The Royal Opera House recently hosted two events addressing the present state and future of opera (you can read my post on the first of these – the opera vs elitism debate – HERE). The second event was a half-day conference for new opera creators, co-hosted by Sound and Music, called Stage Notes. It featured contributions from (in various configurations): composers Judith Weir, Jennifer Walshe, Huw Watkins and Laura Bowler, writers Martin Crimp and David Harsent, directors Oliver Mears and John Fulljames, and chief executive of Aldeburgh Music, Jonathan Reekie . . . . . .
The exchanges within this panel, and in conversation with small but serious audience, were in general very interesting; it was particularly enlightening for me to get a sense of how these new opera creators think about/talk about their work, about what they’re trying to achieve, etc. I want to use this post to do two things: first, give a little overview of some of the highlights (and lowpoints) of the event, as well as the key themes and concerns which I picked up on, and second, introduce what I saw as the central theme of the discussion – the idea of opera as collaborative process (along with the ‘roles’ of the various collaborators). The way that this idea is often framed, and the centrality afforded to it in the imagination of new opera creators, can be somewhat problematic. I would argue that, at its purest, it constitutes a fully-fledged ideology which, like all ideologies, presents itself as ‘normal’ or ‘standard-practice’, and therefore warrants some significant critique.
By the idea of ‘opera as collaborative process’, I’m talking about the idea that imagines opera as the ‘coming-together of elements’ – usually three elements: music, text and theatre – whose sympathetic, ‘synergetic’ combination is imagined to be the fundamental ‘problem’ of opera. I want to propose that our fixation on (and essentialising of) this particular ‘problem’ has warped our idea of the opera itself as an artwork which should make some kind of statement or elicit some kind of response, encouraging us instead to view operas as evidence of the relative success of a process (collaboration or creative dialogue). After reviewing and critiquing some of the panels own ‘solutions’ to this ‘problem’, I’ll revisit two significant historic ‘solutions’ – Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and Brecht’s ‘Separation of the Elements’ – in order to reconsider the nature of this ‘problem’ (and its accompanying ideology) and suggest how it tends to distract from opera’s future potential.
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HIGHLIGHTS , , ,
- Hearing both Jonathan Reekie and Judith Weir express the need to ‘interrogate your motives’ when you decides to write an opera, and to ask yourself questions like: ‘Why do I want to write an opera?’, ‘What is the reason for music in this piece?’ and ‘Why are these people going to sing?’. I agree that this is by far the most important consideration in approaching the creation of a new opera (and in restaging an old opera), so it was very encouraging to hear it expressed so clearly.
- Jennifer Walshe‘s discussion of her work – framed as auteur opera, with reference to the films of Lars von Trier and Werner Herzog – which, in its experimental reach and provocation came as a very welcome antidote to the mainstream (linear, narrative-driven, quasi-‘naturalistic’) approaches represented by most of the other panel members. [Definitely one to check out: watch this extract from her Barbie opera XXX LIVE NUDE GIRLS!!! right now]
- An audience-member’s feminist challenge to David Harsent regarding his contemporary rehash of a Hardy tale for his recent opera with Huw Watkins – In the Locked Room – which had the fantastic effect of making everyone in the room palpably uncomfortable.
- Audience questions touching on some pretty weighty academic questions around the possibility of opera without staging: opera-as-recording, opera on the radio, opera in new media, etc. This is a huge and important area of discussion, especially for new contemporary opera, but it wasn’t really afforded any time in the conference, and these questions weren’t really taken up by the panel.
LOWPOINTS ` ` `
- Any mention of new opera ‘taking risks’ (and there was a lot of such mentions). I’ll keep my diatribe on this subject for a later post, but for now let’s just say that I think this language of ‘risk’ (which implies the possibility of ‘success’ or ‘failure’) is a very confused and dangerous way of thinking about new art production. Thankfully, some members of the panel (Reekie especially) did attempt to problematise this perspective.
- When John Fulljames called opera ‘fundamentally an emotional art form’. This is so obviously a massive generalisation, but it has managed to become a very powerful one, especially in the formulation of ‘canons’. It works to deny the continuing relevance of so many challenging twentieth-century avant garde works to which it very clearly doesn’t apply, and I believe it is doing a great deal to limit the potential of new opera and the way that opera is recognised and defined in general. [And for any skeptics, I hope to give a fuller explanation of this idea in a later post . . . ]
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Again and again, the discussion came back to this idea of
opera as collaborative process
which is the main issue that I want to address in this post.
