UPDATED: Is Opera Becoming Irrelevant?


Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 8.32.38 PMUPDATE:  The Pink Flamingo is quite accustomed to being criticized.  That’s the name of the game.  But, today, the anonymous blogger at Command Opera was just plain nasty and patronizing.   I don’t like people who treat those they think are beneath them like dirt, but don’t have the courage to use their own names.  Because the comments on their site have been turned off, I thought I would put the contents of the email I sent, here.

Thank you for being so patronizing.  It is much appreciated.  I tried leaving a comment about your article 2 weeks ago, but you have set the comments up so that they are un-usable.

I have written 4 books.  In my field, writing about the Wild West, there is very little mass appeal.  I happen to know I am writing for a very limited audience.  95% of the books in the field are produced with that in mind.  I know my field, and the limitations.  I wish I were important like you are, but I’m just a little person, living in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico.

It is amazing how thin-skinned such an important person who writes such important blog is, when attacking poor, pathetic, and pathetic me.  That’s nice.  Are you that unaccustomed to being criticized?  Golly, you are important.

If you had read more my of the blog, you might note that I am a supporter of Barack Obama, of gay rights, and no longer support the GOP.  Evidently you didn’t.  You are so quick to make fun of me, to belittle and attack me that it is almost amusing.

Opera, as you envision it, will die a slow and agonizing death.  No, I’m not elite, nor am I very important.  I simply think that the current mode of staging is deplorable, and is hurting opera, turning younger listeners off, because they are accustomed to lush, exotic and allegedly exciting fantasy movies.  Their attention span has been limited because of video games and fast moving movies.  They are jaded beyond belief, expecting something more like the old Zefflrelli productions than what we see today. You give the public what it likes and they will beat a path to your door.  You don’t, and in this age of austerity, you got he way of the dodo bird.

I wish I were as important as you are.  I never will be.  I’m just a dumb, fat woman who isn’t up to your professional standards – what ever they are.  Since you don’t have the courage to put yourself out to be criticized personally, I find your attack absurd, petty, and patronizing.  But, as you have stated, you are far more important than I am.  Please, enjoy being important and trashing those who are beneath your anonymous standards.

I don’t like people who think they are important, but don’t have the courage to put themselves forward to be criticized.  I have a feeling you are not as important as you think you are.  It is nice to stand back and attack, to belittle and destroy from your ivory tower.  Please, enjoy it.

I’m sorry, but this is just plain stupid, if you want my honest opinion:


P. S.  You want a pissing contest?  Well, how about someone who hides behind a mask?  Evidently the so called ‘expert’ who denigrated your humble blogger has a bit of a reputation.  I gather the guy’s name is Crew Mantle.  He wears a mask.  Go figure?  It’s a little strange, if you ask me.  Then again, I deal with characters in and out of Tombstone, fact, history, and fiction.  I know strange when I see it.  He has 134 followers on Twitter.  I have 14,566. I wish I were important. I know, my bad, but there are times when you just need to put patronizing little jerks in their place.

P. S.  I need to change my profile photo.  I no longer have red hair.


Command Opera recently had a column about opera becoming irrelevant today.  I constantly read things like, this and must agree.  Where I disagree is in the solution.  Yes, opera is dooming itself to irrelevancy because of the way productions are being staged.  They are deplorable, boring, and don’t reach out to the younger generation.

“...At the heart of the issue however, is the management and boards of most houses: too old and ingrained to change their attitudes. In Opera, young blood is considered to be 45 where management is concerned, and that number is a severe rarity with 60 being the median age of management (boards are far more elderly often populated by long standing patrons). This long standing way of doing business which has been disastrous for the art form of Opera, is not going to change anytime soon, particularly where these onerous boards are concerned. For there is often no possible way to vote these people out of office, they only lurch their companies towards bankruptcy, symbiotically sustained by these same elderly boards who take no responsibility or blame for the state of affairs. Over the years COMMANDOpera has known many outstanding individuals in management who fight daily against the odds. They truly believe in their mission for their houses, however at the end of the day, it is a question of vision. While it is laudable to work assiduously, if there is no forward thinking movement where today’s demographics are concerned, its game over….”

You want crowds for the Ring?  Stage it like Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars.  You put a Lord of the Rings spin on it, complete with fantasy staging, and there is a ready made audience just waiting to stand in line for tickets.  And – they will.  Can you imagine the Ring as Star Wars?  Or, do it with a Klingon setting.  Considering the characters, a true superhero setting would be a heck of a lot of fun.

Don Giovanni would be a blast with a Star Trek Classic staging.  Trekkies are intrensically opera fans, they just don’t know it.  You make Don Giovanni as James T. Kirk, with various sundry women based on his old loves and you have a every Trekkie in the country DEMANDING tickets.  With Loperallo as Spock (Erwin Schrott manditory) it’s a winner.  Zerlina as Angela Martine, the innocent bride in Balance of Terror, and Musetto as the ill fated Robert Tomlinson, every Trekkie knows how the tale might end.  Donna Elvira is Janice Rand, complete with the hair-style.  And – there are just too many ways you could do Donna Anna.  It’s fun.  Any modern science fiction fan can relate to James T. Kirk as Don Giovanni.  After all, Jim Kirk was no boy scout.

