Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Future of Opera (Part 3)

Even if it’s a minority (I don't think everyone has to like Opera nor do I think it particularly suited for a mass audience the way pop music is because not everyone wants to be challenged in the same way or can be receptive of art in the same way which is fine) there is still an interest in this art form, especially because it is so detached from the musical trends of pop culture. Its seemingly limited, histrionic or antiquated mechanisms in some ways become all the more alluring because they present a challenge to our very modern and (in many ways) conformist ( would even say intellectually lazy) eyes and ears.
I don't know about you dear reader but I am certainly up for a challenge and always will be, especially in the age of snuggies fast food and auto tune.

Certainly, if anything is to survive, some alterations need to be made in order to adapt to the new and the now.  The use of technology and new media is surely one way of achieving this. Granted, Opera is not very receptive of trends, especially if they pose the threat being detrimental to the art form (such as the use of amplification) yet this is beginning to change.  In 2007 the Met began transmitting live, high-definition performances to theaters around the world via satellite and now other theaters have followed in their footsteps. (A more in-depth analysis of this will be provided in a later post). Entities like YouTube and live streaming media are two mediums that have become central to the growing trend of viewer globalization, accessibility and even performance standards. Because people are able to share archived performances and interpretations of a given work instantly this affects today's performance standards and overall expectations. This in turn forces companies and their respective artists to find lucrative ways to present themselves and their art form in order to reach new audiences.  Below is an excerpt from a performance by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra and the current American leading Soprano, Renee Fleming who sings an (acapella!) rendition of Mozart's "Caro Bel Idol Mio". Riveting stuff and pretty daring I might add:

So at least from my perspective Opera as with any art that is based on live performance has a pretty "bright" future ahead, especially with the implementation of cutting edge-technology such as this:

The 3D-mapping technology shown above will be used for the first time (ever) in the Met's new productions of Wagner's Ring Cycle directed by Robert Lepage.
Like I said in my first post, I am all for innovation in the arts and even if in later decades this experience is no longer classified as Opera or classical music, it is still some form of representational (and even non-representational) art that when performed effectively will always have a respective audience.

The Future of Opera and some short History (Part 2)

It seems people are all too willing to seal the fate of Opera by mindlessly spewing out such statements without fully understanding its implications. Basing the assumption that Opera is 'dying' on the (relative) fact that only 'older' people (as opposed to 'younger' ones) attend Opera performances in a highly westernized and Americanized culture that is so obsessed (or even entrenched one might say) with youth and its respective fluctuating trends  is an altogether faulty and dare I say discriminatory perspective. It seems it is perspective that is blinded by a type of youth-ism.

This notion is especially troubling when there are examples in the "pop world" of 'young' artists whose audience is also a bit on the mature side. Take someone like Josh Groban for instance. His songs hardly get played on top 40 radio stations, nor are his videos showcased on MTV or VH1, yet he has sold millions of albums worldwide and has gone on multiple international tours and many prestigious events including President Obama's Inaugural ceremony.. I would hardly classify his "art" in the "dying" category just because most of his audience is older than he is. Moreover, this phenomenon was not planned, it evolved naturally. His artistic qualities coincidentally appealed to an older audience. Same with Opera. So why should we hold either accountable for that?

Historically, Opera was never an art form that sought the appeal of any certain age-group or even mass cultures. It was mainly a platform for the elite to have their grandiose (and inherently superior) image of themselves reflected back at them. The age range of the audience was never really considered in the way it is being considered (as an issue) now. Traditionally, the audience was just an "aristocratic" one. But this has changed dramatically over the last century with the rise of the middle class and now, Opera's niche audience is one that embraces the musical and poetic 'values' of the art form, not just its aesthetics. We now people who because of their appreciation of the art form enroll in institutions and garner specific degrees based on the acquired knowledge of certain styles of music composition, style and practices. Before all we had were anecdotal letters that did not scrutinize and analyze Opera the way it is now. Going to the Opera was making a  fashion statement more than anything else and even though this still exists to a certain extent, it does not hold the presumptuous position of priority as it once did. This is mainly due to the fact that we now have a larger variety of entertainment mediums to choose from partly thanks to technology and the disintegration of social stratification. People are now analyzing the art form purely from musical and musicological perspectives which I think has been a progressive shift.