Possibly due to the wide array of specialised artists on the panel, most of whom have extensive experience in working on large-scale projects as part of big-name collaborations, discussion kept returning to the question of how to approach collaborating on an opera. This is partly, I’m sure, an expression of the neurosis that an individual artist feels when – having mastered their discipline and cultivated a strong, controlled artistic style in their individual work – they have to give up some of this control to another artist, specialised in another medium, whose expertise and understanding they have to trust, just as they have to trust their own creative comprehension of that other artist’s contribution, in order to engage with it sympathetically and constructively. The fear is presumably that the various elements won’t ‘fit’ together or complement each other, that they won’t ‘add’ anything to each other and will seem mutually redundant, that one will overshadow or undermine the others. After all the revolutions and reforms, treatises and manifestos throughout operatic history, the combination of music, text and theatre has become one of the great fetishes of opera, to the extent that ‘getting it right’ seems to be the key ‘problem of opera’ for opera creators.
THE PROBLEM OF OPERA and its SOLUTIONS
And to some extent I would agree: in a way, of course, this is the key problem of opera. In my experience of new operas, too often the staging seems to be some awkward afterthought, taking pains to avoid interfering with the singers’ ‘real’ role of singing the music clearly and accurately, and unwilling to give them anything too complicated or vigorous (or interesting) to do with their bodies. Often, as well, music seems wholly unnecessary to a scenario, adding nothing but the arbitrary signification of ‘meaningfulness’ to some particularly banal or clichéd story, or slowing down and homogenising a potentially dramatic scene through imposed ‘conventional’ word-setting or instrumental interludes.
The experts on the panel seemed to offer two main solutions to this problem. Both were expressed most concisely by Martin Crimp (who was, after all, referring to his very successful recent collaboration with George Benjamin and Katie Mitchell on Written on Skin). The two solutions could be defined as a negative and a positive approach:
- negative::: To successfully collaborate on an opera, each individual element – and this invariably meant libretto, score and staging – had to be in some way ‘incomplete’ on its own, and should only make sense when added together. In this way, the final amalgamation of the three elements must require them all while, at the same time, one element shouldn’t be able to stand all on its own. Hence we heard statements like Laura Bowler’s that opera should be ‘50% music, 50% theatre’, Crimp’s that a writer must ‘leave the music out’ of a text so the composer can put it back in, or Reekie’s that a composer might try to find an ‘unmusical’ play to set (i.e., a play that doesn’t ‘work’ as a play).
- positive::: Working together with other artists on the same operatic project should allow you to ‘reach a point that you couldn’t reach on your own’. In this way, music acts as a kind of added value to text, text as added value to music, and staging as added value to both (since, in this process, the staging always comes afterwards).
Both of these (related) approaches are valuable, of course, but only up to a point. They might safeguard the ‘successful’ creation of operas, preventing them from falling into a certain number of traps, but at the same time they promote the production of a particular type of opera along with a particularly narrow idea of what the relationship between the various elements must be. My strong issue with both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ approaches is that they are fixated on opera as a tripartite construction: as the coming-together of three different artists, or even three different, discrete texts, which then have to be combined in a tasteful and sensitive way in order to appear ‘successful’. In my opinion, this actually reproduces the conditions of the ‘problem of opera’, by further instilling a particularly limiting ideology of opera creation.
There is a difference here in our definitions of the word ‘problem’. I would define this particular ‘problem’ in the sense of a ‘negative issue’, something which is often wrong with opera, but not as a necessary ‘question to be solved’. Thinking of the ‘problem of opera’ as a conundrum which must always be dealt with whenever a new opera is to be created – a conundrum which is synonymous with the particular challenges of creating opera – places a certain constellation of structural, creative and semantic assumptions at the heart of the opera from its earliest conception, as a compositional project as well as an art work. This constellation of assumptions forms what I will call ‘the ideology of opera creation’.
\\ The Ideology of Opera Creation \\
I will now attempt to delineate the various aspects of this ideological constellation as I understand it. They may not all be present all the time, just as some may be more conscious than others. I don’t think any of them have gone completely uncriticised, but I do believe that their particular contemporary prevalence, in London at least, and the fact that they support and validate each other so effectively, leaves them still relatively under-criticised. I also think its important to state that, while many of them seem to have historical precedence, their codification as ‘ideal’ praxis has often been retroactive, the resulting anachronisms made all the more apparent when considering the huge upheavals in the languages and practices of theatre, literature and performance over the last hundred years . . . . . .
i. Opera as essentially tripartite
Opera is perceived as ‘the result’ of a three-way artistic collaboration, and this constitutes its raison d’être.
