Friday, 29 January 2010

Opera in Film

Making art about things which are already inherently dramatic - like theatre or sporting events - is notoriously difficult. Allusion is usually the best, if  imperfect solution. Here's that scene from The Shawshank Redemption (it was on telly last night!) which manages to get a grip on the strange drama of beauty in music as Andy Dufresne brings a prison to a standstill with Mozart. The character Red says:

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free. 

So, to paraphrase Shakespeare on the back of the previous post:

I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I endure bad art

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Bad Art

I'm lucky. I work in the music industry and through luck, bullying and occasionally parting with hard cash I get to attend first class concert and opera performances in and around London.

Consequently the level of operatic performance that I come across routinely is very high. This makes me a natural sceptic of ITV's Popstar To Operastar programme. I tried to dismiss the programme as a ratings-shot lite-ent confection, despite its disingenuousness.

Last night I took the opportunity to get away from both bet-hedged West End opera and the glazed, botox-opera of Poperastar by attending a performance of La Traviata sung by an amateur company in a church in zone 3. It was an intermittently spirited performance from a company made up of amateurs in the literal sense and using professionals (i.e. recent graduates looking to try the roles) as the principals.

The rule with these things - such as there's a rule - is to take it on its own terms and to encourage and admire the spirit in which opera should be performed. This I found extremely difficult given one of the worst pit orchestras I can remember having heard, also an amateur collective, some of whom were missing.

This leaves me thinking about the parameters of aesthetic arguments. They have a strange triangular quality - which is probably why it's so difficult to have a straightforward for or against discussion of merit. Popstar To Operastar uses operatic melodies as a vehicle for an entertainment show. This approach may treat opera as a carcass for the carrion of the production team but at least the entertainment is rendered as such. The opera that I saw last night held to the tenets of the opera reverently - i.e. the drama, the score - but in giving a poor (really poor!) musical performance betrayed the piece and the form as badly.