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Thread: Harmful Stereotypical Images Of Opera In Popular Culture

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    Default Harmful Stereotypical Images Of Opera In Popular Culture

    Many people who know little or nothing about opera , have never been to an opera performance anywhere,
    seen an opera on DVD etc, still have stereotypical mental images of opera in their heads which keep them
    from giving opera a chance . These negative stereotypes close their minds , which is terribly unfortunate .
    In recent years, there have been TV commercials which exploit these negative stereotypes, and while they may be clever and amusing, they give people a highly misleading impression of opera .
    Many people actually think that opera is a ridiculous affair with fat people in ridiculous pseudo Viking costumes
    screaming at each other in some incomprehensible language , while wealthy bored people dressed to the nines
    sit in utter boredom in their boxes ,having come for purely social reasons .
    These people have never seen Anna Netrebko, Natalie Dessay , Thomas Hampson or Jonas Kaufmann etc,
    all singing actors who give the lie to the stereotype of fat opera singers .
    They also don't realize that operas take place in countries all over the world, and that when you go , you will casts wearing all manner of different costumes .
    And they don't realize that most people go to the opera BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT . Far from being bored, they are caught up in the action as avidly as sports fans at games . And while SOME wealthy people attend opera performances, they probably do because they also enjoy them .
    In addition, people who know nothing about opera don't realize that you don't have ot dress formally at all , and that there is no dress code . Some people dress formally on glamorous opening nights of the season
    at the Met and other top opera houses , but that is the exception rather than the rule .
    Nor is opera in any way "elitist", as many have been misled into believing by conventional wisdom .
    The term elitist implies that opera comapnies are tyring to exclude any one who is not rich and white , which is far from being th ecase . On the contrary, all opera companies very much want to expand their audiences and reach out to people, whoever they may be . The expensive tickets are not the result of "elitis", but the sheer expenses of running opera companies . Tickets to broadway shows and concerts by pop stars are also very expensive .

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    Continued : So how can we debunk these pernicious myths about opera ? I try to do my part at my blog The Horn ,
    at blogiversity.org , a website with blogs on a wide variety of topics where any one can volunteer to do a blog on any subject . My blog is geared toward people who are not familiar with opera and classical music in general, and one thing I try to do on it is to debunk these myths .
    I tyr to show people that opera is really cool, awesome stuff , and that people who are unfamiliar with it don't
    know what they're missing .

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    Hooray for cartoony opera!


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    Well I think there are two sides to this. Since the discussions here on 'regietheater' I've given it some thought.

    Opera has traditionally been a form of entertainment basically for the rich. But prior to about 1945, it was connected in some broad way to society. Eg. Verdi's operas where connected with the move to make Italy independent and united, and also Brecht-Weill's Threepenny Opera made satirical comments on Weimar Republic in Germany between the wars. Even operettas, eg. by Offenbach, made comments on the idiocy of bureaucracy in the France of Napoleon III. It was an outlet for political comment in a quite conservative society.

    Fast forward to today and I think that Broadway musicals, and musicals generally, are seen as the 'music theatre' for the masses, not opera. Opera has become kind of irrelevant to the mainstream of society. Not for us here, nor for those minority who go to opera (who are mostly over 60, according to statistics), but for the wider society.

    So maybe its not about elitism but relevance? I think that things like the operas of John Adams, such as Nixon in China, have attempted to make opera more relevant. But I don't see that much difference between that and musical theatre. Something at the level of Bernstein's West Side Story, which originally was a musical (but later done in a more operatic way by Bernstein toward the end of his life), its the same as Nixon in China, in terms of sophistication and complexity, etc. So musical theatre done at a high level can be similar/same as opera. I won't raise Andrew Lloyd Webber, as I'd be rubbished as lowbrow, but things like his Phantom of the OPera have a lot of things that 'real' operas have, eg. leitmotifs and sung parts for the leads that are no walks in the park in terms of the ability needed to pull them off well. Also, his use of a real symphony orchestra rather than things like synthesisers, which were becoming the fashion in the 1970's before orchestras made a comeback in musicals in the 1980's.

    So basically I see opera being replaced by musical theater in future, or maybe it already has been? This partly why the 'elite' label has stuck. Opera is fast becoming a kind of museum piece, and as you say funding is tight, so opera companies tend to mainly do the warhorses. Its not as vital and relevant to society as it used to be before about 1945, that's for sure.
    Last edited by Sid James; Jun-27-2012 at 09:16.

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    Only for the last two or so years I've finally come to understand (and there for of-course enjoy) Opera. And since I just recently transitioned from ignorance to indulgence of opera I think I can offer some incite on what most people might not get.

