Coming To Come Bargain, Strand 1: Why I (Un-)love Opera
Updated: Aug 7
This blog is part of a series on how I came to write Come Bargain With Uncanny Things (tickets available now!). If you want to read the other parts, see the links below:
Come Bargain With Uncanny Things is a strange show, I’ve been told. An interactive immersive opera is inherently a little bit off-the-wall.
On the second day of R&D, I was asked how I’d got to this point.
I think I gave a good enough answer, and so this week I’m going to be sharing an epic history (in five strands) of how we got here. I hadn’t realised how long this would be when I started writing, but with hindsight, about four years of work probably always was going to take a while.
Strand 1: Why I (Un-)Love Opera
I was lucky enough to be introduced to opera when I was a young adult. I love the artform.
I sulk at the artform.
I love everything music can do - the vast emotions of Tosca, purifying the human experience to beautiful extremes, the sacred ritual of Akhnaten, the godlike archetypes of Don Giovanni.
I love the unique communities formed by collaborative opera-formation.
I particularly love how opera at its best unites all its component parts such that any one in isolation, from staging to song, would be fundamentally diminished by the others' absence.
I un-love opera for what it can’t do.*
To be separated from sources of enormous wealth without having to change what it is to be less expensive to stage.
To be new and fun (beyond the ‘operatic chuckle’) after its light opera tradition veered away to become musicals with Rodgers & Hammerstein.
To make new work, while showing that life is as much laughter as tragedy, much though the latter is a more fashionably profound point.
That is to say, to return to the social function it had in Mozart’s time, or in 1920s Britain, as a night out with a community (admittedly, a broadly elite one in Mozart's case). Because if nobody needs opera except as a luxury entertainment, or a status symbol of intellect or wealth, I find myself feeling it’s somewhat dead for me.
I watch opera be rejected again and again, screaming at people “if only you understood me, you’d want to date me! Here’s why you should love me like I am!”
There comes a point when I want to take opera by the shoulder and explain that, no, the problem is you. Sometimes, if you want people to love you, you need to wash, shave, and maybe revisit some of what you are inside.
(While also revisiting the deeply-rooted power hierarchies of your aristocratic roots).
But when you are that person (me, an opera maker), sometimes it’s time you try and be that other person, and become something rather new. You just have to find the right models and inspirations to do it.
*Or struggles to do. But that's less rhetorically satisfying than temporarily sidelining some excellent work on the fringe, small scale, and community work, particularly those parts that look to the grand canon of opera for their ultimate model and goal.
Come back tomorrow for Strand 2: the people who got me here.