Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Opera elitist ? What "Big Question"?

Is opera elitist? That was the "Big Question" posed by a joint Telegraph and ROH event online yesterday. Perhaps the really big question should have been "What's the point?" As television goes it was embarrassingly amateur.  As debate, it wasn't. Perhaps this is a symptom of the Anglo-Saxon need to dumb things down to the lowest possible level. Thank goodness for Mark-Anthony Turnage, who said "If this was Germany, we wouldn't be having this debate". Elitism is a construct which says more about those who use it as epithet than about the subject itself. So what if "the masses" think opera is elitist ? Opera doesn't become elitist because some people think it ought to be. And what's so wrong about elitism, anyway? What's wrong with artists trying to be the best they can possibly be? Do we want a culture based on mediocrity, simply because mediocrity isn't "elitist"?

Out came the usual clichés about ticket prices and suitable clothing, which have been defused long ago.  Football and pop concert tickets can be more expensive than box seats at ROH. As for evening dress, some people actually like glamming up for a sense of occasion,. Social attitudes are projected onto opera which have nothing to do with it as art form. Opera has become a battleground in class war.  In Anglo-Saxon society, it is misused as a status symbol. "I spend, therefore I have taste". And it's not just people who don't do opera.  On any opera discussion group there'll be those bragging about how much they own/have travelled/have read etc. but precious little about what they've actually gained from the experience. In some cases it's bluff.

The whole issue of elitism can be defused by one simple solution. Listen. Listen to what's happening in the music, respond to the drama, enjoy and learn from whatever you experience. It does not matter how much you know or don't know, or what your status is, as long as you engage. As long as you're paying attention it doesn't matter what someone else is wearing, when to applaud, etc etc. It's not elitism we should be worrying about but snobbery.  Unfortunately, it's human nature to be insecure, and to scam.

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