture) from children. The only way to do that is to heroically pummel them with a mace until they are blind and deaf. Thus, I take a jab at the idea of a rating system in film, and am grateful that opera has no such thing. It is perhaps why it is the highest art.

An issue I wanted to raise is to understand why opera is becoming less popular in recent years. Perhaps because it is the most seemingly absurd and dramatic form of art, but yet the most truthful?

"Some say it is Napoleon, some Hitler, some Mussolini. For me it is simply Allegro con brio." – Toscanini, speaking of the Eroica
RE: Social influence of opera

I take everything about music, and the education of children incredibly seriously. Even more so in this age of dumbing down, when culture is consistently under attack from all angles in the spheres of education, media, and politics. For this reason, I consider it my duty as a human being, and a father to wage war against these pernicious forces wherever, and whenever I can.

I must admit that I find a lack of seriousness in this forum, from some contributors, lamentable. We are talking about art here. If you think that Beethoven, Sibelius, Messiaen, Xenakis, Elliott Carter, or John Coltrane, and others too many to mention, considered themselves entertainers, I'm afraid we shall have to disagree. Therefore, I feel bound as a matter of respect, to bring the same level of seriousness to all my listening, and writing about music.

I think the rating system for films is absolutely imperative. How else are parents to know if the content of these films is suitable or not for their children? Everything your children watch in your home, and when with you is at your discretion. The difference with opera is that it is an alternative medium, and how it presents its themes is not the same as film or television. If you familiarise yourself with the work in question, you can know more or less what to expect on the stage. It does not possess the unpredicability, editing and special effects capabilities of film, by it's very nature of being performed live on a stage, and not as a piece of recorded celluloid.

As for "heroically pummel", or "indubitably achieves the apex of aural beauty", I have no idea what this linguistic jibberish means.

RE: Social influence of opera

Well, we lost Belgium because of an opera...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Revolution#Night_at_the_opera

 

Rolf

RE: Social influence of opera

Oh dear, I hope we don't have to start strewing our posts with smiley faces to ensure people realize we're being tongue-in-cheek.

As for X-rated operas, the recent Copenhagen Ring is a great example, Rheingold in particular. Very Tarantino-ish.

Regardless of what the librettist intended, some producers seem hell-bent on sensationalism. Risque/gory scenes can be designed and executed with taste, and in accordance with the story. Or they can be thrown in gratuitously, with the obvious intention of creating controversy. Where that dividing line lies may be a matter of personal taste. Handel especially seems to divide camps, between those who love the interpretations and designs presented by recent productions, and those who prefer him straight. I'm all for a bit of imagination.

RE: Social influence of opera

Please don't get me wrong, I think there's always a place for humour. For example, I remember George Steiner, in a lecture ten years or so ago, refering to the opera Rolf mentioned, saying that the riot was not caused by revolutionary fervour, but because Auber's music was so bloody awful.

The issue I have is that a lot of what purports to be humour in these pages, is just not funny. Too much of it is, to me anyway, just plain facetiousness and inanity. People trying to show off, or claiming that their subjective opinions, are objective facts. The consistent use of superlatives in areas like cultural value judgements, where they just don't apply. I get the feeling that some contributors have been listening to the sound of their own voices too long. I don't find any of this entertaining or edifying. Of course you could say, well don't read the contributons, but I love a good conversation about music, spoken or written, and I feel the Gramophone Forum is the best place where I will find it outside my personal world. Which brings me to my last gripe, I am honestly flabbergasted at the way the English language is vandalised, in many of these posts. As readers of Gramophone I hope you will agree that writing about music, is a skill in itself, and although none of us are supposed to be music journalists, I don't see why, just because this is the Internet, people don't try to write well. Some of the metaphors in particular are just totally absurd and meaningless.

