Now where did I leave off with “The Marriage of Figaro”? Let’s see: writing in English about an opera sung in Italian, composed by an Austrian, based on a French play which is set in Spain. Yep.
But first, a word to my conservative friends who may have been offended by the snarky little dig in my previous post. I do apologize, not just because liberal principles demand it; not even because old-fashioned liberals in the 21st centry feel constrained to implicitly apologize for their very existence. No, it was just a cheap shot. Whatever truth in it applicable to some conservatives could surely not apply to all. Surely. Not. Besides, what could leave oneself more open to ridicule than writing about opera, that most elite of art forms, which depends for its own existence on the support of wealthy patrons? So the Metropolitan Opera can expand its HD simulcasts all over the world, and promote singers into superstars, thanks to bailed-out, bonus-heavy backers in the financial world–who manage to do pretty well for themselves whatever party is in power. Wealth trickles up and culture trickles down. Matinee orchestra section seats at the Met run between $135 and $330 each. But the opera-loving masses (oxymoron?) can troop on down to a select multiplex, where ALL the seats are orchestra seats, and feel virtually wealthy for the low, low price of $22. (Well, you didn’t think it would be as cheap as the latest Big Momma movie, did you?) The common folk of Versailles could only hope to glimpse the courtly aristocrats from behind a screen; we can watch their world set to music while seated comfortably in front of one. It isn’t the same as a live theatre experience, but super-sized sodas and Twizzlers and Dolby-enhanced high definition Surroundsound, or whatever current technology heightens the simulated experience, is some compensation.
If the music and magic of opera projected on a screen move some moviegoers to want an authentic experience that meets their more modest means, they can turn to productions by such companies as Annapolis Opera, venue for “The Marriage of Figaro”, or even smaller local companies like Bel Cantanti Opera or Opera Vivente, to name three accessible to opera lovers in the DC/Baltimore area.
Look around in your area for companies achieving the nobly absurd goal of presenting grand opera on a shoestring. Ticket prices will be only twice the cost of a Met simulcast seat, not ten times as much for the actual Met orchestra seat. Parking is often free. You will be pleasantly surprised by the calibre of singing: superstar fees at the big ticket houses suck up so much available funds that many excellent singers below the tip of that pyramid feed their eating habit while filling their resumes with polished performances in obscure places for a pittance. Trickle, trickle….
Even small-scale opera on a budget can strain the wallets of the shrinking middle class. I don’t know how much babysitting rates have increased since the eighties, but CNN announced today that college tuition has risen 400% in the same period. Unless your employee retirement portfolios have blessed you with increased shareholder wealth, you have seen your productivity go up while your share of the profits in the form of wages has gone down. And speaking of retirement, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would change the out-of-pocket health expenses for retired state employees: co-pays would double from $25 to $50, and prescription drug benefit expenses for retired employee and spouse would increase from $700 to $9,100. That was seven hundred, not seven thousand. Of course, we can all take heart that the housing industry is surely on the brink of recovery, now that a Russian billionaire has paid $100,000,000 (yes, one hundred million dollars) for a fake French chateau in Silicon Valley. Trickle, trickle ….
The area where I used to live in France was called the Berry and its castles were rather drab affairs, built in the Middle Ages as fortifications to protect fiefdoms–that feudal system of revenue-producing resources granted by lords to vassels in return for fealty, or loyalty. The loyalty ran in both directions: serfs at the bottom worked for lords at the top and lords protected serfs from attacks by rival lords. [If you want to know more than this gross oversimplification, go read a treatise. I’m no medieval historian; I couldn’t even get through the whole Wikipedia entry!] Today’s employees show loyalty by working more for less, and are rewarded by their corporate lords with the opportunity to spend more quality time with their families through layoffs and outsourcing. But back to France: west of the Berry is the Loire Valley, home of excellent wines and the show-off castles of a later generation of lords: McMansions on a grand scale. These aristocrats couldn’t be bothered with their local issues, busy as they were hanging out with royalty and lordly riff-raff at Versailles. It all caught up with them in time. How many of them, seeing the Beaumarchais play in 1784, or the opera in 1786, saw the writing on the wall?
What do we see? Trickle, trickle….