Does opera depend on its snobs?Op-ed
On that old topic of opera’s social relevance, I came across an article by Robert Thicknesse of The Guardian, entitled “How I fell out of love with opera”. The long-time arts critic argues that the social snobbery that clouds opera will never be shed, since those social snobs are the ones funding it all to begin with. “In order to survive, opera has to prostitute itself to the rich and to people who don’t like it, to betray its own essence again and again, to the point where it doesn’t even realise it’s doing so. The influential part of its audience wants it dead, repetitive, predictable, pretty, safely insulated in some foreign language.”
The day after Robert’s article came out, his Guardian colleague Tom Service rebutted in his own words, “Love opera. Don’t fall into the trappings trap”. “Opera can only ever be snobbish, elitist, or exclusive if we confuse the bullshit of its social trappings with the blazing beauty of the works we already know and love, and the new operas that are being written today. We mustn’t let that happen.” I get Robert’s point though; if the only people supporting opera prefer it as a snobby form of entertainment, we’re sort of stuck. In him response, Tom uses the opera version of the No-True-Scotsman argument: opera that is laden with snobbery isn’t real opera at all. And maybe Robert is trying to throw the opera baby out with the bathwater.
I agree that opera exists whether or not there are snobs hovering around it; the tricky part is getting this autonomous opera out of the score and on the stage. These articles were written four years ago, a blip in time next to the long history of this conversation-starting art form we love so much. Now, in a concentrated period of opera-company-woes, do you think any of these questions will be addressed? We might not like the answers…