It doesn’t matter then whether music, text and staging have anything remarkable about them individually, it is their very concomitance which makes them automatically valuable. Their simultaneous expression over so many different sensory/cognitive dimensions will guarantee an enhanced effect. This might be a hangover of the legendary Gesamtkunstwerk concept (the Wagnerian ‘total’ art work) as much as it might be a symptom of the current obsession with ‘multimedia’ art works (the more media, the better). It suggests the presence of a particular kind of operatic ‘aura’, an ‘x factor’ of multi-disciplinary saturation, at which point whatever story, dialogue or music an artist puts forward, however banal, suddenly become incredibly meaningful.
In this way, new opera comes to resemble a kind of bare-twig teepee structure made from leaning three spindly sticks against each other so that they meet at the top and support each other in a kind of pyramid. Each of the three ‘artists’ has picked up their own stick and propped it up together so that the structure stands, and it is this ‘third dimension’ – the fact that the three twigs are all standing upright rather than lying supine in the mud like the other twigs – that constitutes ‘successful opera’. This multi-sensory saturation becomes a sort of virtuoso spectacular element, as marvellous as the saturation by through-sung musical drama, the classical voice and long-form musical development, which when combined have all the sublime thrill of IMAX 3D.
This actually goes against the principle of the Gesamtkunstwerk of course, which – if ideally achieved – should create its effect without the audience noticing, or thinking about, the fact that it’s being produced through the combination of different elements, and the work of different artists. In Wagner’s concept, any collaborative process would be so integrated that it would efface its own fundamental plurality, leaving only a central, strong, unified idea. But such a central, strong, unified idea – as an end-point – has little prominence in this ideology, which is more concerned with how one artist’s work will ‘fit’ with another artists’ work. In fact, I would go further to say that, in many cases, the accepted idea of ‘how opera works’ appears to go like this:
1) choose any (simple) story and turn it into dialogue, the more ‘universal’ it sounds (read ‘Romantic/symbolist’) the better,
2) add the requisite emotional/scenic musical signifiers to make it emotionally meaningful,
3) perform it onstage with the minimum amount of gesticulation and movement required to clarify the relationship between the characters, enough facial expressions to make it seem ‘natural’, and the maximum amount of stage machinery and spectacle that you can afford.
ii. Doctrine of servitude/redundancy
For centuries, critics have argued over whether ‘the music should serve the drama’ or ‘the drama should serve the music’, whether the ‘staging should serve the score’ or ‘the score should serve the staging’ etc. It is nevertheless now agreed that opera is a collaborative art form, the joining-together of efforts by different artists which wouldn’t ‘function’ on their own. It is important that there should be some reason for an opera to be an opera, not a play or a novel, not a ballet, not an instrumental piece or a song cycle. It must require all of its elements in order to produce its eventual meaning or effect. In that way, when held up to the final product, all of the individual elements should be (ever so slightly) lacking.
This is how the theory goes, anyway. The problem is, quite often, it ends up meaning that each individual element is almost entirely lacking any semblance of serious significance or quality, while the ‘total meaning or effect’ – rather than a unified artistic statement accessible only through the interaction of text, music and theatre – seems usually to resemble the interaction of these elements for the very sake of their interaction. No one artist or text wants to carry the burden of meaning; sophistication is supposed to occur in the interaction of the various texts, so each artist is careful not to produce anything too multivalent or too committed to a particular meaning. There is general fear around disobeying common critical injunctions such as ‘don’t obstruct the storytelling’ and ‘allow the singers to express their emotions directly‘.
I would argue that this very often leads to a case in which none of these ‘three ingredients’ of opera really justify their own existence. This is the risk when leaving a little something ‘lacking’ from your libretto (or from your music or your staging) that then requires explication or extrapolation within another sensory plane. If no-one commits to a particular idea or statement then there is nothing really to ‘serve’, and again, if everything is ‘serving’ everything else, everything is redundant. There must be at least one strong, original idea in the work, not just an endless cycle of sensitive servitude, or else at least some rich and boldly textured array of possible interpretations, so that what is intended to read as ambiguity doesn’t give way to vacuity.
