Thursday, September 20, 2012

Debunking a few operatic myths 'ere the ghost ship sails...

Let's debunk a few of the false myths about opera in general and Wagner in particular.

1. Opera is:
a. elitist; b. incomprehensible; c. boring; d. all of the above

Pray tell me thou didst not select d. Opera has always been an entertaining form of live music. It is the original "musical theater." The melodramatic plots of soap operas and the ridiculous wit of sit-coms can both be traced back to operatic stages. Film as a medium is indebted to Wagner above all artists and soundtracks would not exist were it not for opera. As I have said before, it may be an "acquired taste" for some, but don't knock it till you try it.

Please don't say you "don't like opera" if you've never been to a great production of one. And having a bad experience with anything - a sport, a type of cuisine, an ex - can adversely effect one's inclinations. I've met more folks who've had a positive experience at the opera, orchestra or theater (and are thus inclined to appreciate the live arts) than those whose negative experiences (poor performance | production | setting | etc...) have prevented them from enjoying the magic of live "classical" art.

I just talked to a friend who informed me her first experience of an opera was none other than The Flying Dutchman. Wagner's first masterpiece remains her favorite opera, and I know she will love our production of it at the Jefferson Center this weekend.

2. Operatic plots are ridiculous.

Come on! Are not most of our forms of entertainment variations on the theme of the "willing suspension of disbelief" necessary to enjoy any work of fiction? The Flying Dutchman has been a familiar legend in our collective imagination for over 200 years. Along with the other gothic romantic legends of vampires, monsters and ghosts, The Flying Dutchman is a familiar story with familiar music (see Bugs Bunny: What's Opera Doc? You can find it and a myth-debunking commercial for Opera Roanoke's production on YouTube). Opera amateurs and professionals have not helped the cause by subscribing to the misconception that operatic plots are ridiculous, nonsensical and implausible. We apologize with "but the music's great!" and do ourselves a disservice. Homer and Dante and Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe and Lewis Caroll and Tim Burton are also "ridiculous." That's why we love them.

Most of opera's plots are timeless myths, legends, adventures and historically-based epics, fantasies or dramas. Opera is no more ridiculous than any other form of entertainment. It just happens to be among the most powerful, immediate and original genres of art the human imagination has been inspired to create. Come "hear the drama" and "see the music" to believe how true it is...

3. Wagner is too
a. heavy; b. long; c. difficult d. etc, etc...

The Lord of the Rings as fiction or film is not everyone's cup of tea but it has been beloved by scores of people from all over the world for generations. The same can be said of Wagner's epic Ring of the Nibelungs. After The Flying Dutchman, Wagner's music dramas were 4-hour affairs whose riches reveal themselves to those interested in spending so much time at the theatre or at home listening or watching a recording. But Dutchman is in three swift acts just over 2 hours long. It is no longer than Disney's recent Pirates of the Caribbean movies (who cribbed its plot and characters).

As the conductor Robert Shaw used to say, falling in love requires three things: being in the right place at the right time for long enough time. If we don't spend time with Wagner how do we know whether or not we love his music. The personality and the opinions of Wagner the man are another matter. As another great conductor, Daniel Barenboim has said: no composer more than Wagner presents a greater gulf between the genius of the work and the odiousness of its creator's personality. We can both appreciate how Wagner's life and work intersect and we should be able to separate how independent they are.

Judge The Flying Dutchman on the merits of the music and the quality of the production. If you come to Opera Roanoke's newly christened ghost ship production Friday or Sunday, we think you'll be as excited about this musical drama as we are.

Come to the opera this weekend. Carla and Mini Wagner want you to.

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