19 February 2005

The tyranny of queens

An operatic perspective

Listen, Sieglinde lives at the opera house. It's a scary place. We applaud whenever, we bang walls wherever, we brava whomever. We mercy clap, we boo sometimes, we laugh, we cry, we make fun, we record, we exchange recordings, etc.. Over at the symphony, where our earnest grandmothers live, they ask who made it unpretty to clap between movements. Apparently this is a big issue; The Rest Is Noise felt it necessary to put out a Special Report that attempts to interrogate its nebulous history.

Sieglinde reads it all thus: at the symphony, the ego of the priestly conductor overpowers every other; at the opera house, no dice, sister. The opera audience is composed of competing egos wanting to exert control over how everyone else ought to think/behave/see. The claque of Diva X cares little about anyone/anything else, so long as X is meticulously acclaimed; the Wagnerians will poison your Moet & Chandon if you dare interrupt their spiritual masturbation with your lozenge wrapper; the matrons applaud the Zeffirelli set every single f*ckin time, while Zambello has had to hire bodyguards at Lincoln Center.

Queens up in the boxes and family circle dictate the duration of applause, the length and pitch of bravas, which aria will receive the climactic ovation. The opera conductor, mostly a minor player, may elect to stop the opera in deferrence to ovations, or else can force the orchestra through the music, earning the ire of the principal and his well-paid cabal. The Saturday Met broadcasts, among the remaining international platforms for classical music, are notorious for semi-orchestrated ovations for the diva/divo. The confetti is thrown, Peter Allen describes the "shower of paper, forbidden by the Met, but these things happen," the Diva is served. Amneris gets bouquets; Aida none. Or worse, Radames gets the bouquets.

Question to my grandmothers: is this the model you aspire to? Queens who'll create buzz, dictate their preferences to the clueless middle-class, take control of how every performance ought to be remembered? To espouse democracy at the classical music hall is to advance the oligarchy of queens. Dreadful thought? Not to this queen.