There’s no denying it : opera is facing the most difficult time in its history. Never in the past was it so seriously in danger of being erased from the scenery of world culture. Almost any and every opera house in the world is closed due to COVID-19. And, as we all know, the theater, the “horseshoe” is the very life of opera. Recordings, CDs, videos and TV streams are just a surrogate of the real thing, the emotion, the excitement, the joy and pleasure of being there, of enjoying a live, white-heat, unique performance.
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When, and how, will our beloved opera live again in its own right, natural environment? We don’t know. At this moment, making forecasts is really hard. We obviously hope that it will not take too long, even if maybe just a few months. Summer will most probably pass without any opera at all. September might be too soon, someone already talks about going straight to the next year seasons. It is a very, very long time.
In the meantime, a lot of things are changing. Most notably, we are watching more and more opera on TV. The offers are endless, almost all theatres put at our disposal the video recordings in their archives, some just for a day, others for longer. It is a blessing, of course, when an addicted opera-goer is captive of the general lockdown. But will this way of enjoying opera change our habits? Will it affect the future of opera? And how?
In this rather sad and uncertain scenery, one can’t help wondering – hoping? – if something good could also come from these difficult times. And maybe, just maybe, it might.
How so? Well, the opera house archives are obviously full of old (or not-so-recent) wonderful performances, in many cases “traditional” ones, and little by little we begin to see them on streams. Senior opera-goers might have already seen them, and enjoy them again. But there is more: a lot of younger members of the audience, grown up watching awful “modern” stagings, mostly puzzling and hard to follow, often violent, bloody and sometimes on the verge of the obscene, will discover the “old” way – the right way, in our opinion – of doing opera, i.e. “by the book”, or rather by the libretto, as the authors have written and imagined them.
They will discover the beauty of the right scenes and costumes, the pleasure and relaxation of watching the plot unfold in the correct time, without being distracted from the music by the effort of guessing what the “Regietheater” director had in mind, namely his or her own very personal interpretation of the musicians’ and poets’ work. Then maybe – just maybe – the young audience will fully taste the fascinating flavour of opera and maybe – just maybe – they will start to expect and claim productions much more faithful to the authors’ intentions.
But there is more. We know very well how much a new production costs. And we also know that many ugly, useless, abstruse “new” ones are cast away just after a few performances. But “the day after the virus” will there still be the money available to pay for such meaningless waste?
So, can COVID-19, which is doing so much damage to opera, contribute, in the end, to reviving it? