The Music Column

Opera: Grand and Not So Grand

People sometimes seem to be prejudiced against opera for reasons that are arbitrarily unconvincing.  These reasons turn out to be an antipathy based on class (opera is the province of the privileged), or antipathy resulting from sheer musical ignorance.  (Trained voices don’t appeal to the contemporary ear.)  These two specious reasons are important because the hostility to opera is deeply ingrained.  Today, opera needs all the friends it can get, when it is thought to be too long, too obscure, too dressy, and too challenging.  TV is easier, as are your pajamas.  Deny it if you can.

The fallacies implied in the rejection of opera are revealing, and they are altogether too provincial and too contemporary.  When I see lowlifes cruising in luxurious imports, I have to realize that class and money have new meanings today, which make old resentments doubly old.  And today’s affected preference for grossly incompetent singing, plug-ugly music, and catatonic repetition is something less than a musical standard.  Besides, I think that opera is not only inherently interesting in itself, but is also an American phenomenon.

Moreover, I claim that the cultural background of opera is both revealing and definitive—in a sustained sense, the birth of opera has always determined what opera is and even can be.  Opera was imaginatively synthesized by humanist Florentines...

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