 So, how then should the success of Opera be measured if not by its lack of MTV enthusiasts in its audience? 

Well how about the number of people (REGARDLESS of ethnicity, age, sex or gender) that are actually attending the performances. Are Opera houses, for the most part empty? Are Opera companies struggling to sell tickets? Considering the fact that the world is in an economic recession right now and judging from statistics and ticket prices, I would say the (general) answer is a resounding NO. Many if not most Opera houses can seat thousands of people and the mere fact that the world's leading Opera singers perform in theaters that are largely if not completely sold out tells me there is indeed an audience, even if it's not a "young" one. Sure, Opera singers don't sell out stadiums, but Opera was never meant for those acoustically challenged spaces to begin with (although some of the more famous singers do occasionally give performances in big open air stadiums). In Europe (a continent with a much longer cultural history and less influx of immigrants than the US) audiences are more diverse in terms of age especially, in Germany and Austria; people (even though they're dying) wait in lines hours upon hours in the blistering cold in order to attain tickets and if no seats are available they opt to stand for the entire performance. Just this past Saturday there was a premiere in Austria of an opera in which the worlds current leading Soprano was premiering her role as Anna Bolena (an Opera based on the ill-fated wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, who usurped Katherine of Aragon and was later beheaded by Henry) and tickets for the event were going for 800 (!) euros on the black market. She (the singer) performed to a sold-out crowd and received a twenty minute standing ovation from the audience. (An impressive feat given that they're a dying bunch and all). Granted this was in Vienna (where the singers is heavily favored and it was a premiere) yet, at the season premiere of the Florida Grand Opera (which I reluctantly attended) the theater was completely sold-out, despite the lack of A-list performers. Imagine my sincere astonishment to see a substantial number of people either my age our younger at the event. This was when I realized the whole doom-and-gloom prognosis is unsubstantiated and reminiscent of a very ageist attitude currently pervading American culture.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Le Comte Ory Premiere and the Future of Opera (Post 1)

So the NY MET recently premiered one of Rossini's rarely performed comic Operas "Le Comte Ory" along with a new production by Tony award-winning director Bartlett Sher. The video above has footage from the red carpet for Opening Night. There were notably many celebrities at the event including Emmy Rossum (best know for her role in the movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "The Phantom of the Opera"), Claire Danes, who recently won numerous accolades for her portrayal of Temple Grandin, as well as the rather oddly somber looking Olsen twins (I'm not sure what they've won) among others.

All in all it was a winning night-if not for Emmy Rossum's dreary and perhaps overly pessimistic remarks about Opera and how it is a "dying art form" becase "young people" don't "get" it. Well to me that is a rather skewed perception.  It actually surprised me that somebody with her background would make such a statement, especially at a premiere ( ironic). YES she does have a point in that the majority of the Opera-going public is comprised of the older crowd/generation, especially here in America, but just because a certain art form is embraced to a certain sector of society it does not mean the art form is "dying". The only condition that makes us conducive to death is being alive. That goes for everyone and anyone no matter if you're a toddler or an octogenarian. Besides, we are are all in effect "dying". This planet is essentially "dying" from the ecological crisis we ourselves have created.

Furthermore, by adopting this often hackneyed expression, she is in fact contradicting herself. Is she not a 'young' person and a public figure who "gets" Opera? Clearly she sees herself as the exception to the trend, but is being the exception necessarily a bad thing? Can we really declare that Opera is "dying" just because its audience is perhaps more mature? Isn't this equating an older audience with no audience? It seems Emmy and all those are forgetting (or perhaps naively ignoring) the fact that they too will soon be "the older audience" and I highly doubt that they/we will still be listening to the likes of Justin Bieber and Kesha.

