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.

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