RE: Social influence of opera

Mozart was a comic genius, and I agree completely that there must always be a central place for comedy in all art, as it is one of the most central and universal of all human emotions. It sounds paradoxical, but comedy is a serious business for me, and it has always infuriated me, that comedy in literature, drama, music and painting is somehow viewed as less deserving of respect than material of a serious nature. For example that Shakespeare's comedies are worth less than his tragedies

Comedy, particularly under conditions of censorship, is an incredible weapon. I love composers like Kagel, and Ligeti for their sense of fun. Debussy's paraphrasing of Tristan und Isolde in Golliwog's Cakewalk for me is worth more than the whole of Wagner's opera. Doubtless a lot of composers try to entertain, Elliott Carter seems like an immensely jovial fellow, but I don't think he, Shostakovich, or Mozart doubt or doubted what they want or wanted their legacy to be, if they care or cared about such things. I find a lot of great artists have absolutely no interest in how the future will perceive them. As funny, and entertaining as Cosi Fan Tutte is I feel its beauty, and plea for understanding in human action, is very serious, and I hope I'm right in believing Mozart felt the same.

Many artists are killed, imprisoned, tortured, exiled or silenced, because of their music, comic or otherwise, this is a serious matter. Whilst I hope that great artists will always give full vent to their comic instincts, the need for seriousness I was addressing is not from composers, but from people who give their opinions out of a facetious, thoughtless and dispespectful manner.

RE: Social influence of opera

I never said that one can not be passionate about something and still find humour in it.

If you put something in this forum obviously you expect and know others are going to read it.

Spiderjon says people may write things because they sound nice in their minds, I can accept that, but the above sentence just doesn't make any sense to me.

"opera indubitably achieves the apex of aural beauty'. Firstly, this an opinion, not an objective statement grounded in fact, therefore at best its truth is open to the large possibility of doubt. Something indubitable that is full of doubt is a perfect contradiction.

Secondly, opera doesn't or can't achieve anything. A composer may try to achieve something in a particular composition, or a performer may try to achieve an accurate or interesting interpretation, but opera, or any artform for that matter, in itself achieves nothing. It is composed, played and listened to, or not, no more and no less.

Lastl, Apex of aural beauty. An apex is the climax or highest point, something which is totally incongruous to the idea of beauty. A triangle has an apex, beauty or any similarly abstract concept doesn't.

For these reasons I just don't understand what you want to say. I have an idea, but because of the things I've just pointed out, I don't know if I'm right.

I am like Spiderjon also honestly curious to know why you think opera is the most truthful, and why it's better than film or sport.

 

 

RE: Social influence of opera

If I seem pedantic I apologise it's the last thing I want, but I think caring about an appropriate use of language and pedantry are two very different things. One of the reasons for the unpopularity of opera is, in my opinion, the absolutely ridiculous nature of their libretti. You need to read them to understand what is happening, but so often when I do, I wish I hadn't, and wonder how a composer allowed his music to be saddled with such rubbish, especially when he or she wrote it him or herself, Wagner for example. I totally admire your desire to use words that are not so frequently used, my only problem is that a lot of people in a given situation have a large vocabulary of appropriate words to choose from, but so often choose something that is wholly inappropriate, ths is what I don't get, and I don't see it as pedantry, without these ideas of relevance language as a system of meaning will just fall apart. I just saw a tree is a perfectly clear and understandable sentence.  

RE: Social influence of opera

At last, a thread with a bit of fire in it!

Speaking of humour in music and Shostakovich, I have to reference the other thread that got you a bit aerated, Dunrob, the one on tuba concertos.

Of all composers, Shostakovich may be most to blame for typecasting the tuba, perhaps also the trombone, often using them to provide raspberry-like comments on stage action or the course of the music itself. Even in a work as apocalyptic as the 4th symphony there's a first movement passage where the tuba galumphs into action and gets the piccolos poking fun at the work's opening statement.

SpiderJon, you brought up something that also had me puzzled. Opera's decline? I've heard other comments to that effect, at the same time hearing of sell-out attendances at cinematic viewings of the Met's Saturday afternoon performances and vigorous dvd sales. Does anybody have stats, one way or another?

How about some more of Molly's soliloquy, Spider? I want to see just how sensitive this forum's censorship engine is.

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