To put it slightly differently, instead of music serving drama or staging serving score, everything should just serve the opera. In opera, the music is the drama, after all.
iii. The (unacknowledged) primacy of music
In spite of the above two doctrines of synergy and servitude, the most important element of the opera is still the music. This is the element from which the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the piece can be gleaned. It is the fundamental essence of the opera, manifest in the notes in the score which must stay the same even as the libretto is translated and adapted, and the piece is restaged (or recorded). It is the least revisable element, and therefore the most ‘essential’. For these same reasons, the staging is the least important element since it is the most changeable, and the one that can most readily be left out (in recordings or concert performances).
Although totally contradicting the above two tenets, of course, the predominance of music in opera is not really a secret; for all the talk of a three-way process, or of ‘50% music, 50% theatre’, opera is understood by pretty much everyone as first and foremost music. It is a genre of music before it is a genre of theatre. Hence, phrases such as ‘Verdi’s opera’, or ‘the Verdi’ – ‘La Traviata, is that Verdi? Yes, it’s Verdi’ – but equally, the Adès, the Dove, the Barry, etc. Hence recordings of performances marketed as ‘an opera’, rather than ‘the soundtrack to an opera’, with no mention of the stage director of the performance on the cover.
This is partly all due to the mystique of music, as a more ‘magical’, technically impenetrable and ineffable language, but directors and writers are complicit in this: as mentioned before, it seems like sometimes any old text, film or staging will be laminated with music in order to appear monumentally meaningful. Its also part of the nature of opera culture, and of the institutions that claim ownership of the discipline. Few people interested in live theatre and written drama would automatically include opera in ‘their remit’, especially if they’re not particularly musically literate, while pretty much all fans of classical music would certainly lay claim to ‘the operas of Mozart, Wagner, Britten, etc’ as part of ‘their remit’. This ideology is particularly flattering to musicians; it claims that the magic touch of music can make the most clichéd of dialogue and banal of stories suddenly mean everything, and all this can be communicated without the need for clever choreography or expert acting.
Because of the fact that ‘opera is music’, the personality of the composer looms particularly large in the final production (alongside the principal singers perhaps), meaning that the other collaborators – director, writer, designers – have to expunge their egos to some degree. Very rarely is a libretto presented as a key work for a writer, or used as an opportunity to showcase their aesthetic personality or preoccupations most clearly, aside from a few writers who specialise in writing libretti and hiding behind their looming musical counterparts. I must conclude that most writers who turn to writing for opera don’t really consider the operas that they contribute to as ‘their work’, in the way that composers always do. They might also not reserve their best work for the opera stage, because they fear it will be misinterpreted and undone by the music, something that they seem to fear much less in the non-musical theatre.
But if there is such a thing as ‘opera’, which requires staging and text (or just ‘theatre’ in a broader sense) in order to earn its designation as such, then it figures that opera ≠ music (so to speak), and moreover, that opera > music, since opera requires its non-musical aspects as well as music in order to exist. It pays to be aware of what is being effaced or repressed when we use ‘opera’ as a shorthand for ‘the music of the opera’, and the different objects that we’re referring to when we start talking about ‘a score of the opera’, ‘a recording of the opera’, ‘a staging of the opera’, ‘a revival of the opera’, etc.
iv. Emphasis on process over product
The ‘success’ of opera, as well as its value, is largely determined by the moments of combination of elements: the disciplinary nodal points at which the various artists’ understanding of and sensitivity to the requirements of the other disciplines is judged. For the librettist, this might mean writing well for voices, constructing a narrative that would ‘work’ on the operatic stage, and leaving space for musical development and characterisation. For the composer, this might mean word-setting, expressing the text clearly and empathetically, and moving the action along in particularly dramatic sections. For the director, this might mean doing justice to the story, text and music by allowing them to come across clearly and directly, not obscuring them with too many visual ideas or extraneous effects, and rendering the characters and their emotions – already written into the libretto by the composer – as believable/direct/real as possible. Behind all this is a keen awareness of ‘craft’, of a number of familiar challenges which need to be approached in the right way, creatively but also correctly, in order to produce a well-crafted opera. What the opera is actually about, whether it says anything new, surprising or challenging, is much less important.
