Opera Is Not Broadway


Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 7.07.43 PMLet me go on record.  I don’t like Broadway.  I think it is shallow, silly, stupid, and superficial. I don’t get it.  I never have.  If you want to torture me, force me to go to a Broadway style musical.  I don’t like the stupidity of the stories.  I don’t like dancing.  I don’t like singing and dancing. I like some of the old Hollywood musicals, but they aren’t on a stage. They’re in a movie format, where you can get up, pause the DVD and barf, then go back and watch them. Okay, I admit, I’m a fan of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  It’s a western and Howard Keel is one of the great baritones!  My gosh the man had a voice!  I like a good baritone voice and a good baritone role.  All you usually get with so-called ‘Broadway’ is some crappy tenor who can’t sing worth you know what.

While we’re at it deliver me from anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  I think his work is vile.  I can’t stand having Phantom shoved at me, and had nightmares after being required to force a junior high class in which I was subbing to watch Cats.  I think it was abuse.

Yes, I admit to seeing Richard Harris in Camelot.  That’s not a lousy musical, it’s theater.  I like good, classical theater. I love Molière.  If I could see Shakespeare, I would drive several hours.  But, where I live, they only have shallow and superficial crap Broadway touring companies doing crap shallow and superficial vile and disgusting Webber reruns.

So, when I see a piece on 60 Minutes, about the Met’s Rigoletto, where the idea is to bring Broadway to opera, I lost it.  Even worse, they hire a producer who has never done opera.  It is not longer about opera, it is about the shallow and superficial producer who has some outrageous, crime against nature, ‘concept’ that has nothing to do with opera as the civilized world knows it.

I don’t care if the idiotic management of the Met is trying to expand the reach of opera.  You think stupid and shallow and superficial dimwits who frequent Broadway are going to go to the Metropolitan Opera? Someone has a rich fantasy life.  If they did go to the opera, they’d never step foot in a stupid, shallow, and superficial musical ever again. It’s not going to happen.  People who go to lousy musicals don’t go see opera.

Year ago, not long after I moved to Lincoln County, the stupid, shallow, and superficial dimwits who book the stupid, shallow, and superficial theater here with stupid, shallow, and superficial musical cow poop made a mistake and booked the greatest barihunk there ever was.  So, there is a rush to get tickets for their fake Broadway touring companies who do little more than lipsync their roles.  You can’t get a seat.  Locals live and breath for this you know what.

Want to prove how wrong the concept of trying to attract musical fans to opera is?  The auditorium was was about three-quarters full for the greatest voice the world has ever known, and ever will know. They were bored. They didn’t even bother applauding or jumping up and down and cheering the way I do.  I have the same concept for a good opera and recital as I do for a good baseball game. Cheer and boo.  I’m really good at booing conductors who know just how to sand-bag my favorite baritones.  There was polite applause, then during intermission you could hear members of the audience discussing the fact that some Andrew Lloyd Webber thing was coming the next week. There they were, with the greatest of the great, Sherrill Milnes, and all they could discuss was some lipsync touring company.

Don’t pull the Broadway canard on me.  It doesn’t work.  You get management who want ‘buzz’.  They want something to cause people to attend the opera, thinking that some outrageous version of a beautiful opera will do that.  Guess what, they don’t.  In fact, they ruin opera companies.  The majority of opera goers aren’t interested in an S&M version of The Tales of Hoffman or a Nazi revision of Tannhauser.  Sure, critics might gush, but they don’t even pay for their tickets.  They get ’em for free.

Opera is about the voice. It has always been about the glory of the human voice.  One day, after most opera companies go belly up because people quit subscribing to their insulting productions, maybe some company director will finally realize that, if you want an audience you give people GRAND opera. You put opera back to what it should be.

There are times when modern productions work.  The Met’s recent Traviata is case in point.  I dislike Traviata.  I don’t care it it was Wyatt Earp’s favorite opera.  It never did anything for me.  This recent production is stunning.  It works.  Rigoletto in Vegas is dumb and even dumber still. The story takes place in Renaissance Italy.  It is not a modern tale.  To attempt to make it one doesn’t make a darn bit of sense.

If the Met keeps this up, I’m expecting them to come up with a new production of Aida, taking place in modern Egypt.   You think I exaggerate? Last year, I read a critique of Don Carlo.  The intellectual critic thought that the problem with the production was that it needed to be updated and modernized, set in the modern world.

