Thursday, 28 January 2010

Bad Art

I'm lucky. I work in the music industry and through luck, bullying and occasionally parting with hard cash I get to attend first class concert and opera performances in and around London.

Consequently the level of operatic performance that I come across routinely is very high. This makes me a natural sceptic of ITV's Popstar To Operastar programme. I tried to dismiss the programme as a ratings-shot lite-ent confection, despite its disingenuousness.

Last night I took the opportunity to get away from both bet-hedged West End opera and the glazed, botox-opera of Poperastar by attending a performance of La Traviata sung by an amateur company in a church in zone 3. It was an intermittently spirited performance from a company made up of amateurs in the literal sense and using professionals (i.e. recent graduates looking to try the roles) as the principals.

The rule with these things - such as there's a rule - is to take it on its own terms and to encourage and admire the spirit in which opera should be performed. This I found extremely difficult given one of the worst pit orchestras I can remember having heard, also an amateur collective, some of whom were missing.

This leaves me thinking about the parameters of aesthetic arguments. They have a strange triangular quality - which is probably why it's so difficult to have a straightforward for or against discussion of merit. Popstar To Operastar uses operatic melodies as a vehicle for an entertainment show. This approach may treat opera as a carcass for the carrion of the production team but at least the entertainment is rendered as such. The opera that I saw last night held to the tenets of the opera reverently - i.e. the drama, the score - but in giving a poor (really poor!) musical performance betrayed the piece and the form as badly.

No comments: