Very sorry about not reviewing an opera like this week — work and video games unfortunately got in the way. But I definitely have a few lined up, so some reviews will be on the way soon!
But this week has forced me to think more and more about opera as a medium. And I’ve come to this conclusion: It’s a really really weird medium. Sets have gotten more and more extravagant, partly due to the fact that opera has moved onscreen. People know less and less how to handle classic operas, because they’re afraid (legitimately so) of scaring off younger potential patrons by showing stuffy works. Operas written in the last ten years are either extremely classical or would make Puccini shake his head in bewilderment.
These are all signs of opera in transition, and are in no way bad things. I’m actually very excited to have stated writing about opera during this time, because a lot of really cool stuff is happening. But there’s one characteristic of modern opera that has ripened in recent years that I absolutely cannot stand: The worship of individual opera singers.
All the weirdness that comes with working as an singer, from having your own website to selling CDs of yourself with awkward cover art, has not only leaked into opera culture but has created a heinously awkward culture of singer worship. And I say awkward because nothing else in the arts really resembles it. For the most part, I don’t see people deciding whether or not they should attend a local play solely based on who’s in it. If they are, it’s because it’s their family. And you can count on those tickets even if the play sucks.
That’s the problem with modern opera: No one’s willing to say anything sucks. It’s always “fabulous,” “astounding,” or that a performance is a f**king “masterpiece.” Such a culture breeds complacency, and eventually no one other than the compliment distributors attending shows. And once those people die, what are you left with? Art that has lived in a bubble, and diva singers to match.
Don’t get me wrong, if Plácido Domingo was starring a production of something up in Portland, I’d totally go up to see it. But if he was no good, I wouldn’t make any bones about it. And I would hope to Wotan that the show was well cast and well produced enough that it would be a quality show without his star power. For a while, that’s all that was keeping opera afloat and attracting new people to shows. The very audaciousness of an opera singer being something of a rock star was new again. And it drew a bunch of new people into the scene.
But no art should depend on stars to be successful. That is a wholly unwise business model, and it sets up artists for an existence with no real feedback from the public. Companies should instead focus on the shows themselves, erecting beautiful sets and ensuring everyone in the company can work together. And that begins with not making one person a god.
About the Author: Brit McGinnis writes regularly for nerdy blogs, awesome magazines, and even the odd eBook. In her free time, she edits and writes even more things. You can see some samples of her work on her website. She also loves running, watching horror movies, and playing video games.