Opera Funked Up: Beginning of the End?

Thanks to a local Chicago blogger, I learned about something called The Opera Show and watched a "trailer" for it much like one would for a movie (embedded below).  There have been a lot of assaults on the genre of opera, and I think I now know why: the future of opera (and all so-called Classical music) is dubious and uncertain, so everyone wants to give it a direction.  But if it gets pulled in all directions, it comes apart at the seams and becomes a label disemboweled of meaning.

So far this year in Chicago, we've seen the opera label applied to: a "Legende Dramatique" at Lyric, performance art by Opera Cabal, and a song cycle by Chicago Opera Vanguard.  None of these challenges to the label do I find without merit; all seem to provide interesting directions for the future of opera.  
But The Opera Show is something else.  Like "Forever Plaid" or "The Buddy Holly Story", it takes the history of opera, reduces it to highlights and then strings them together to tell a story--the story of opera itself.  Their intentions may be as noble as to expose the masses to the operatic tradition, or it may be more about profit.  Either way, it's not the worst affront to taste we've seen in these days of crossovers and derivative art.
But what caused the bile to rise up my esophagus started with the Moody Blues song followed by this quote:

"It's just a funky, sexy version of where are we taking this thing and what's the future of it. And let's celebrate and maybe just have a little look around the corner and say 'What's tomorrow going to be like?'"

[insert vomit sound here]
This is the way the world will be if the Simon Cowells of the world beat out the Simon Rattles.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if that's the future of opera, then what's the future of the musical?  There's a good reason why the "related videos" on Youtube include Phantom of the Opera.
Which brings up an oft-asked question and several follow-ups: 
  • What's the difference between an opera and a musical?
  • Will this distinction be maintained as we march forward into this uncharted territory of genre-blending and mash-ups?
  • Should the distinction be maintained?
  • Is the genre of opera a dying language that will be preserved, like Latin, protected behind glass at museums?

Filed under: opera

Tags: mash-up, opera


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  • I'm afraid that it's the beginning of the end. The whole Boyle/Bocelli/Cowell-ification of opera is terribly frightening. I think, however, that we as an industry are to blame...in that we are not necessarily reaching people well enough to break down the barriers/misconceptions about opera. I recently gave a talk about the subject...kind of...if you care : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvdUpuIo2S4

  • I enjoyed your talk! I think we're in a period of intense change, from which opera and the entire classical music world will indeed emerge--but in an altered form. Every classical music organization in America tries to be both an arts organization and a business. And businesses that succeed are the ones that balance their Promethean urges with what their customers' wants and needs.
    It's not dead yet. But if it comes out the other side looking like the opera show, then it might as well be.

  • No need to choose between Cowell and Rattle. Opera has a lot of room to maneuver between pop music and modern compositions that are unrecognizable to most people as music at all. Compared to the symphony or ballet, opera is accessible; it has a story to follow, with words. Set it to music a wider audience can appreciate - with songs and melodies that are at least discernible - and people will come. The recent "Damnation of Faust" at the Lyric is a great example. Granted, it wasn't new music; it's from the same era as Verdi. But it wasn't "La Traviata" either - Berlioz was so far ahead of his time that audiences are just catching up with him now. The Lyric paired his unfamiliar but tuneful music with an eye-popping contemporary production and you could hardly get a ticket. The new opera "Elmer Gantry" just had a successful run in Milwaukee, with enthusiastic houses enjoying a classic story set to contemporary music in relatively traditional form. There's no need to resort to "Opera Idol." Opera just needs new shows that are slightly less daunting musically for audiences.

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