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I’m still annoyed with the Met’s really repulsive David Alden’s version of Un Ballo in Mascara. Come on people, this isn’t rocket science.  There is truly only one period in history where the story can even stand on its own and that would be in the years 1790-1800.  Now, we’re getting somewhere.  Do it in the period of the early Regency, and women will flock to see it.  The dirty little secret is most women have a ‘think’ about Jane Austen.   Like I said, this isn’t rocket science. You take the cast they were using and put Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a Regency costume, dressing him like Mr. Darcy and (sigh) there will be no empty seats.  It would be required on DVD.  Women want Regency settings.  It’s romantic.  It’s our version of fantasy.  If the costumes were done by someone who actually knew a little bit about historic fashion, it would be even better, slightly scandalous, and so romantic we would be reduced to even forgetting about Colin Firth (the Thinking Woman’s Sex Symbol) as Mr. Darcy.  It’s a chick thing.

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Don’t get me wrong, the sight of Dmitri Hvorostovsky is a Fedora is incredible, but I want my opera done correctly.  Yes, the boos for the production were well deserved.  Aside from Hvorostovsky, everything else looked terrible!  You costume like this and women will stand in like to see a Regency based production.  Like I said, it’s a chick thing.

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Aida should be something out of Cecil B. DeMille.   When doing a production of Tosca, the greatest ever was the film Sherrill Milnes and Placido Domingo did.  The thing about Tosca, the story, is that any Regency fan will tell you Scarpia would be the hero, not the villain.  He hung out with Nelson, when he and Emma Hamilton were scandalizing society, not only in England but in Italy as well. Cavaradossi was on the wrong side of history.  It is a Regency/Empire tale. You stage it that way.  Once again, with lush costuming and Scarpia as Mr. Darcy, with just the right Barihunk, it’s a winner.

I love Tosca.  It is a wonderful piece, set June of 1800 when Napoleon when Rome was threatened by his invasion of Italy.  It is very time specific.  We knew exactly when the story takes place.  It is a finite moment, well documented.

“…Bonaparte returned from Egypt to France on 23 August 1799, and seized control of the French government on 9 November 1799 in the coup of 18 Brumaire, replacing the Directory with the Consulate led by himself. He reorganized the French military and created a reserve army positioned to support campaigns either on the Rhine or in Italy. On all fronts, French advances caught the Austrians off guard and knocked Russia out of the war. In Italy, Bonaparte won a notable victory against the Austrians at Marengo in 1800, but the decisive win came at Hohenlinden later that year. The defeated Austrians left the conflict after the Treaty of Lunéville (9 February 1801), forcing Britain to sign the “peace of Amiens” with France….”

Ergo, we know exactly what the costumes for the opera should look like.  And, this shot from Tosca, in a 2012 production in San Francisco is NOT it.

Opera Today
Opera Today

Don’t insult my intelligence by trying to pass off a Scarpia who is dressed in a costume at least 25 years to late.  Men of the era were incredibly fashion forward, far more than today.  Scarpia would have looked like (Sigh) the greatest Barihunk of them all!

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It isn’t just a problem with Opera.  This shot from Johnny Depp’s epic fail, The Lone Ranger, is the epitome of what is wrong with costuming today.

The Daily Beast
The Daily Beast

Part of the problem is the stupidity of costuming.  It is insulting, just plain and simple. The above photo, featuring the dance hall floozy with her boobs hanging out is historically incorrect.  The Pink Flamingo has been working on a book about fashion during the alleged time period this piece of stupidity was to have taken place.  I have about 5000 original photos from the period.  No dance hall girl EVER looked like that, not in the American West.

Then, there are other problems, just as pathetic.

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There is nothing that even compares to this in fashion history, at least not in reality.  it is a joke, spanning about four decades of Hollywood Fashion disaster.  The bodice is from the 1840s.  The hat comes from the 1870-80s.  The sleeves never existed.  The skirt never existed.  The hoops are an attempt at 1865-`879.  The hair never existed.

What were they thinking?

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Everything about this is wrong.  If the movie is pre-Civil War, women weren’t all that common in the part of the ‘Wild West’ attempted to be pictured here.  For one thing, women, even in the farthest reaches of the Wild West, in the most isolated frontier, kept up with the very latest in fashion.  If the magazines said to get rid of the hoops, then they got rid of the hoops and re-made the skirt to handle a bustle.  This just doesn’t make sense.

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Nope, never would have happened.  For one thing, the truly repulsive costume Johnny Depp is wearing, would NEVER EVER EVER have made it to Monument Valley, which is on the Navajo Reservation.  The Kirby Sattler portrait used to make up Depp is of a ‘Crow’.   Or as it was put in the Gawker, his costume was based on a white man’s version of an imaginary Native American.  The Crow were Northern Plains, not southwest.