    Opera is a very common word even to people outside the understanding of real opera. Whether it is Soap Opera or Phantom of the Opera or even just a fat women dressed with a horn helmet and Viking suite while breaking a wine glass by belting a high note, the word Opera is not unfamiliar - however off target. These days I think most people would have a few common things that come to mind when asked what is involved in opera. I'm sure very loud singing in a different language, that there is some kind of story, it is an antiquated event, that going to an opera is more understood as an indication of old age and/or wealth, that perhaps it's too European, or perhaps they think it's long, or feminine (not a bad thing at all but some men are insecure..), or obnoxiously dramatic and boring are the most common conceptions i guess. Also the traits of a modern cinematic or theatrical musical might bleed over to ones idea of opera.

    But what do they need to see that they can not about opera?

    First of all, it should be understood that the actors and actresses have to sing loud because most opera was before voice amplification - that is really just problem solving. There should be also found an appreciation for the task of singing so loud while following a conductor or orchestra in time while acting a role live for a long period of time.
    Second, people need to be able to find the stories. In my limited time of listening to Opera I have not yet listened to one in English which is the only language I really can understand. Even though finding the story has not been overly important for me in a literal sense, being focused on the music allows me to get the idea of what's going on. There fore I can juxtapose or join the emotion of the storyline, the emotion of the music, and my own emotional reaction. That process i think sums up what an opera experience should be about.
    Third, composers of the past need to be re-humanized to the common public. I am sure many are familiar with the names of (Baby) Mozart or Beethoven (The dog) or Tchaikovsky (Christmas music aka Nutcracker), but I think people need to identify with these artists as fellow fallible humans, with the emotional and life struggles that are really the same we all endure today. That emotional inspiration helps my reaction to the music. Relating with the indulgences, or woman or social troubles many of the composers lived through shows how even in despair one can rise above to achieve their full potential. And the idea that many of the composers were younger and edgy for their time might interest many. And realizing that inspires hope and awe that anyone would be hungry for in their own life. Without those types of understandings the image of the composer is that of disconnection, assumed loftiness, and an old world pursuit by dead out of touch men in suits. This re-humanization process in regards to the composer vs. the listener is the most important remedy against the self enforced separation and disconnect most never bridge. Connection and understanding a composer i think is essential. Would John Lennon have been nearly as great or "cool" without the emotional turmoil and struggles we liked to think he was dealing with in songs he shared with us? John Lennon just has better image control than Mozart these days, hence the difference in popularity.

    …To be continued, I got really tired…

    But in a nut shell:

    Somehow the Opera paradigm has to be re-established.

    Author/Composer collaboration needs be understood as a special event.

    Story intrigue will probably grab a modern persons interest first and foremost.

    Stories should more often be in modern settings.

    Production should be delivered in modern ways.

    And

    The music will always take care of its self.

    My two cents, Jake

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    Slightly off topic: Someone should write an opera that takes off that stereotypical view on opera. *Shrugs* Just a thought.
    If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.
    Johannes Brahms


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    Quote Originally Posted by MaestroViolinist View Post
    Slightly off topic: Someone should write an opera that takes off that stereotypical view on opera. *Shrugs* Just a thought.
    Don't worry there are heaps. But I'm sure you would call them "interesting listening experiences in modern music..."

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    Opera

    It ain't over till the fat lady sings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Don't worry there are heaps. But I'm sure you would call them "interesting listening experiences in modern music..."
    Be quiet!

    And that picture is very bad...
    If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MaestroViolinist View Post
    Be quiet!

    And that picture is very bad...
    Why, thank you for your kind compliments!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Why, thank you for your kind compliments!
    No worries, they were very easy to give.

    Klavierspieler might come along soon and ask again, "How do you two always manage to ruin a serious discussion?" or something.
    If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MaestroViolinist View Post
    No worries, they were very easy to give.

    Klavierspieler might come along soon and ask again, "How do you two always manage to ruin a serious discussion?" or something.
    Klavierspieler was talking about us?!?!?!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Klavierspieler was talking about us?!?!?!
    I think so, but I can't be sure...
    If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.
    Johannes Brahms


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    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Don't worry there are heaps. But I'm sure you would call them "interesting listening experiences in modern music..."
    Quote Originally Posted by MaestroViolinist View Post
    Be quiet!
    And that picture is very bad...
    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Why, thank you for your kind compliments!
    Quote Originally Posted by MaestroViolinist View Post
    No worries, they were very easy to give.

    Klavierspieler might come along soon and ask again, "How do you two always manage to ruin a serious discussion?" or something.
    Quote Originally Posted by ComposerOfAvantGarde View Post
    Klavierspieler was talking about us?!?!?!
    Quote Originally Posted by MaestroViolinist View Post
    I think so, but I can't be sure...
    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Rousseau

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    Quote Originally Posted by MaestroViolinist View Post
    I think so, but I can't be sure...
    Don't worry about him. He's probably just hearing those voices in his head again!

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