Opera lovers & their unpopular opinionsHumour
We were listening to an episode Overthought, A Podcast, and co-host (and fellow Schmopera contributor) Isaiah Bell brought up a pretty neat point. In a long and qualified tangent about the general topic of perfectionism, he expressed his frustration with the music of Mozart. To paraphrase, Mozart’s knack for symmetry and those immaculate turns of phrases is slightly irritating to Bell; there’s not enough human error in his music for him to fall in love with it.
Before everyone goes and attacks Bell via Twitter and other avenues about his “wrong opinion” about music’s most famous genius, we first suggest your giving the episode a listen, in the name of context. On top of that, there’s something to be said about voicing unpopular opinions; it’s an important thing, to criticize, and it’s even more important when that criticism seems to come up against opinions so widely held that they’re instead deemed as facts. Just like French Baroque music is delightful and violas are less interesting than violins, Mozart is perfect, and the Earth is round, right?*
So, what else are some unpopular, perhaps dangerous, opinions to hold about opera?**
*Note: that analogy is dangerous, and for the record, we don’t think it’s an opinion that the Earth is round. There are people who do think the Earth is flat, and they’re objectively incorrect. Also, violas are gorgeous instruments that carry unfortunate amounts of bad-joke-baggage.
**Note again: the opinions expressed in this humour-tinged article are not our complete and utter thoughts on the matter. They are expansions on passing ideas which occur in circumstances of exasperation and boredom, and these are very rarely the result of seeing opera.
Puccini is cheesy
Maybe not cheesy; saccharine is more what comes to mind. All the pious and faithful women, the strong and oh-so-Italian (even if they’re not Italian) men, and all those arias filled with modal harmonies, the more serious they are, the less accidentals you’ll find. Death, politics, romance, it’s all there in uncomplicated fashion, easy to grasp and easy to swallow. We won’t say that we don’t get choked up in Act III of La bohème or Madama Butterfly, but while we’re weeping, we’re all too aware that these are cheap shots, man. It’s like a revolving door of soap operas and sitcoms, depending on whether or not you’re watching a love duet or a death duet or meeting the silly landlord or the corny henchman. Plus, Ping, Pang, and Pong? Really??
Handel is vague and it all sounds the same
It does, alright? Not actually; there are different tunes, fast arias, slow arias, stuff for royalty and stuff for peasants. But if you’ve ever done a Handel opera, you can start to really loath sequential harmonic patterns and call-and-answer patterns in the violins. And don’t get us started on those those final cadenzas, full of the same three or four chords, a trill on the penultimate note, and some dotted figure leading to the tonic.
Handel’s operas are also favourites for directors and their wacky productions (though plenty of them work beautifully, to be fair); Cleopatras in bikinis, lovers on lethal-injection tables, sumo wrestlers, nudity of all levels of gratuity, you name it. Is it just us, or is there a decent amount of confirmation bias in Handel’s operas? As in, their plots are about timeless things like tyrants and illicit love, and the music leaves a lot of room for interpretation; it adds up to enough wiggle room that you could hear the five stages of grief or hysterical laughter or sex on a page, and enough people in the audience would nod and think to themselves, “Yes, absolutely that’s what Handel means.” But does he? Does he?
Wagner takes himself too seriously
He does, right? The whole megalomaniacal approach to opera, writing the music and the text himself, inventing instruments, building theatres that can handle his larger-than-life operas, taking three hours to pull a sword from a tree, another eight to light some torches, fourteen hours for some lady to tell everyone about a dream she had. The swans, the family trees, the incest, the very noble and selective taking from various mythologies and their symbols, it’s all #verysmart. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that “The Ride of the Valkyries” is likely operatic representation of one of Wagner’s wildest sexual fantasies. At its best, Wagner’s music is trance-inducing and epic and energizing; at its worst, one has to ask, just how short was Richard?
Countertenors sound silly
Readers, you were all born in the 20th century, some in the 21st. It’s not like our generations aren’t familiar with men singing in falsetto, but operatic countertenors are another thing altogether. Maybe it’s the gravitas of the roles they get; emperors, noblemen, Kings of Fairies, famous writers, they’re all important dudes. And yet, they’re singing with a voice that is contemporarily considered not-so-manly. Admittedly, for the first 30 seconds or so of the countertenors introductory phrases in an opera, we supress a childish urge to giggle a little bit. It doesn’t matter if they’re incredible experts at their craft; it’s still a strange thing to hear, and laughter, supressed as it is, is our nervous and inappropriate reaction. Sorry, gentlemen. Please don’t mistake our immaturity for a lack of respect.
Readers, what are your unpopular opera opinions? Here’s your chance to rant in the comments below, with no judgement given.