This is the intellectual crowd the Met is listening too for advice? Umm… How the bloody hell to you modernize an opera that is set in a specific time with real people who lived real lives with real biographies and dates attached to them?  I guess, for the glitzy Broadway mentality, this is not the least bit important, but Phillip II of Spain was Phillip II of Spain.  Do they want to put him Castro’s Cuba or something?

Maybe the problem isn’t the opera going public, but the mindset of the company directors who can’t possibly conceptualize the fact that people aren’t stupid.  They know when the emperor has no clothes, and don’t really enjoy naked opera, either.

When  you think about it, it all boils down to respect.  Any director of any opera company who allows these producers to get away with truly insulting and disgusting productions has no real respect for the art, for opera, or for the singers who are, in most cases, not powerful enough to walk off the set.  Instead, they are required, in some productions, to almost humiliate themselves.   These productions are almost career ending for some singers. When you have a diva cavorting nearly  naked among a group of naked chorus members, performing sex acts on stage, when it isn’t necessary, it has a tendency to put a damper on their careers.  They are no longer spoken of with respect, but snickers.

I know of a few super-stars who have the capacity to refuse to do a production.  There aren’t many.  But they need to be given respect for having standards.  There is something degrading when magnificent voices are literally forced to betray everything that person is, to please the all powerful producer.  Then – to make matters worse – they’re not allowed to have real curtain calls.  Instead, they must bow, Broadway style.  I want to see Dmitri Hvorostovsky taking his curtain call, so I can scream throw things, and whistle.  I don’t want my applause to be misconstrued as approval for some soprano who can’t carry a tune or a tenor who makes one want to puncture one’s ear-drums.

Broadway style opera is about a total and complete degradation of the art form.  The person who creates such a staging, who even commissions it, obviously doesn’t give a damn for what opera is all about – the human voice.  Geez, just let them stand on stage in street clothes and sing. It would be cheaper and much more respectful of the human voice.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 1.04.15 AMAs for Rigoletto, the only change I would now make, in any staging is to revise the make-up that would be used on Rigoletto.  Since the discovery of Richard III, and the reconstruction of his face, we discovered that the man who was reputed to be so deformed was one of the best looking English monarchs.  Why ply all that make up on a Hvorostovsky when we now know that Richard III, the ultimate version of the physical prototype was a good looking man, charming, and a lady’s man?  The Richard III we know today, was written by an author who was basically writing for the grand-daughter of the man who defeated him in battle.

This is about respect.  It’s time great voices were allowed to regain their status.  That is what opera is about.  People don’t go to see a production, they go to hear Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Erwin Schrott, Anna Netrebko, Ildar Abdrazakov, Angela Meade, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside, Renée Fleming, Jamie Barton, Thomas Hampson, Luca Pisaroni, and an odd tenor or two. They don’t go to ooh and ah about how a producer has done so darn well.

Peter Gelb wants to make opera available for the ‘masses’ as if we the little people have an odor about us.  Opera has always been about the masses, but the world has changed.  One of the major problems at the Met is the fact that Gelb has made such mistakes he can’t give tickets away. His artistic direction is deplorable.  People aren’t interested in his questionable approach to opera.   He had a hundred million dollar defect, which is deplorable.  This is how opera companies die. Fortunately, he has finally lowered ticket prices.

Thing is, ticket prices alone are not the problem.  Back in the mid-1980s, my mother and I had Orchestra, Row 2, Seats 9 & 11.  The individual tickets were around $90.  The house was always packed.  Today, a ticket for Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s Rigoletto, same seats are $220.  It’s not about the ticket price, it is about the product.  I looked at the available tickets on October 20.  That house should be sold out.  We’re talking about the world’s leading baritone barihunk doing his first Rigoletto at the Met.  This is a big fat hairy deal. You can’t blame the baritone, you can’t blame the city, you can’t blame the opera, so maybe the problem is the fact that the production is pure crap. Maybe people aren’t as stupid as Mr. Gelb thinks they are, or maybe the just aren’t as sophisticated. Or – maybe like that emperor of legend, Mr. Gelb has new clothes?

Take October 30’s performance of Two Boys. The balconies are half empty. People aren’t buying tickets for this production?  The November 9 ticket sales are a total disaster. Yet you look at the November 2 ticket sales for Tosca and the balconies are full.  There aren’t all that many tickets available.

So, like any good narcissist, Mr. Gelb cannot even comprehend that the problem is his and not the Met.  When you start making the kind of excuses he is making, well, something is very very wrong, including the 2013 season, which is absolutely deplorable.  He wants to exploit technology, which is very good. But, his attitude about bringing opera to the masses is a far cry from Beverly Sills’ love of people and opera.  She knew how to run an opera company.

It’s about the baritone, stupid.