Help! The pandemic has made me opera-conservative!Op-Ed
Readers, are any of you experiencing a strange sort of guilt, on the eve of an opera season that is looking - gasp! - normal?
Here’s the source of the guilt: when I see live seasons announced out of the world’s major opera companies, I find myself hungrily scouring the production line-up for old standards. Why? What’s wrong with me? Should I not be more excited for Fire Shut Up in My Bones than I am for Madama Butterfly or The Magic Flute?
It’s not that I won’t tune in for the non-traditional canon. I’m thrilled by what it means to have Terence Blanchard’s opera opening the Met’s 2021-22 season. And dammit, I’m also so effing thrilled by what it means to have Othalie Graham, David Pomeroy, and Gregory Dahl onstage together for some traditional canon in Vancouver. I honestly don’t know why it feels so fraught to see opera coming back.
My psuedo-psychological theory is this: I’m not so much anxious for the shows themselves (although, I can still feel the stomach-pangs that hit me all last year, each time a cancelled production popped up on my Google calendar); rather, I’m naïvely waiting on society to rewind, to go back to “before”.
So much of my enjoyment of live performances (and maybe yours too, readers) came from imagining the bustling world, with everyone’s busy days and their paths criss-crossing, and the cool magic of seeing some of those people converge in a packed theatre, to sit and experience the same moment together and turn our eyes and ears toward a feat of human creativity.
When that’s not in place, it means that our society is not healthy. And I think between the public health crisis and climate change and elections charged with anger, it’s easy to argue that society is currently unhealthy. And when that trickles down to life’s pleasures, when we all have to work so damn hard to make art happen, it arguably should make that art even more special and more welcome, right? I’ve caught a few tastes of live performances in the last 18 months, and I haven’t yet fallen into that mental space where I zone in on the music or the costumes or one specific artist onstage, and get whisked away in storytelling-land.
Instead, I’m strangely self-conscious, and my head is full of questions: What am I doing here? Isn’t there something more important that I should be doing? Why has this show been produced? Have we vacuumed up precious resources to put this up? Who is this show for, and do those people get to come see it? Is anyone making a living from this? Is this all part of the shiny veneer that so many opera companies love? Do we have the time for opera yet?
And I’m clear on the irony: when I’m theoretically sitting in the audience, mask on and opera-starved, asking all the above questions instead of getting swept away by a story, shouldn’t I be craving the kind of art that stands for the future? Fellow Travelers over Pearl Fishers? Breaking the Waves over Lucia di Lammermoor? Probably.
But let’s be honest, readers. I’m a big fat opera fan, but I’m also a person. I miss opera, but I also miss brunch and playdates and thrift stores and public transit. I think I miss La traviata and Der Rosenkavalier and La bohème because those were among the things that were in my life, before life got fucked. Nostalgia’s strong, man.
I say all this in part to unpack some of the anxiety that’s getting in the way of my excitement over the return to “normal”, and in part to reach out and wonder, only slightly desperately, if any other readers feel the same. Anyone? Who’s up for a Ride of the Valkyries?