Opera, Critics, and Reality


We all have a passion for something.  The Pink Flamingo’s great passion in life is opera.  I know, it is difficult to believe, but I like opera even more than I like politics and baseball.  I like opera more than I like shopping for shoes, handbags, and jewelry.  Once upon a time, in another life, long ago in a galaxy far far away, I had season tickets to the Metropolitan Opera.  Second row, left,  They were incredible seats.  Then I moved to New Mexico.  Then Sherrill Milnes retired.  I pouted for ten years.  I also sat out the reign of the really repulsive mezzo sopranos.  I don’t like mezzos.  I really don’t care all that much for tenors, either.  I like hearing the men – baritones.

On Monday, Erwin Schrott, arguably the greatest base-baritone in the history of the game (The Pink Flamingo classifies opera as a sport akin to baseball), had an interesting tweet.  Schrott (@erwinschrott) is one of the few individuals The Pink Flamingo follows, who is not family.  His Tweets are often hilarious and usually quite informative.

This is yet another of those times:

Twitter @erwinschrott

Rupert Christiansen’s commentary in the UK Telegraph is basically a slam against the Met’s HD performances.

“...Browsing through the brochures for the 2012-13 opera seasons outside London, it struck me that the touring patterns of the major companies are much more restricted than they were a decade ago. Opera North is no longer visiting Sheffield, Hull, York or Bradford; Welsh National Opera now confines its summer activities to Cardiff and Birmingham; Scottish Opera takes only two full-scale productions outside Glasgow or Edinburgh, and Glyndebourne’s tour is also down from three full-scale shows to two.

This is partly the effect of tighter budgets – touring a unionised chorus and orchestra, as well as the soloists and sets is fabulously expensive – but I think it’s also related to drastically changing patterns of demand.

Opera audiences outside London are increasingly elderly, and no amount of proselytising in schools or groovy buy-one-get-one-free initiatives seems to arrest that worrying trend.

Most members of this cautious and conservative breed do not relish venturing into city centres at night, with its attendant problems relating to parking, eating and marauding feral youth: they are much happier trotting along to the familiar local cinema for the early evening or matinée HD broadcasts from the Met or Covent Garden, which provide close-ups of the top stars, enhanced sound, glimpses backstage – everything, in fact, except the raw excitement of being physically in the same space that it’s all happening in, when it happens. The cinema is cheaper too.

The significance of this can’t be overrated: I’m convinced that it represents a permanent shift in the economy and provision of opera, leading to a sharp decline in sales of tickets for the real thing….”

Where on earth do you start with this one?

Rupert Christiansen has written twelve books.  He has been the Telegraph’s opera critic since 1996. One gather’s he is something of a snob against things American. That can be the only explanation for slamming Live from the Met on HD.

He also lives in the very magnificent world of London.  That’s nice.  The Pink Flamingo lives in Lincoln County, New Mexico.  It’s too bad critics and snobs like Mr. Christiansen don’t know what it is like to live in Podunk, USA, where it is nearly a 200 mile drive, each way, just to see Live from the Met in HD.  Live performances?  Upon what planet does this man reside?

Granted, New Mexico is home to the famous Santa Fe Opera.

The Pink Flamingo has lived in New Mexico since 1998.  I have yet to attend.  You see, I hate Santa Fe with a passion that matches only my hatred of the St. Louis Cardinals or the Oakland Athletics.  As much as I long to attend an opera, I utterly detest Santa Fe.
It makes me crazy.
The roads make no sense.
The people are rude.
The food is vile and pretentious.
If ever there was a city in the US that deserved to be eradicated, it is Santa Fe!
I hate driving in it.
I hate the roads.
I hate the way the roads go nowhere.
Nothing makes sense in it.
Get the picture…..?

There is only one person who would ever convince me to travel to Santa Fe, and that is Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  That’s it.  Not even Captain James T. Kirk and Johnny Bench could convince me to travel to the abomination.

This said, it is very difficult in the winter months to travel to either Albuquerque or El Paso where one can see Live from the Met in HD.  There is a major mountain pass on the road to El Paso, and an even worse set of mountain roads on the way to Albuquerque.  That’s life at 7,000 feet in the winter.  You just look at things, and it snows.

Sure, there is the Spencer Theater in Ruidoso, but the last bit of opera they had was a recital by Sherrill Milnes in 2000 or so.
That’s it.

They do get really second rate musical touring companies and this month they did host the Miss New Mexico Pageant.  And – you wonder why The Pink Flamingo goes to Tombstone, Arizona several times a year.  I go for the culture.  At least in Tombstone, one can hear Juan de Granada, who is the finest guitarist I’ve ever heard.  Can’t get anything like that in Ruidoso.

And, that’s what this is all about – access to opera.

Those of us who live in the middle of nowhere have nothing, unless we purchase a DVD, have a subscription to the Met on Demand, or subscribe to Sirius Radio.  The only way many of us ever get to experience anything lives is on Sirius when the Met is in season.  If you live in New Mexico, forget opera on PBS.  That’s a crock.  You can get your fill of nasal twang country music, on PBS, but they don’t do no stinkin’ opera.

That is what is so pathetically short-sighted about the commentary of a snob who obviously doesn’t get out very much.  Yes, times are hard.  It isn’t just opera and theatrical companies who are hurting.  Just about everyone is.  We are in Darwinian times, where the strong survive.  Also, the creative survive.

It isn’t about not wanting to attend a live performance.  It is about access.  Mr. Christiansen complains that the Met’s most brilliant marketing plan is changing the world of opera forever.  It’s called joining the modern world.  Instead of lamenting the fact that there are some in the UK who aren’t traveling to London for a performance, he should be excited that more people than ever have access to the Met, live.

The world is changing.  We don’t do things the way we once did.  Opera companies, like any other part of today’s world who do not change, evolve, and embrace the modern, are going to die.

Then again, I’m prejudiced, when it comes to the Metropolitan Opera.

As far as The Pink Flamingo attending the Met, there is nothing I would like better.  Unfortunately, logistics today, for me, make it impossible.  It’s that way for millions of Americans.  Technology is bring the magic of opera nearer to us, every day.

I guess I just celebrate the new technology.