More to come in the next post on this subject

Friday, April 1, 2011

Back on topic

Well its about time! Sitting in front of computer screen typing away for hours upon hours certainly has its toll on the body (and the mind for that matter). This is long overdue I'd say, even if they haven't worked out all the kinks yet.
On a more shallow note, the dude simulating the body language is utterly hilarious. At first I thought it was a joke but it seems they are even more serious about it than he is.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Slightly Off-Topic yet totally worthwhile

What can I say except that a star is born (complete with the dramatic flair of a seasoned performer...note the ending...rofl)

If only the music industry had more performers of this caliber...deep sigh...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anna Nicole Smith: "The Opera": "I wanna blow you all"

I must confess, I have not actually seen this "Opera". (But I have read many of the reviews and watched the available youtube clips to get a 'sense' of the work). When I learned about this ambitiously polemic concept I was surprised...and yet, I wasn't surprised. Surprised is too strong a word for the visceral age we live in, where shock value and over the top theatricality is all too rampant. So while I can see how such an infamous public figure (and by extension the culture of over-indulgence, consumption, amorality and pop culture celebrity she represents) would make a good Opera "heroine" (no pun intended). The subject is indeed a relevant one in my view and I do find this work to be adequately justified in its aims to draw the attention of (or merge together) certain audiences.

Just a few months ago, The Metropolitan Opera House in New York hosted a "debut" recital for crossover popera sensation Andrea Bocelli. A clear indication of the times we are in. Some complained, while others shrugged or hailed it as a smart move by the Met. I for one, will say that lucrative ploys like these are just that: lucrative. I don't mean to sound redundant but any and all other meanings we attach to these 'events' are just reflections of our own perceptions of whatever art form we choose to focus on. These perceptions can indeed be justified but not rendered absolute. Absolutism often times caters to pretentiousness. With art and music, nothing is really static. The greatness of a work of art is its relative 'nature' which ultimately defies our own limited ways of understanding.  Otherwise, what is the value of going to see something that was composed 200 years ago if all there is and ever was to know about that body of work died along with its contemporaries?

Like everything else in life (whether we choose to 'believe' it or not) art is highly subjective and the more we are willing to input the more we shall receive. This is what I call the art of minimalism. The effort of the artist is perhaps minimal or "fundamentally basic", but that of the audience must be great: a relationship that is greatly undervalued in pop culture where doing the intellectually lazy thing is perhaps being mistaken for entertainment. So, instead of broadening our horizons we are severely limiting them.

This brings me to why I cite the title "opera" in quotation marks above. To my knowledge, no test for any major artistic work is perhaps greater, more telling or more daunting than the test of time. If (and that's a big IF) indeed ANS does manage to be included in the 'great' canon of Operatic masterpieces, then and only then will much of the opera going public consider this a 'true' Opera in the wholistic sense. But in order to achieve this iconic status, it must be received well. This is no small task for a modern day work that aspires to own the title of "Opera", namely because, Opera audiences are not the most welcoming bunch of aficionados. This can be attributed to many reasons (the most stereotypical being a stuffy elitism and entitlement) but for the purposes of this blog we will concentrate on performance standards. Opera is an art form that staunchly resists any form of tawdriness, particularly if the subject-matter is in one way or another 'popular.' But now a days, new media is inverting the relationship between the kitschy and the elite I think, precisely because of performance standards. Opera, on the one hand, is reluctant to lend its title to any work that does not possess certain 'essential' and 'intrinsic' musical regalia, while pop culture and its staunch followers seem to be dressing certain musical features in drag and calling it "high art" a la Lady Gaga. Neither extreme is good, but one certainly presents itself at face-value.

I will elaborate on these ideas in later posts...but getting back to the subject of ANS...

   If the work falls into obscurity, then it will surely be placed in another "less worthy' category such as a Bio Opera (Parody) or something along the lines of John Gay's "The beggar's Opera" now considered a "mock" or "ballad" opera. Both "Anna Nicole Smith" and "The Beggar's Opera" contain operatic elements and motifs, but they are also highly specific pieces of music with nationalistic tendencies, altogether making them highly liminal, which to me seems far more interesting than some poor excuse of a Madonna song, catchy as it may be.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"The Role and Responsibilities of Law Schools in the Deconstruction and Resurrection of the Music Industry"....Can I get some fries with that?

