Sunday, November 04, 2007

Romantic Opera

In the section on opera in Charles Rosen's The Romantic Generation he says that "Serious opera is almost always political in nature...." This is completely contrary to everything I have been saying.

I did a series on opera is about love: here, here, here and here. Lately I have been saying opera is a chick flick.

We can't both be right, or can we? I wasn't trying to analyze all the operas that were ever written. He is right in this quote, "The change of serious opera from an aristocratic art that dealt largely with court intrigue and dynastic marriage, sometimes disguised as classical mythology, into a popular form that expressed the political ideals of republicanism and patriotism was a long development that started slowly in the last decades of the eighteenth century, before the French Revolution." In this period opera changed from one political agenda to another. He's right, but that isn't what I was talking about.

My position has to do with which operas are revived the most frequently. We want to see operas about love. Meyerbeer wrote about the political turmoil surrounding various religious sects. Verdi wrote about Italian politics. We want to see La Traviata. Marrying out of ones social caste is still an issue in the twenty-first century.

Modern composers are wanting to continue the perceived tradition of relevance. Perhaps we don't know what the real issues of our time are. Terrorism--Death of Klinghoffer. The death penalty--Dead Man Walking. Legal abortion--nothing. The bomb and its effect on our lives--Doctor Atomic. The holocaust--Sophie's Choice. Exploitation of natural resources by multi-national corporations and the resulting devastation of the planet--nothing. All are bad operas for one reason or another, though I found Dead Man to be emotionally effective.

I insist that there must be love. Issues, if you insist on having them, must be approached from the perspective of love.

If I read Rosen carefully, it would seem you should not set plays such as "Streetcar". Rosen would also seem to be saying that the typical modern opera is not trashy enough. The chick flick model would be a lot trashier than what we generally get. Would the Met pay for a new really trashy opera?

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