This is the most contentious of these ideological features, I must admit, and its the one in which I show my particular politico-aesthetic allegiances most strongly. I think the difference between ‘process’ and ‘product’ might be represented as the difference between something called ‘craft’ and something called ‘art’. No hierarchies implied here, obviously both would be very valuable, and politically useful in their own ways. When I talk about ‘art’ on this blog, I’m normally talking about revolutionary/critical art. This is art which, in the words of Alain Badiou’s Manifesto of Affirmationism (which is a key text for this blog), ‘is made from the starting point of that which, as far as Empire is concerned, doesn’t exist’. [‘Empire’ is elsewhere translated as ‘the West’ or ‘Communication’, but is used to mean something like ‘the acknowledged hegemonic discourse of global capitalism’] For Badiou, this is the responsibility of art in the 21st century, and he sees this potential coming strictly from the work itself, not from the artists’ manifestation within the work, or the traces of their skill in its production. Earlier on in the Manifesto, he writes:
‘The subjects of an artistic truth are the works which compose it. […] The only true subject is what appears: the work, after which [the manifestation of the authors] is suspended. The affirmative subject of the non-manifestation is the work, and it alone.’
I’m with Badiou on a lot of things; there is a particular concept which he calls ‘art’, or ‘Affirmationism’, and I think it is important to privilege this if we want art to regain its potential to revolutionise consciousness and critique the world. There is, of course, a political place for other conceptions of art as well, ones which might have more to do with notions of ‘craft’ and of ‘tradition’. This is particularly interesting when you begin to critique operas as commodities, which they arguably also are.
I’ve argued above that the very fact of opera’s multimedia character – its ‘total’ combination of different art forms into one unified work – is fetishised as the marker of all its value and ‘success’ (with the third-dimensional ‘x factor’ standing in for surplus value). But this is a slightly perverse use of the concept of the ‘fetish’ since, in a way, this particular instance actually suggests the opposite of the Marxist ‘commodity fetish’. This is the phenomenon in which a commodity veils its own history and relations of production (the origin of its components and its necessary labour by other workers) in order to appear as a thing-in-itself, with autonomous qualities including a relative exchange value. It might seem that a focus on a work’s relations of production – the collaborative process between artists, performers and technicians which produced it – would be a wholly positive thing, reminding us of the true nature of its value as the creative labour of its producers. And this is all true, just as it is one of the reasons why live theatre, live music and opera are so important. If these art works can be counted as commodities within capitalism (and I believe that they can), they must be seen as models of de-fetishised commodities, with their history and labour process shining out of them, even if they aren’t always models of fair trade.
They’re not just commodities though, and nobody anywhere would ever suggest that they should be judged by the same criteria as fair-trade coffee or hemp trousers. Opera should be more than a particularly, ethical hand-made commodity, or artisanal craftwork. I believe it should aspire to Alain Badiou’s notion of affirmationist art: it should say something as well, and that thing that it says should be new or challenging or critical or outrageous or beautiful, even if it is trapped to some degree (because of the capitalist regime under which we live) within the commodity form. What’s more, while live opera might still seem resistant in comparison to more fully commodified, fetishised art works such as recorded pop music and Hollywood films, the huge emphasis on the presence of the artists and their creative work tips opera towards a quite different manifestation of the ‘fetish’, in the form of Walter Benjamin’s ‘aura’.
Benjamin’s ‘aura’ is a kind of pre-capitalist ‘cult value’, infused with such notions as ‘authenticity’, ‘creative genius’ and ‘mystery’, which has been progressively eroded by ‘the age of mechanical reproduction’, which in turn ’emancipates art from its parasitical dependence on ritual’ and opens it up to function politically and democratically. Live opera retains its aura through its liveness, but also – within this ideology – through the importance placed on the creative collaboration between its producers, the relative ‘success’ of which is the meaning of every scene. For Benjamin, as an early 20th-century Marxist, the advancement of capitalism throughout all society (including the eradication of such pre-capitalist concepts as the ‘aura’) would create the forces of production necessary for a socialist revolution. This idea has obviously fallen into complete disfavour now, but his discussion of the ‘aura’ in connection to potentially dangerous – and (paradoxically) increasingly commodifiable – concepts such as creativity, genius, authenticity and mystery is still very important.
The emphasis on process over product then becomes an emphasis on the creative moment of synergy (which is a horrible, but horribly useful, word), which shifts the ‘value’ of the opera from the (revolutionary/critical) truth-content of its final ‘message’ as received by an audience, to an assessment of the coherence, concision and subtlety of this ‘message’ itself, as assembled by the creative team. It’s not what they say but how well (or how unanimously) they say it, and even if we hear total unanimity, it’s the unanimity that is remarkable (or creative, ingenious, authoritative, etc.), rather than what the words might actually be saying.
v. Success judged against historic model
Most of our ideas about whether a collaboration has been ‘successful’ or not come from looking back at the ‘great’ operas of the past, and the way that they synthesise music, narrative and text in a manner that is undeniably successful – the definition of successful, even – especially as rendered in the most iconic productions of recent decades.