Upon reading the article cited above (I dare not re-type that overwrought title) I couldn't help but cringe a little at some of its implications. The main gist of the argument is that by rejecting innovative and rapidly evolving technologies, the music industry is and has been fighting a loo$ing battle when (lightbulB) law schools can provide the necessary ammunition to fight back for the sake of the artists. Hypothetically, this would be achieved  by making changes to copyright laws that protect the interests of the artist as well as providing free "law clinics" or "a series of organized forums [that] could take place across the world, videotaped and posted on the internet for viewing." This would then facilitate a dialogue which "would be presented as an industry-wide solution to problems." Cue the violins and John Lennon's "Imagine": the ammunition just turned into a down pouring of glitter. Speaking of glitter:

Frankly I just don't see this happening. In fact there is a substantial contradiction in the article that perfectly demonstrates the flaw of this argument. The authors point out that "Congress typically gives the most weight to those entities with the most industry clout and deepe$t pocket$" which, though unfair, indeed seems true, especially in this staunchly capitalist, free-market society. Yes there are laws and "special interest" organizations that protect the rights of minorities and individuals, but people don't always know or have access to these sorts of entities. (Example: How many women who are somewhat interested in politics and have thought about running for office know about EMILYs list? I didn't until a took a class on Women in Politics, which is still categorized as a special interest within the political science field, given it is not one of the "main" courses).

 Law schools could potentially lend a hand and make policy alterations that would benefit the recording artist and their respective label, but for me the problem lies in the lack of objectivity that would plague the man power it would take to organize something like the article proposes (namely some sort of "shopping meta-database" that stores information about artists and their music). The article freely admits that "at least some (for me that's a modest estimation) accept contributions from the very self-interested parties that would seek to sway any solutions. Moreover...many law schools depend on adjuncts and part-time professors, who work for and represent these self-interested parties, making influence possible." I would add that in this economy, the influence, or gross bias really, is more than possible: it is highly likely. Yes subjectivity is in many ways inescapable (and can be beneficial), but when your job requires you to be as level-headed, hard-working and as objective as possible without any form of compen$ation, "double vi$ion" (i.e. ambition) may start to kick in. In effect, the words "lawyer" and "ambitious" are practically synonymous. Asking that somebody dedicate time and effort into something for which they will not be paid is asking a lot.
 Believe me, I hate stereotypes about lawyers as much as the next person, especially as an aspiring law student but I'm afraid this one has some truth. Law $chool is expensive. Lawsuits are expensive. Maintaining a certain standard of living is expensive. Therefore, a lawyer's time and energy is expensive. So, asking that lawyers and potential lawyers provide a sort of pro bono service in order to "reconstruct" the music industry is a little like asking a cat to bark.

In all seriousness though, in this age of social Darwinism, should we really endow an institution that functions on the basis of monetary incentive (both for itself and clients) more leverage than it already has?

Furthermore, the law (as it stands and it was 'designed') simply cannot be updated at the pace of some of these newly developing technologies that are readily available to anyone with access to a computer, because as noted in the previous post, new media is asynchronous and highly personal, while the law is not. In order to pass a new law or modify an existing one, it (the law) must pass through an arduous and time-consuming process of acquiring a majority of votes and in many cases is vetoed and/or filibustered several times. The legislature functions, as we say with Opera, in lyric time,  meaning events unfold at a substantially slower pace (for dramatic effect) than real time.

I propose that since the debacle of the music industry was largely promulgated by surging (and in some ways re-surging) technologies, only those (same?) technologies can and should dissipate attention away from the waning sales, especially since the issue is not the music industry itself (which has become a symbol for capital and power really) but the actual artistic performers and how to acquire some form of copyright or compensation system that values their artistic expressions and the effects they have on society.
Law schools may help, but they can just as easily add fuel to the fire (and in many cases do), in which case instead of a resurrection, destruction and chaos would result.

Having too many Lawyers in a society is like having too many French fries: a select few are good but too many can be unhealthy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Media

Upon reading the aptly titled chapter "New Media" in Baehr & Schaller's book, Writing For The Internet, a somewhat stark realization came to my attention: the 'new media' phenomenon that has rapidly accelerated over the last decade or so is part of a narrative that is not quite so new, but is rather both 'traditional' and (paradoxically) contemporary. The reason I say this 'new media' trend is paradoxical is that, notwithstanding that modernity does break from the mold of tradition many times over, in this particular case I think it doesn't.

