Opera haters: they exist, & that's alright

Opera haters: they exist, & that's alright

Jenna Simeonov

There’s an understandable amount of opera love here on Schmopera, because, well, we do love it.

Opera fans are of the hardcore ilk; they’re opinionated and passionate about why the art form is great, and about why all of the public misconceptions about it are wrong and preventing people from falling in love with it the way we have.

Yet like anything that has a fan base, opera has its haters.

Sure, it’s disheartening, a bit maddening and confusing, to stumble across someone who just really doesn’t like opera. We want to challenge their opposition, ask them if they’ve ever been to an opera, heard anyone sing it besides Katherine Jenkins or Andrea Bocelli. The truth is, they may have heard the best of the best singing Verdi, Wagner, and Mozart, and they still hate opera.

For one, Friedrich Nietzsche was no fan of opera, as detailed in his The Birth of Tragedy. In a gross paraphrasing, Nietzsche thought that the combination of music and text resulted in a lesser form of both, that the music muddles the meaning of the text, and the text is a slave to the music. (Frankly, it just didn’t sound like he was a “modernist”, and though he hung out a bit with Wagner, he wasn’t the die-hard fan of his work that Richard may have been used to meeting.)

Mark Twain wasn’t about opera either. He visited Bayreuth one summer, saw some Wagner, and brilliantly echoed what many of opera’s biggest fans often feel after a Big Opera Night: “I feel strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the sane person in a community of the mad; sometimes I feel like the one blind man where all others see; the one groping savage in the college of the learned, and always, during service, I feel like a heretic in heaven.”

Less gently put, Twain is also credited with saying, “I have attended operas, whenever I could not help it, for fourteen years now; I am sure I know of no agony comparable to the listening to an unfamiliar opera… that sort of intense but incoherent noise which always so reminds me of the time the orphan asylum burned down.”

One of our favourite public denouncements of “The Opera” is by one Glenn Beck, the fountain of wisdom and culture that he is. If you’ve not yet gritted your teeth through his two-part radio rant about his trip to the Met with his daughter, settle in. Now, Beck’s rant was more about confirmation bias than anything else; he was ready for hoity-toitiness, and he got it. He rages especially hard over the conversation he heard in the men’s room during intermission, and their presumably homosexual-like vocabulary that included the word “lilt”.

There are lay-haters out there, too, like Brian Clegg, who wrote a while back about his firm despising of opera. Reasons include its “mediochre music”, “melodramatic plots”, “mateurishly hammy acting”, “forced and unpleasant singing style”, and opera’s tendency to be “ridiculously over-supported by public funds”. We realize that for many of our readers, this paragraph may have made some eyes twitch.

People hate opera right alongside rap music, according to an informal poll of NPR’s. They hate it so much they manage to get themselves domain names like ihateopera.com, despite the lack of elaboration on the topic on said site. There are Italians on Tumblr who are mad at people who think Italian = opera lover. There was even the mountain lion a few years back who hated opera so much he thought twice about attacking a lady who starting singing as self-defence.

As insufferable as it may sound, objections to opera really are, for the most part, founded in ignorance. It’s not ignorant to dislike Tristan und Isolde or La bohème, but it’s ignorant to follow a bad time at a show with the statement, “I don’t like opera”. And to be fair, only a few loudmouths are actually saying that. More interesting are the odd questions that people ask about it. On Reddit, users ask questions like “why do opera singers use so much vibrato”? or, “why does singing like an opera singer feel fake”?

It’s likely that every hardcore opera fan secretly lusts for the day when, in organic conversation, the topic of disliking opera comes up. We wish they would tell us how stupid it is to sing when speaking will do the trick, because opera fans can tell the skeptic (Nietzsche included) why recitative not only gets the job done, but elevates the text’s meaning. We wish the haters would talk about the bad acting that’s easy to find on large stages and cinemas worldwide, so we could point out the difference between bad actors, and the art form itself (not to mention the good actors that certainly exist in the opera world).

Let’s accept the fact that opera might just be like cilantro. Some people love it in their lives on a monthly, weekly, even daily basis. And to some people (including yours truly and Julia Child, we’ll add), that &#$% tastes like soapy nastiness. Let the opera haters speak their minds without fear of looking un-cultured, and realize that a) it’s not personal (and if it feels personal, the problem may be with you) and b) you will not convince them that opera is great. If anything will do that, it’ll be a pressure-free, voluntary trip to the opera house.

Something about attracting opera fans with honey. Or wine. Or maybe cilantro.

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