If you like Star Wars, you're gonna flip for opera: shouting into the voidOp-Ed
There I sat in Roy Thomson Hall, listening to the crowd go wild for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It’s an excellent orchestra, so that part wasn’t surprising. But it was certainly a rare experience to hear spontaneous applause and a smattering of hoots and hollers - the sounds of an audience showing its appreciation for some deft handling of music that’s so famous a cultural given.
That music: John Williams’ original score for The Empire Strikes Back, which the TSO played live last week as part of its ongoing Star Wars Film Concert Series. And though the music stands on its own as a great work of the 20th century, I’m sure the hoots and hollers were also inspired by the sights of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Yoda, and a few lovable droids.
Is it because lightsabers are cooler than swords stuck in trees?
Whenever I watch something like Star Wars - epic tales that unfold in a fantastical world, making nods to Greek heroes and other well-loved story tropes - I’m always struck by the similarities to opera. The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Marvel and DC universes, they all have the scope and narrative - sometimes even the leitmotifs - that so often come with opera, particularly major works like Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
And as I’m sat pondering all those similarities, I get miffed. I guess it’s because I wish opera got such a broadly enthusiastic response. When opera is basically the original player in combining drama and music, why does it seem so hopelessly niche? Is it because people seem to prefer film to live theatre? Is it because lightsabers are cooler than swords stuck in trees?
My being miffed isn’t a good use of time - I know this in the reasonable corners of my brain. Just because something is an “original” doesn’t mean it’s the most popular, and I’m certainly not foolish enough to try and argue that opera does storytelling “better” than George Lucas.
Maybe there were a bunch of people in that sold-out crowd that saw the prowess of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and will come to see a mainstage concert in the future.
Maybe this is how it is for everyone that has a niche interest. Indie film lovers, college sports fans, lovers of obscure graphic novels - maybe they all bristle at the ubiquitous fandom of big-budget Hollywood movies, the NFL, DC Comics.
The optimistic version of all this complaining: maybe there were a bunch of people in that sold-out crowd that saw the prowess of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and will come to see a mainstage concert in the future. But, it’s apparently true that most of the time, the people who attend things like this Star Wars series are not inspired to come back for Beethoven. (I asked.)
But maybe - maybe? - the kids in that Star Wars audience will think it’s pretty neat to have a live orchestra playing John Williams’ score. And it would be very cool if they began listening to movie scores with more scrutiny; even cooler, if they grew into grown-ups who are open to being moved by music.