The chapter I have cited above supports the claim that 'new media' is new in the sense of actual technologies that are constantly evolving, but can still be 'defined' or as Baehr and Schaller put it "logically tied" to "previous or existing (mass communication) theory". However, 'new media theory' is still very much in its infancy.

 There is, most definitely an aspect of "demassification" to 'new media' that caters to a more personal yet interactive "micromedia experience" (or a niche culture, if you will) and because it is also asynchronous new media technologies (such as the Internet) are largely assumed to be 'groundbreaking'. But in the case of some major corporations that didn't altogether embrace these new technologies (such as file sharing) it resulted in their demise (Tower records is a prime example).

The main justification for the traditional aspect of new media stems from the observation B & S made about new media theory not being a linear progression, so essentially one can surmise it can regress in some ways, or further entrench certain values in our society that maintain the status quo. A clear example of this is how most of the information presented to us is still controlled by government agencies, big business corporations and mainstream media websites. B & S cite the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today as examples of media outlets which are garnering a plethora of hits online even as printed media is rapidly declining which ultimately still grants them a substantial amount of influence if not profit.

In addition to the mainstream media, the Internet itself can be used as a prime example of something once thought of as the idealistic medium that would spark a sort of virtual enlightenment and with its birth would finally put an end to the age of blasphemy and slander. Finally, the spread of democracy and "great truths" would now reign supreme.
         Sadly, this has not been the case. Feel free to start pouting, though on the other hand, some of you cynics might proudly be sporting a huge "I told you so" grin because, well, those sentiments seems like something taken out of a fairytale, or to be more accurate a Disney version of a fairytale. For those of you who are not familiar with the original "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White" stories, you are in for a rude awakening. But alas, I digress. If, however I have now irreversibly peaked your curiosity, my friend Google can surely clarify things for you. Or can he?


Because of potential mass audiences, the internet has in many ways become a playground for major corporations and their propaganda, evidenced by the adds that incessantly 'pop-up' at every corner of the world wide web. Take Facebook, which is free of charge yet still has adds for big brands, blockbuster movies and the like tepidly (yet permanently) displayed on the right side of every "wall". Or Youtube which, thanks to Vevo has as many commercials in between songs as any basic cable television station. Or You Name It (which to my knowledge is not in existence, but it's only a matter of time now).

Twitter is probably the best example of a new media 'device' that instead of giving your average Joe (or Jane) a voice has given further clout to celebrities and celebrity culture. Just this week we learned that Charlie Sheen was fired from the sitcom Two-and-a-Half Men. That same day he gained 200,000 followers on Twitter. A man obviously known for his self-less dedication to his craft and charitable deeds for humanity, one wonders if this "celebrity culture" is not some renaissance of the "old aristocracy" only without or outside of any and all ethical or lawful boundaries and 'glass ceilings' in place that apply to the rest of society.

Edit: Charlie Sheen quote: I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen.

Read more:

So you see, just because something is new in the technical sense, theoretically it can be viewed as an apple falling from an over-arching tree, because while the technology may be different, the person behind the large or small screen still adheres to a system that perpetuates traditions within society. In other words, it may take two seconds to communicate with someone on the other side of the world instead of two hours, two days or two weeks, but the themes common to societal standards of power still prevail. This is not to say we should sit back and re-hash the same antiquated theories to explain emerging technologies, but this situation still begs me to ask the question of whether this hyper-subjective yet controlled medium we are communicating through, of which blogging is a prime example, is really all that different from the letter-writing days of old. Well, until we catch up to technology, or until there is really a unique engagement with these platforms that alter the way (western) society is structured and the little engines that could (i.e. true entrepreneurs) aren't consumed by massive corporations (i.e. Google) that are only looking to satiate their financial needs I am hesitant to say this media is all that "new". Or at least not new, new. Just semi-new.

