Article by Kevin Blake
As far as I am concerned, the acceptable face of opera begins and ends with Bugs Bunny cartoon classic “What’s Opera, Doc?” This Wagnerian tour de force features the unforgettable image of Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs and singing the words ‘kill the wabbit’ to the tune of ‘Flight of the Valkyries’. Now, why can’t all opera be just seven minutes long and laugh-out-laugh funny?
This is not to say that I am not an ardent music lover. On the contrary, for as long as I can remember, music has been a constant joy to me. And believe me, when your other principal abiding passion in life is Chelsea F.C., you need at least one thing you can rely on. Nor am I unappreciative of high culture – the theatre works of fine art, great literature, film and so on.
It’s just that the magical mystery of Polyhymnian muse has always revealed itself in the singular form of rock music. Hard rock music. In fact, the harder the better, from punk rock to heavy meatal, characterised by crunching guitar powerchords, thumping drums, gut rumbling bass, and snarling vocals. Nothing else has ever done it for me, and I readily and cheerfully admit to being one of the most one-dimensional individuals on the planet when it comes to musical taste.
Not that, as a natural musician myself who has played a variety of instruments most of my life. I don’t appreciate the technical or aesthetic virtues of other music forms, particular classical music, the complexities of which are truly amazing. But once that novelty has worn off, if it doesn’t rock my world within the narrow confines of the sound that appeals to me, it just won’t cut it, and no amount of exhortation to “broaden my cultural horizons” can change that.
Up until recently, my antipathy towards opera has not posed much of a problem to me. It was always relatively easy to keep my exposure to this musical and theatrical form to a mercifully bare minimum – snippets seen on TV or heard on the radio, more than enough to know it wasn’t for me. I was happy to leave opera alone if its advocates would do me the courtesy of reciprocating.
But they won’t and that’s the problem. More and more these days, I’m being pressured to bow down before the altar of opera and repent the error of my ways. Apparently, confessing a sneaking liking for ‘Tommy’ just isn’t enough for these pushy, proselytising elitists. “If you can’t see God in a Puccini aria, you don’t have a soul,” one opera buff acquaintance told me recently.
Like all artistic (not to mention theologian) interpretation, this of course purely a subjective opinion, no more valid to anyone who doesn’t share it than if I said that I found God instead in the glorious feral ferocity and unbridled anarchic power of the Sex Pistols. I may worship a false idol in the eyes of the fine arts set, but I’m honest, self-aware, and unpretentious enough not to care. I know what I like and I’m very happy to stick with it, if they would but leave me alone to get on with enjoying it in peace.
Sadly, even my wife now is getting in on the act, our musical tastes diverging ever further as hers “evolves” in a ghastly and unforeseen development to include a growing penchant for the dreaded classical music.
“Come to the opera with me,” she begs, and while I can’t deny that I am a sparkling and erudite companion in my knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal way, I must gently but firmly respond by telling her I would rather subject myself to the tender mercies of the late, lamented Sir Larry Olivier’s concentration camp dentist in “Marathon Man”, than endure an evening among the stuffed shirts at Washington’s Kennedy Center, suffering the interminable chalkboard screech of some tedious, pompous operatic production.
Strangely enough she finds this response less satisfying, and my arm is beginning to resemble a Curly Wurly from all the twisting she’s giving it. If my resolve weakens in a fatal moment of spousal obligation, I foresee a grim finale in store for yours truly that very much involves the proverbial fat lady singing….Oh, the humanity!
As if that isn’t enough, I’m often despatched to the local Tower Records to purchase the latest Three Tenors, Andrea Bocelli, and Charlotte Church releases. I look quite a sight at checkout with my Godsmack, Tool, and Corrosion of Conformity CDs alongside the likes of those I can tell you. Why can’t she send me out to buy something less embarrassing, like tampons or haemorrhoid suppositories?
And of course, once purchased, I’m forced to listen to all that histrionic caterwauling on a regular basis. If I hear Pavarotti do his excruciating “Nessun Dorma” climax one more time, I swear I’ll explode! Much like Luciano will if he attempts it again, by the look of him.
Look, I mean no offence. If you like opera, more power to you. You’re welcome to it – enjoy! Please just leave the rest of us soulless, pig-ignorant Philistines to wall in the crapulence of our more plebeian pleasures without feeling the need to “uplift” us against our collective will. That’s all I ask. Because if ignorance (the way you define it) is bliss, I’m bloody ecstatic without opera in my life, thank you very much.