“...The Crow, called the Apsáalooke in their own Siouan language, or variants including Absaroka, are Native Americans, who in historical times lived in the Yellowstone River valley, which extends from present-day Wyoming, through Montana and into North Dakota, where it joins the Missouri River. Today, they are enrolled in the federally recognized Crow Tribe of Montana.Pressured by the Ojibwe and Cree peoples, who had earlier and better access to guns through the fur trade, they had migrated there from the Ohio Eastern Woodland area via a southwest move to settle south of Lake Winnipeg, Canada. From there, they were pushed to the west by the Cheyennes. Both the Crow and the Cheyennes were then pushed further west by the Lakota (Sioux), who took over the territory from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Big Horn Mountains of Montana; the Cheyennes finally became close allies of the Sioux, but the Crows remained bitter enemies of both Sioux and Cheyennes. The Crow were generally friendly with the whites and managed to retain a large reservation of over 9,300 km² despite territorial losses.Since the 19th century, Crow people have been concentrated on their reservation established south of Billings, Montana. They also live in several major, mainly western, cities. Tribal headquarters are located at Crow Agency, Montana….”

This is how the Crow actually dressed.

David F. Barry 1878-1883
David F. Barry

Or this Edward Curtis masterpiece.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 6.03.49 PMGeez people, and you want to know why the crap put on stage and on the screen is a flop?

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Lose the modern cowboy hat.  It never ever existed in the Wild West.  Men in the Wild West would never dress this way.  I’m still trying to figure out what tribe Depp’s character is trying to represent. I have indications that maybe his character is Apache or Navajo.  Neither would look anything like this.

Let’s face it, this is what is wrong with the movies and opera.  It’s like putting my favorite opera, Tannhauser in Nazi Germany.  People were disgusted to the point where it was forced to be pulled from the stage.

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What are these idiots thinking.  As The Pink Flamingo wrote, several weeks ago, Tannhauser is one of those operas where we have all the facts we need.  It was a medieval story of love, sin, and repentance, along with salvation.  The Met had a magnificent production of Tannhauser, absolutely perfect.  It is the way opera should be staged.

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“…This Tannhäuser is a fine example of something that unfortunately has become rare: a modern Wagner opera performance that Wagner would certainly have applauded. Under the artistic leadership of conductor James Levine, the production team of director Otto Schenk and designer Günther Schneider-Siemssen has adhered strictly to the composer’s wishes. These are not hard to fathom; they were clearly articulated in his lifetime and rigorously enforced at Bayreuth long after his death. But in the last half-century they have been frequently violated by his descendants and heirs, among others. The temptation to plumb these music dramas for symbols and allegories is almost irresistible. In this production, like the later Met edition of the Ring cycle, the artists sensibly allow each audience member to develop a personal interpretation without undue interference. The singers–Richard Cassilly, Eva Marton, Tatiana Troyanos, Bernd Weikl, and John Macurdy–are superbly matched to their roles. –Joe McLellan…”

The forest staging for the Met’s classic Tannhauser is perhaps the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in any opera.

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You can almost smell the smoke in the air, and feel the chill of the winter, and the way the darkness of the winter forest closes in almost claustrophobic.  I love the overture to this opera.  When done right, the ballet is acceptable, simply because it is nothing but an orgy.  This said, I like a good, well staged ballet orgy as good as the next opera fan, but when everyone is bottomless and topless, I just don’t feel all that comfortable putting a screen shot of it here – not that the Met’s staging featured either.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 8.20.04 PMTrovatore is one of those amazing, insane operas that is Renaissance.  But, the Met recently put it in Napoleonic era, during the War on the Peninsular.  It worked, beautifully.  Then again, when you opt for something with a Regency buckled swash, it always works.

Opera is the on-stage expression of all things romantic.  It is supercilious, with outrageous story-lines that have no basis in reality, but are, non-the-less, just plain fun, if it is staged correctly.  That’s a like a good movie.  You don’t want to see Gone With the Wind costumed for the Regency Period, and you don’t want to see Pride and Prejudice the way that disgusting recent version with Kira Knightly was done.  It was horrible.  Casablanca with costumes from the 1960s would be deplorable.  It wouldn’t make sense.  Why would any production operatic or on film deviate from what actually works?

That’s why things bomb.  Unless you have an eternal story-line that can work in anytime it just won’t work. Why do production designers keep wasting everyone’s money trying to do stupid things?  You would think brighter minds would prevail and just say no.  The problem is, especially in opera, today, it’s all about the production.  One suspects the reason things are so outrageous is for the designer to prove how sophisticated he (and it usually is a he) is.  They are above the foolishness of the world, determined to make a name for themselves.  It is about outrage, critical acclaim, and attention.  So what if the production is a fop, they look like fools, and no one wants to bother with it.

Staging today is starting to remind me of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  No one but the little kid had the honesty and the nerve to say that the emperor was naked.  No one has the nerve to just say no.