I encourage you to keenly watch the video I have posted as a supplement to what I just outlined and post your thoughts below.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

POP Music Bobble

A couple of weeks ago there was an event called the Superbowl. You may have heard of it. As is tradition, an 'artist' of prominence (most often a pop singer) is chosen to "honor America" by singing the National Anthem. It is needless to say that such a performance goes beyond the thousands in attendance at the football stadium and is therefore a daunting and deceptively difficult task. Some singers opt to perform a lip-synced version of the anthem. Other "divas" like Christina Aguilera boldly choose to belt it out live and a capella (a ubiquitous term that as of late is being mistaken for "acoustic" but really just means without accompaniment). The latter sentiment is one that has been rehashed by fans and critics alike as the justification for why the media should cut her some slack, despite the flubbed lyrics and excessive melismas. But somewhere amidst this cacophony of public opinion, there are some important issues that, at least to my knowledge have not been considered. It seems people are all too willing to criticize Aguilera's performance as an isolated event and quickly move on to the latest fodder  perfect small talk. But this ultimately dismissive reception distracts audiences from a wider epidemic currently invading the music scene.

Pop singers, who continuously perform in high-pressure situations with little to no rehearsal beforehand (or at least enough preparation so sing the right lyrics and melody) are almost always the first choice for such high profile events. Aguilera's interpretation is merely one in a slew of performances in which self-indulgence supplants good musicality and virtuosity, the latter of which I admit she does possess, evidenced by her recent Grammy performance paying tribute to Aretha Franklin. Even if some of the higher notes were slightly strained, the evenness throughout her vocal registers and clarity of tone are trademarks worth noting. 

In effect, her performance is still merely a symptom of a problem that goes beyond her or any individual performer and will continue to worsen unless these so-called "professional music critics” and “journalists” opt to think outside the pop bubble box. It seems that more often than not they are letting themselves be swayed by the currents of popular culture and what the "average viewer" thinks. While adopting popular opinion as your own can at times be justified, for me, this is just not one of those times. I hate to be obnoxious and adopt the all-too common and egregious OMG phrase, but OMG I swear, it's like an infectious pox is invading the entire music industry and people are willingly spreading the epidemic!

One of Aguilera's own songs explains this phenomenon well I think:

Musical criticism needs to aim its analyses and points of reference beyond the scope of a single performance, otherwise what we are getting is generic drivel being rehashed by different social mediums. Why is that you ask? For one thing, the market is saturated with "singers" that possess little or no musical training yet demand thousands (even millions) of dollars for one "live" performance. This is somewhat mind boggling and frankly it worries me that people don't realize how much clout this is giving to certain "artists" and how it is affecting performance standards overall. 

My main question, then, is why oh why didn’t this widely-televised fiasco prompt a dialogue in which other musical genres are discussed as reference points (at least in passing) for performance standards? How is it that people are content with just saying it was a bad performance?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for innovation in the arts, but it seems these pox singers are being given the luxury of, not just re-defining, but inverting the musical values of our society. Words like "edgy" and "avante-garde" are being thrown around too loosely in my opinion and people either eat it all up or are obliviously indifferent to it all.  Furthermore, given the growing trend of the polarizing effect of some performers (Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert anyone?) is this shift in musical standards inevitable?

Below you will find a youtube clip of the infamous Superbowl performance for your viewing 'pleasure' in hopes you might consider some of the ideas mentioned above. I have purposely chosen the worst quality video I could find courtesy of Time Magazine and their list of the ten worst ever National Anthem renditions. I think the video is a prime example of how the pox phenomenon is affecting us.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


This blog will attempt to analyze and potentially initiate a (virtual) dialogue about the ways in which 'new media' has affected and continues to affect the music industry, especially the 'art' of live performance. Obviously there is more than one assumption embedded in the above statement. For instance, you may be asking yourself what is meant by the term 'new media' and what aspect(s) of the music industry will be discussed. Will there be a focus on industry (i.e. marketing, manufacturing, sales, record companies and the media etc.) or on the actual music?  All fair questions. All certainly loaded and intertwining questions as well. If you are interested in these topics I do hope you will stay tuned, or tuned in rather, as I stay attuned to, address and disseminate these ideas and consequent issues throughout the course of this blog.
Til then, sit tight folks.

Edit: But not like this I hope: