The language of snobs?Op-ed
Remember that ridiculous clip from Glenn Beck’s radio show about his trip to the Metropolitan Opera? That Neanderthal-like rant about how opera is full of “leftist” snobs that eat brie and say words like “lilt”? I mean, if you want to hear some homophobic, proudly ignorant, reverse-elitist babble, have a listen. Now, I’m clearly an advocate of keeping opera accessible to the general public. But Glenn Beck’s level of stupidity (staged or not) is gross enough that I proclaim him a lost cause; it’s a loss over which I’m not losing any sleep.
But one thing about that rant stayed with me after my heart rate slowed back down: it was the bit about the word “lilt”. Since we, as opera lovers, are unofficially in the business of keeping opera accessible to the general public (except Glenn Beck; I won’t lose sleep over his absence in the theatre), we have to be extra sensitive to anything that smells “elitist”. Things like what to wear to the opera (jeans are legal!), the price range of the tickets, and whether or not to translate Italian operas into English are all up for debate. Does this include our vocabulary too?
In the rehearsal room, artists have a lifetime of too many books and too many foreign languages at their disposal when it comes to professional vocabulary. It’s pretty beautiful. We say things like “the denouement of that phrase could be a bit more innig,” or “starting at the alla breve, the music cries out for Sturm und Drang, wouldn’t you say?” We say words like “crystalline” and “glorious” and “exquisite” and “facile” and “organic”. I love it. Sometimes the best word to describe that tune really is “rapturous”. And with these juicy words comes plenty of communication and understanding within the creative process.
I’m not insinuating that non-artists can only handle monosyllabic adjectives. We’re absolutely not the sole proprietors of flowery language. But does verbosity add to the sticky argument over elitism? Does it degrade opera to say things like “_Don Giovanni_ is a sexy, sexy opera” or, “Joyce DiDonato is a freaking rock star?” I mean, the statements are true, albeit incomplete. But do the potential new audience members really need to know anything more about an opera in order to get their bums in seats? Does a review hold more weight if it’s written, well, snobbishly?
Albert Einstein supposedly said something like, “If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” Does this apply to opera? Readers, what do you think?