Tonight, stumped about what to write my blog about, I googled "Opera" in google news, just to see what would come up. On the first page, I found this article, in something called the L magazine, about a new Broadway show called "Lend me a tenor":
I disagree with quite a bit of Charles Isherwood's pan of Lend Me a Tenor, a revival of which opened on Broadway this weekend. But he does make one incontestable assertion: of Justin Bartha, the Hangover alum who stars in the show, he writes: "his attempts at singing are dubious at best. (The ending really should have been tweaked to avoid exposing his deficiencies in this regard.)"
That's true! Not that the audience has any clue.
Bartha's character secretly aspires to be a great opera singer and, one night, when a star tenor cannot be woken up, he gets his big chance, wowing audiences with his Otello, a part he just happens to know by heart.
In one scene, Bartha and Anthony LaPaglia, as the titular tenor, collaborate on an aria, and it's never more obvious than here that Bartha can't sing, as his voice wobbles on uncertain notes. And yet at the end of the scene, the two received a wild ovation at a recent performance.
The audience seemed impressed that anyone could almost sing at all, especially in another language! But what the casting choice tells us is that Americans, even wealthy foreign tourists, have become so opera illiterate they can't even recognize when someone can't sing, to the point that characters in plays who are supposed to be opera singers needn't even be cast by anybody who can sing passably!
America: opera is pretty. You should listen to it every once in a while.
Oy. This is depressing. I haven't seen the show in question, but I've definitely seen things in plays and movies that were supposed to pass for opera singing that, well....weren't. And very few people seemed to be aware of the difference.
But how do you combat such a problem? And is it even something to be combatted? If people are listening to something and enjoying it, why spoil it for them by letting them know that what they're hearing actually sucks ass?
I think the reason to try to educate people is that when they realize what they are missing, they might be able to get to an entirely new level of understanding and passion about this art form, and with that knowledge, their appreciation of the art form can only be deepened. If they went crazy for somebody just because he sang passably and in a foreign language, imagine how moved they could be if they were aware of what went into opera singing, and were able to appreciate it in it's true form!
I guess the only chance we have with this is in education. Unless we educate young people in this country about what opera is and how it can make you feel, we can't really expect audiences to yearn for anything more than a movie star who can sort of sing on pitch.