Opera remixes (with a cameo by Marlon Brando)

January 29, 2007

In a Playbill interview conducted by Elena Park of the Metropolitan Opera , Siva Vaidhyanathan discusses ways that opera can survive (and perhaps thrive) in the digital age. Contrary to facile presumptions that slap false dichotomies between “old” art forms and “new” technology, Vaidhyanathan outlines how current technological advances provide opportunities for opera to come “out of its temple.” However, his ideas go beyond simple delivery of content. Vaidhyanathan believes that opera houses have an opportunity to build communities of novice and veteran opera lovers through their websites. Going even further, he says that opera sites should give visitors opportunities to remix sound and audio clips. Although such ideas may offend opera purists, he believes that such interaction will take “cultural conversation” about opera to new levels, and that it will help the genre remain relevant. Vaidhyanathan also mentions how such “portability” can work to the advantage of opera houses, and how it can pique interest in seeing live performances. This point underscores the circular nature of culture that Vaidhyanathan mentions, which can benefit both the audience and the “custodians” of culture.

As my regular readers know, I am a lover of opera and classical music. When I found this interview on Vaidhyanathan’s blog, I had to read it a couple of times to really begin digesting the implications. I appreciate how Vaidhyanathan dismisses the old saw about opera being “elitist.” When people ask me about my interests, I almost feel embarrassed to say that I like opera for precisely that reason. Even my older brother, a well-educated man, “took me to school” on how opera and classical music are elitist. He based his opinion on the fact that both genres require more players than a band like The Doors (a favorite of his… and mine as well), and that they appeal to the upper classes while Rock ‘n’ Roll is more proletarian. I cannot argue with those facts, but I still don’t see opera and classical music as inherently elitist. Besides, tickets to big Rock acts can be just as pricy as (and maybe pricier than) opera tickets.

Anyway, off my soapbox… I found Vaidhyanathan’s point about kids playing video games interesting. Six to eight hours straight of immersion? That’s longer than any of Wagner’s operas, and half the length of the complete Ring. Of course, the difference is that Wagner expected undivided “passive” attention from his audiences. As you may have noticed, I put passive in quotation marks because I don’t completely buy into the idea that “passive” art forms cause passivity itself.

Okay, off my soapbox again… I wonder how I would interact with video and audio clips from an opera company’s website. I will say that, when I discovered the plethora of remixed movie trailers on YouTube, I got some inspiration to do a few of my own. My skills remain insufficient for the task now, but (if time and patience allows) I have considered the possibility of taking selected footage from a video of Richard Strauss’ opera Salome and mixing it with a version of U2’s “Mysterious Ways” (which actually alludes to the Salome story). To those of you who know my affinity for Strauss (and my special affection for Salome), such a “desecration” might seem mind-boggling. However, I think such a product could be effective if executed well, and it would be a perfect example of the interconnectedness of various genres.

As I have mentioned before, Norman “Death of Classical Music” Lebrecht takes a dim view of the “portability” of music. However, Vaidhyanathan describes how it could work to the advantage of classical music and opera, and maybe even counteract the dire predictions made by Lebrecht. I know that I like to listen to certain sections of certain pieces of music over and over, on different recordings of the same piece. Digital technologies give me opportunities to “take in” the nuances of the composer’s score (and performers’ idiosyncrasies), which one can miss on an initial hearing.

This brings me to the Marlon Brando “cameo,” which is based on the first paragraph of page 2 in this Slate article reviewing the “Marlon Brando Collection.” With the various technologies available to us now, one can review great performances to see what actually makes them great. As the Slate article author Stanley Crouch points out, the DVD set gives viewers an opportunity to review what made Brando a great actor, just as we have opportunities to hear what made Leonard Bernstein one of the best interpreters of Mahler. (Please… no flames from those who take issue with his “overindulgence.”) Let’s hope that these technologies allow us to further the cultural dialogue mentioned by Vaidhyanathan, and to create our own derivative works without fearing heavy-handed overreactions by information oligarchs.


One Response to “Opera remixes (with a cameo by Marlon Brando)”

  1. Amber Lynn Says:

    Is this just pandering? Would Dr. Vaidhyanathan approve?

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