The Billy Connolly Problem (or, Why Opera Is Boring)

Okay, I don’t really believe opera is boring. I’m not an opera traitor, even though I write like one sometimes. I serve the art, not the artists themselves.

Game of thrones eunich quotes

Anyway, one big thing about opera that I know weighs on a lot of fans too is the idea that operas are boring. That’s the reason people give for not going to see operas with us. And he reason why opera lovers are sometimes viewed as stuffy and pedantic. Well, that and the fact that most opera guild members are somewhere between Retired and Decomposing.

Fact is, though, opera can be boring. Every person who has ever seen more than one opera has a Boring Opera Story. It doesn’t matter how much of a fan they are. If they say they’ve never gone to an opera and had a boring experience, they are lying. That’s like saying that even if you’ve spent 20 years going to the movies, you have never watched a movie that bored you. It’s a preposterous notion.

Snow White and the Huntsman

“Oh yeah. Never happened.”

There is certainly a denial of the idea that opera performances can be boring. But that’s not the subject of this piece. I’ve spent quite a long time thinking on the subject of why opera is often considered boring. It is an old art, full of stock characters and classic storylines. But there are tons of modern works, featuring characters as familiar as Mao Zedong. If someone wanted to find a non-Italian, non-stock-character-filled, surprise-ending-containing opera, they would be able to find one. Opera’s unpopularity can no longer be blamed on Mozart. There is now an entire opera based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You can

Many are put off by the length of an individual opera performances. Three hours is such a long time to spend just sitting and watching something! But this is completely irrelevant regarding other forms of media. Many classic films are three hours long, sometimes even longer. Many people find it impossible not to watch just twenty minutes of Gone With the Wind or The Fellowship of the Ring and walk away. People read long books all the time, visit extensive museum exhibits, and listen to album collections with dozens of songs. Video games, as always, are a prime example of length not curtailing public interest in an art. A game costing $60 can get you 10 (sometimes 60!) hours of interaction with an art form. So length is clearly not the problem when it comes to enjoying art.

Perhaps it is what exactly what an art production does within its time length that makes it interesting or not. This has nothing to do with the actual content of the thing. It’s more about pacing, the exact rhythm of whatever the feck’s going on on the stage. It’s about engaging with the audience in spite of the long, slightly pedantic phrases. As a gamer, I don’t care about a cyborg making his patrols in silence. But I will watch that cyborg use their wordlessness to convey anguish. As an audience member at the opera, I may  get bored if some prat in an opera is whining onstage about how many women his master’s slept with. But if he’s emphasizing the repetition with his body, using the language as an acting tool and not just a script to sing out, entertainment is achieved.

Boba Fett demotivational poster

Of course, operas aren’t always to blame for long, pedantic librettos. Or tedious and repetitive scores either, for that matter. A company can be brilliant but be forced to do an opera not suited for them because some tighta*s donor wanted it. It happens. But operas always have a choice between making the text fun and exciting in some way, or for falling into what I have dubbed the Billy Connolly Problem.

Billy Connolly picking his nose

Not this. You are always allowed to do this at the opera.

The Billy Connolly Problem is not an insult to Mr. Connolly himself. It directly refers to a monologue about opera that he performed as part of his Live in New York tour in 2005. In it, he describes his annoyance that operas are so long. He goes on to parody a traveling type of song, which made me immediately think of that one song from Faust. But as Connolly goes on, it slowly becomes evident that it’s not the length of the song itself that’s annoying. It’s the sheer repetition of the scene, and the actors only emphasizing the repetition. Wordpress won’t let me upload the video itself, so come have a look for yourself here.

Every opera production has the potential to fall into the Billy Connolly Problem. You can have the grandest sets, the most glorious singers in all Creation, and still fall into it. It’s just what comes with the canon texts of your craft being long, and written in a time much earlier than your own. Add a community that generally looks down on shortening works, and you’re looking at a dangerous trap of boredom. It’s not innately the fault of opera itself. It’s the time we’re living in, and the current state of affairs. For now, all we can do is encourage those who bring purposeful direction t the stage. And pray that opera singers learn how to move their hands in an engaging manner during arias.

funny opera cat

Have you ever had a boring time at the opera? Tell us what you think caused it! If you’re an opera singer, talk about your experience working to make operas engaging to the audience. What does it take? Tell us in the comments!

About the Author: Brit McGinnis writes regularly for nerdy blogs, awesome magazines, and random video game sites that feature Sasquatch. 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.

You can find Brit on FacebookGoogle+, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can also find her on Pinterest, if you like social media articles and Bioshock fan art.

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