A Glass of Chianti

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sports and opera fans living together - mass hysteria

Actually, it's a pretty bad title because they are really, really similar. Opera buffs have fantasy opera production conversations that can go on for hours and sports fans can take just as long to come up with their dream offensive line drawn only from players playing in 1968. It's insane.

I have a pretty in-depth knowledge of football. My mom was a huge Minnesota Vikings fan. My father, even though Lubbock was a hotbed for Oilers fans (when... uh... well....) grew up a Cowboys man. Every fall Sunday while I was coming up football was on television. When I got involved in marching band, Fridays and Sundays were football days. I went to college where, even though we were really, really bad, Saturdays were added to the Fridays (when my sisters and brother now marched) and Sundays. I can explain to you what the change to the 3-4 is going to do (or should do ;)) to the Cowboys's defensive linemen this season. If you need a quick and dirty definition of the I-formation, it's no problem. (Don't, however, ask me what people mean when they talk about the "West Coast" offense - everyone's definition is different, and they all seem about equally nebulous.) Here's the thing, though: I don't think I could name a half dozen players in the NFL now. I have no idea who the running back for the Steelers was in 2004 or 1994 or 1964. I don't have a favorite team, nor do I have an opinion on who is the best quarterback ever. I will, however, sit down and watch and quite enjoy* a football game any time one is on.

It's the same with baseball. And with curling. I can't tell you who is having a good season, but I can tell you who is having a good game (or match, in curling's case).

I had a really hard time getting into opera because of the opera snobs. They're just as bad as the sports snobs, and just as boring. I didn't have parents who had lots of records of vintage Beverly Sills and my local library had six CDs (two were of the same production of La Traviata). I came to college with those 6 performances as the only exposure to opera I'd ever had. It was a terrible eye-opening experience when I felt the opera snobs (in college! How lame!) looking down on me because I had no opinion on whether Renata Scotto made a good Musetta or not. Heck, I didn't even know if she had played Musetta. It was intimidating and off-putting and, frankly, hasn't gotten much better. I love going to the opera and I try to learn as much as I can, but this conversation has happened way more often than I'd like:

Me: "That was a pretty good performance. I really liked Jane Doe and Mary Smith tonight."
Snobby Patron: "Oh, I thought they weren't nearly as good as they should have been. It was the worst production I've seen."
Me: "Oh. Well, then, what is your favorite production of X opera?"
Snobby Patron: "Well, it's out of print."
Me: "Market forces hit again. What a shame. Well, what is your favorite recording out there that is available so that I can hear a good performance?"
Snobby Patron: "I don't know."

And it's not like I shy away from complaining about bad performances. It just seems like the pressure to say "opera isn't as good as it used to be" is so strong among a certain group of opera fans that they really alienate newer people who may not have the extensive background due to, I don't know, the fact that they didn't grow up in New York or Chicago or have parents who were opera people.

I'm not sure I have a solution right now. I certainly don't want to see things go the way of "dumbing down" the opera experience. I hate being talked down to, especially when I'm quite familiar with the libretto. I've always studied the score (more closely, I'd wager, than Snobby Patron, who probably can't even read a scrore...) before I've gone, and I usually have a pretty good background on the composer of the opera. I probably know more than just the operatic works, unlike a lot of the people at the opera. And still, even with all of my musical knowledge, I feel alienated from the opera fan's world.

It is just as if a opera buff went to a football game and had this conversation:
Opera guy: "Man, that was a really entertaining game. I thought they played well."
Snobby sports guy: "Well, actually, the team sucked."
Opera guy: "Oh, well there are a lot of teams in the area, who should I see next week if I want to be likely to see good playing?"
Snobby sports guy: "It doesn't matter. Football just isn't the same since free agency screwed up the game."

Do you think opera guy is going to become a fan of football with all of that helpful knowledge? Probably not, unless he really, really wants to perservere. It's hard to get into an art form (whether it is music or sports or sculpture or whatever) when you don't have a background and it's even more frustrating when the fans seem to do everything in their power to keep people out and uninterested and uninformed.

I will tell you one thing, though. Casual dress series subscriptions are not the way to win people over. Ugh.

*Because I especially dislike basketball, however, I won't watch it. Ever. It makes me grouchy for some unknown reason. Basketball is the Cosi fan tutti of sports. People are mad about it, and I just can't see why. Baseball, I think would be the Wagner - Der Ring des Nibelungen, of course. Football? Hmmmm.... maybe Verdi's Requiem? Yeah, not an opera, but operatic. Plus, can anything be a better accompaniment to a game than the "Dies Irae?" Seriously? *sigh* I'm sorry, I've gone too far.