I talk about opera a lot with my friends, and even more with my romantic partner (he of all people deserves to know why I spend so many hours cooped up in my office watching DVDs of musical fairy tales).
For the most part, we all have excellent discussions about opera and the arts in general. But there’s one big problem: We can’t agree on what exactly constitutes a bad opera performance.
Before we discuss this, let us establish that bad opera performances indeed exist. A bad version of anything can exist. We’ve all met people who love something so badly, they believe that no version or tackle on it has the ability to be bad. My first thought is that of Sonic the Hedgehog fans, but the same could also be said of fans of Quentin Tarantino films or DIY blogs. To these people, everything is sacred. And as a result, mediocrity is tolerated for far too long.
Here’s an anecdote about the worst opera performance I’ve ever seen. It was Don Giovanni, performed by an opera house that will remain anonymous for the sake of the careers of everyone involved. Because honestly, the singing was fine. It was. What bothered me more was the fact that the performers were stiff as all hell, running around the stage during their numbers as if they didn’t know what to do with themselves. Not that that was even their fault — the staging was outrageously avant-garde, far past pretentious. As in there was no curtain, and most everyone was on stage most of the time (except for maybe during the final death scene. But goodness knows there was probably someone under the dinner table). That may have all been fine, but the actors were so stiff that the whole production suffered. And after a while, it felt like the director was ardently trying (and failing) to reach “those dang artsy Portlandia kids.”
This is absolutely not to mock avant garde opera productions. I firmly believe that s**t should happen way more often than it does. That’s how we keep opera fresh, and that’s how we reign in new fans of the genre (that and Final Fantasy opera concerts). But this production was overreaching to the point of lunacy. And perhaps most damning of all, the opera felt like it was three hours in length. If you’re checking your watch every forty minutes, something went horribly wrong somewhere.
That company went on to impress me with other productions, but I feel it is my sworn duty as an opera fan to talk about horrible opera performances I’ve attended. That gives people who are less experience with opera the freedom to say they don’t like something, and for everyone to have the opportunity to not attend something they don’t want to attend. Imagine, attending opera because you think it really looks entertaining! And not having to lie about it afterward, without fear of looking unsophisticated!
But that performance of Don Giovanni was bad in a way that a bad performance of Gianni Schicchi may not ever be. And anyone who’s ever seen a Monty Python movie knows that you don’t have to be pretentious to be bad entertainment. It’s some untraceable thing that somehow makes a performance un-fun, that causes you to check your watch every forty minutes.
Which is why i’m opening this question up to the public: What, in your opinion, makes an opera performance un-fun? If you’re resistant to seeing opera, what makes it not fun for you? Let’s talk about this and re-hash it again in the future. All future opera depends on it!
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.