There is no escaping the fact that old opera is the key reference point for new opera. If the 20th-century avant garde in any way challenged the idea that opera should present a coherent narrative in a relatively ‘naturalistic’ way with music supporting and enhancing the story and characterisation tastefully and sympathetically, this has been largely ignored. Instead, the famous works of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, along with their conventional languages, scales, registers and even subject matters/character tropes, are considered the templates of good opera. And it isn’t surprising, seeing how regularly these works are re-performed and restaged. Most ‘good operas’ – on stage, on recording, on DVD, in the cinema, for critics and for audiences – are old operas.
As is the nature of canons, though, and of the peculiarly postmodern ‘heritage’ tradition of the opera establishment, a huge range of works, covering a span of over three hundred years, have been significantly homogenised in our imagination, as ‘the operatic repertoire’ from which we can programme our seasons and festivals, pick and choose our favourites, and compare and contrast the most ‘successful’ characterisations and strategies of word-setting and synergy. But these works all emerged from very different historical periods and contexts, with their own ideologies of opera creation, many of which will have gone unstated or uncritiqued. At the same time, they represent a tiny and highly curated (by taste, myth and reputation) minority of the works that were produced throughout this time, which again creates a sense that there have always been universally valuable ‘rules’ for opera collaboration and composition, which the ‘best’ composers and writers have always abided by, in order to create timeless/universally successful works. I believe that these rules have been projected retroactively on the canon as it exists now, and as it is has been conventionally staged in the last century, ‘deduced’ from years of studying the ‘great’ composers and their librettists, and then reformulated into the ideology which I am currently describing. Most significantly, I see no particular reason why we should need to look to hundred-year-old operatic works to inform our current opera creation practice anyway. It seems rather counter-intuitive, when there’s so much contemporary theatre around to learn from. Even contemporary music is often tempered in its structure, its conceptual grounding and its radicalism, in order to ‘operafy’ it, to adapt it to the role of music in the successful operas of the past.
There is a place for anachronism in art, but it should be used self-consciously and critically. Opera doesn’t realise how anachronistic it is being, by judging itself against stage works that predate cinema. Again, this is a big issue, and I hope to return to it in a later post.
vi. Collusion of the critics
Opera critics conventionally separate all these ‘elements’ in their reviews, allotting a paragraph outlining narrative and staging decisions, a few lines on the quality of the libretto, a paragraph on the ‘music itself’, and then a paragraph on the quality of the performances (neatly divided into singers, conductor and orchestra) which sometimes reads as completely disconnected from any wider assessment of the opera’s meaning and impact.
This approach to reviewing new operas is pretty much ubiquitous. I guess it comes partly from a critical reticence to make any kind of bold interpretive statement (this is left to the musicologists), partly from a double-edged generosity in giving partial praise wherever it might be due, and partly from the usual obsession with writing ‘accessibly’ for non-expert readers, by keeping to a prescribed template and vocabulary. This kind of lightweight, non-committal ‘consumer criticism’, which homogenises all art into a star-rated exchange value, will always be problematic, but it pays to notice what kind of problems are being perpetuated. In this case, it is an ideology which sees opera as a cluster of detachable elements which can be assessed on their tessellation as well as scrutinised individually.
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The Stage Notes conference was addressed to opera creators, and the ‘ideology’ which I attempt to outline above is one which impacts particularly upon artists, in particular specialist artists who are facing the unnerving prospect of a deep creative collaboration in order to produce an opera. Whilst audiences, performers, critics and scholars might not be implicated in these doctrines in quite the same way, the danger of this ideology would be its forcing new operas to be conceived, planned and produced in a certain way, imposing considerable limitations on the what the work might say, how it might look, sound and function, before the collaborative process has even begun.
Many might not agree with some aspects of my critique, some would probably reject all of it. But at a time in which artists across all art forms seem to be reluctant to commit to big new ideas, when the success and value of art is being increasingly rationalised and economised, and when there is so much being destroyed in our society, and such a great imperative to change the way we think and the way we live, I think it is particularly important to critique our own value systems. We must make sure that we aren’t taking for granted any arbitrary or conventional limitations, injunctions or assumptions which might prevent us from exploring new ideas, new approaches and new truths.
>>> In the next post in this series, I discuss some of the implications of the ‘process over product’ model for opera as ‘commodity’ and how to challenge it… >>>READ ON>>>