Does Bottici think there’s some kind of prize for being the one millionth person to declare opera or some other kind of classical music “dead”?
In recent years, “Opera/Classical RIP” articles have become a burgeoning literary subgenre. And I’ve noticed that these articles can usually be sorted into one of two categories. Let’s call them Category A and Category B.
Bottici, on the other hand, offers us a textbook example of a Category B essay. Clearly no lover of opera, she makes little attempt to conceal her delight in her “eulogy.” Her entirely unoriginal essay is a triumphal march of tired clichés, half-truths and grand generalizations. “Opera is dead … nobody can listen to it any more ... opera has turned into a satire of itself … very few musicians write opera nowadays.”
Bottici throws in a few dubious attempts at musicology – and pulls apart the libretto of Verdi’s Ernani to demonstrate how an opera more than a century-and-a-half old fails to reflect today’s social and political values. Nowhere in her essay is there a suggestion that the opera’s appeal to audiences (then and now) might have something to do with its music.
However, what bothers me most about this essay, and others like it, is the analogy it’s built on. A biological organism can exist in two states: it can be alive or it can be dead. But an art form can, in relationship to its host culture, be many things: popular, obscure, supported, neglected, esteemed, denigrated, and much else. To attempt to force an art form into a simplistic dead/alive binary model is crude and unhelpful.
To be sure, opera and classical music have their problems these days. They are perceived by some (such as Bottici) as “elitist.” Funding is stretched thinner and thinner every year. Music education in public schools in decline. There are too many good musicians chasing too few jobs. Very few new works by contemporary composers are embraced by audiences. The list goes on.
That said, it should also be said that today these art forms are multi-billion dollar industries, employing thousands of artists and attracting several million fans around the world.
So are opera and classical music “dead or alive”? Neither of those words describes the current situation very well. But there’s plenty of evidence to demonstrate that the music is still wanted – and by quite a few people.
© Colin Eatock 2013