no time for opera snobs

Athena, springing from the head of Zeus

O, would that we could all spring from the head of Zeus, fully formed in battle armor, like the goddess Athena.  (No wonder Zeus had the mother of all headaches.)    

Alas, real-life intervenes for the fully mortal. We have to learn to sit up before we can crawl, crawl before we can walk, walk before we can run.    

No matter what the art (or craft) pursued, most of us need training to realize our potential. The harder it is to realize mastery, the more time and training it takes.    

I can think of few art forms in which students need more layers of study and  development than in opera performance. Even for those who can naturally warble a few resonant notes, singing for three hours or more, several times a week often in foreign languages, considering also all the stamina, technique and vocal gymnastics that opera scores require of their singers, demands a level of vocal fitness that can take years to attain.    

That’s why my blood boils when I hear comments like, “I’m an opera snob,” as one person told my friend unapologetically. “That company is third-rate,” he continued, referring to a regional house, adding that he refused to patronize them any longer.    

My god. Even the sports world (and every other discipline) understands the value of the apprenticeship and how important local offerings are to the quality of life in smaller cities and towns–be they sporting events, cultural events, visual arts, lectures, whatever. Major league ball clubs use farm teams to develop talent. One of the greatest Philadelphia Phillies to play the game, Mike Schmidt, played for their farm team, the Reading Phillies before he hit the big leagues.    

In the same way, regional opera companies help develop tomorrow’s students. What? Accomplished opera singers don’t spring from the heads of opera gods, fully formed? No, they don’t. And only a dolt would fail to see the connection between offering live opera performance outside of  major US cultural centers and the profileration and growth of opera as an art form.    

” . . . I believe that regional opera houses play a central role in the development of opera in America.  They provide performing venues for the stars of tomorrow, and they provide a rich cultural experience for communities that they serve.”
–Dr. Todd Queen, from the blog Operagasm, on “The Importance of Regional Opera”    

Some of the most memorable productions I’ve ever seen weren’t necessarily shows on Broadway. There are several community theatre productions that loom large in my memory for their freshness, artistic vision, and execution. They featured selected performances by *gasp* non-professionals so well hewn, they’ll stay with me forever.    

There’s no guarantee that one will have a spectacular experience with regional theater or regional opera. At the same, neither should you assume you’re going to see perfection at the Met, La Scala, or any other world-class venue you can name.    

“It is sad how many people are in positions of importance in opera who don’t know whether or not the singing is beautiful until they see the singer’s name.”
–Luciano Pavarotti    

I have no tolerance for opera snobs and others who expect perfection from live performance. If you want perfection, go listen to an overproduced CD where they had to do twenty to thirty takes to get the high quality you think you deserve.    

If you truly love opera, you can find something beautiful and worthy in every production, wherever it’s being produced. If you don’t, then let me spell it out for you: You are a selfish opera snob with no genuine regard for the art form as a whole.


Filed under Classic Opera, North American Opera, Rant, Regional opera

6 Responses to no time for opera snobs

  1. Charlotte, you really have a dog in this fight, don’t you. Your future livelihood depends on understanding how the opera world works. Thankfully, I don’t think every operagoer is like that guy. And also something to be thankful for are those who give the best of themselves to ensuring venues for developing talents. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Charlotte

    As a young singer hoping to get into opera later in life I know how important it’ll be for me to get experience, but if all the opera snobs of the world had their way no one would ever give me a second glance! We need those smaller performances to get onto greater things, what would a singer be without the experience in those “third rate companies” that lead to larger things? I’ll be participating in a small production of Marriage of Figaro soon in which most of the singers are young (most between 18 and 22) and for some (such as me) it will be their first experience singing in a full opera and not just reciting arias and songs. How disheartening it would be if no-one bought a ticket because we aren’t a big opera company? No kind of production should ever be excluded when looking to go see something, big or small, amateur or professional. You can never know until you see it! I didn’t mean to end up with such a long rant, and repeating a lot of the points stated here but this really struck a chord with me.
    Off topic, I’m loving this blog, I’m glad to have found it.

  3. Thanks for this impassioned post. Some of my best experiences at the opera have been with regional or student companies. I hope I never reach the level of “knowledge” where I can’t enjoy them anymore.

  4. Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more with you on this. And unfortunately, I don’t think snobbery is reserved for opera. I see it all across classical music. Performing great masterpieces takes tremendous discipline and years of training, and yet many people fail to realize this. I think they fall prey to the erroneous belief that some people are just “talented,” and their ability to sing an opera is something they are born with. This leads to the uncharitable critiques you’re talking about — an unwillingness to find beauty in an imperfect performance. How sad.

  5. Applause! And I love the quote from Pavarotti – great words from a great man. I’ve often thought similar things about opera audiences; declaring a passion for opera doesn’t mean we become knowledgeable, experienced, and discerning overnight either! Patience – we’ll get there.

  6. Amen to that. One of the most moving productions I ever saw was in a park in North Miami Beach. Rather than go to the world premiere of Anna Karenina (we had seen the dress), my partner in crime and I took a $40 cab ride to see this community opera company production of Boheme – outdoors, with semi pros and a reduced community orchestra. It was free and the park was full of families were there with blankets and picnic baskets and bottles of wine. Was it a perfect performance. No. Was it moving, absolutely. I’ve seen Boheme so often, I really wasn’t looking fwd to it. By the end my friend and I were in tears.