Opera Memes: A deconstruction

Opera Memes: A deconstruction

Jenna Simeonov

I feel like deconstructing today. I was going for lighter fare on a Sunday, which usually means heading over to the land of the opera nerds on Tumblr.

So when Tumblr ended up being more irritating than inspiring, I jumped out of the frying pan and right into the fire with, you guessed it, opera memes. Now, I’m a Redditor and an upfront music nerd. In my first year of university, my roommates and I even created a list of joke pick-up lines for musicians to use on each other. (Beginning with the borrowed, “I’m a fermata, hold me” and escalating to NSFW very quickly.)

But there’s something about opera memes that make me mental. It’s partly because many of them are written by what seem like undergraduate music students, and the both the vocabulary and the hyperbole just scream “I’m a freshman who just learned EVERYTHING in my lesson today.” I’ll explain in more detail as we continue.

First up: the Double Nerd.

No, of course one doesn’t. Just like one doesn’t just walk into Mordor, right? I feel like this was written by someone who didn’t know what a passaggio was until October of 2013. I say October of 2013 because that gives a first-year voice student enough time to have heard of the word passaggio, have one lesson in which they discover how hard it is, and go to one studio class where they see another student fail at passaggio-negotiation, and tsk-tsk them for trying to push their way through. “Amateur,” this meme-author thinks. This must be how church choir directors feel when they hire a student from the local university to be in their tenor section (they always need tenors, amiright?) and all she does is pipe up about the group’s collective vowel placement or some garbage like that.

Next up: the Faching Snob, once removed.

This one just…. I mean, it IS interesting! From my own experience, it really is neat if someone fits in the cracks of our traditional definitions of voice types. Yes, young voice students love them some voice classification, and it’s usually premature and adorably ignorant. I once met a 19-year old who told me she was a spinto-lyric soprano con agilità. She was so weird. So yeah, young singers like to set themselves apart with these labels, but the crazy thing is this: sometimes they’re right. Jeez.

Again: it’s true that most young singers are best suited for art song repertoire and not operatic arias. But some arias are lighter/easier/more age-appropriate than some art songs. Can I get an _Erlkönig_ in here? Sometimes, it’s alright to sing an aria. No one will die. If you’ve studied an instrument at your university, you’re familiar with the stereotype that singers, in general, are stupid. And here, we’ve got a meme written by a singer who doesn’t understand why:

Ok. I just want to clear up the obvious right away:

Instrumentalists go to summer programs too, you know.

*coughOrfordcoughcough* I suppose this meme was created because some flautist (it would be a flautist) at some school made some snide comment to a singer that suggested that said singer had not been working hard at their craft all summer long. But, Singer, let’s face it; the flautist isn’t ignorant that summer programs exist for your people, the flautist is assuming you’d be as slack about your practicing habits as you’d been all year at school. I know, I know, I face criticism for backing the dumb-singer stereotype. But if it walks like a duck…. No, seriously, I’m the first to admit that opera singers not only have to be just like athletes, but also be able to quickly retain massive amounts of information and multitask like a fiend. And it takes brains, and tons of hard work. But it is my theory that students who study singing at a post-secondary institution can stay in the game as long as instrumentalists can, while having less general musical knowledge. I’m just saying, if you’ve never had to learn harmonic analysis in order to memorize a Chopin nocturne, you could potentially still sing like a god. There is inevitably a point of no return, where the less-educated singer simply does not have the practical tools (i.e. sight-reading ability, ease with languages, good sense of rhythm) to make it in his industry.

Okay, I’m shaking that last one off. Here’s one last bit of silliness that I think is legitimately funny:

I remember the first time I worked in a lesson with Tracy Dahl; she sang like a high D in full voice, and I remember the word, “extraterrestrial” coming to mind. I like this meme because I read it in the guy’s voice, all southern and declamatory. “High” would be IPAed as ”hæ.”

For your fix of opera nerdery, check out the Opera Singer Meme Facebook page, or @OperaMemes if Twitter is more your thing. Anne Midgette’s piece for the Washington Post offers a more mature look at the phenomenon of opera memes, although I feel she’s confused a meme with a flashmob.

Since I’m sure all these opera-nerd memes will stick around for at least another year, I’m considering making this a recurring post. Share your favourite opera and music meme in the comments below!

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