Opera: It’s Not Nearly As Lame As You Think
Opera: It’s Not Nearly As Lame As You Think
By: Brit McGinnis
I remember my first aria. I’m finding most people remember the most too.
It was O Mio Babbino Caro, originally from the opera Gianni Schicchi. It’s a comedy, with a lot of tropes you’d see in a lot of classical Italian opera. There’s death, love, impersonation, and an aria that became one of the most famous in history.
Did I mention the version I saw was sung by a cow?
This is actually from a video series called Classical Baby, a TV series designed to teach children about the fine arts. I was working as a babysitter, and after listening to this video, I had to hear more. So I went on a quest for more opera.
Opera, it turns out, is one of the most glorious nerd obsessions one could ever have. It’s also one of the stuffiest, having not gone the Star Trek route of splitting its appeal between old-school, new-school, and Deep Space Nine.
No, opera’s a bit of an odd duck. People (usually) dress up to attend opera performances, and the stories are usually hundreds of years old. But the tropes and characters are 100% equitable to modern nerd culture, and there’s usually at least one opera show playing somewhere that a person can love. Fans of Firefly will love La Traviata for the sexual politics, while Walking Dead freaks (like myself) usually did Don Giovanni for the test-of-humanity plot. And the zombie.
But less and less “young people” are attending opera performances, and opera companies are freaking out. As a result, they’re turning to newer, fresher operas. Ones that require much smaller orchestras, and riff on modern themes.
That’s awesome. Though a part of me hesitates upon seeing ads for opera shows that have been written with modern audiences in mind. Does this mean that people have officially given up on older operas? Are they too “lame” to be marketable to anyone?
The sad part is, maybe they are. Maybe this next generation of opera attendees won’t be willing to pay $45 to attend a concert version of Haydn’s “Creation” like I did. Or they’ll attend but will be on their smartphones the entire time. The old shows are, frankly, outdated. If an opera house wants to make money, they can’t perform them how they’ve always been done.
Here’s the good news, though: Opera houses aren’t going down without a fight. In the last five years, I’ve seen opera houses around the country revamp classic opera shows so that they’re more like Nixon in China and Einstein on the Beach. The shows themselves aren’t changing their original plots or scripts (which is genius, because it inspires fandom of the actual opera). They’re just being cool.
The most clever opera outreach attempts of all have tried to appeal to the more tech-savvy audiences. Like remember that one scene from Final Fantasy VI?
Yeah, Japan totally tore that up.
And I can’t even talk about this right now:
Yeah, these things are awesome. Because they’re proof that opera is trying to be fun and cool. It’s trying to be fun. Whether you love opera or can’t stand it (FYI: No one loves every opera that they see. If someone says they do, they’re lying), it’s extremely important in Western and Eastern culture alike. Losing it would be losing an enormous cultural resource.
Things are already changing, and I feel optimistic about the future. People are staging operas with If we vote with our tickets, we’ll see even better stuff in the future.
And by “stuff,” I mean both retellings and newly written operas. If you only go to stuff written in the last 20 years but call yourself an opera fan, shut up. Just shut up. Or else I will punch you in the face.About the Author: Brit McGinnis’ nerdiness emerged very young, mostly centering around The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings (her elf name was Sorcha). It re-manifested in many other forms, but currently she is obsessed with Firefly and beating the Elite Four on Pokemon Crystal. This nerdette writes. A lot. She became famous in her college town for writing the only negative review of a local play (prompting a call of protest from the director). Brit has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Oregon. In her spare time, she writes a weekly erotica e-book series titled TIDBITS. Brit also has a day job as a social media consultant, where she shows people how to use Facebook correctly. Check out her blog Happily Cynical, find her on Facebook, or ogle her pretty modeling photos!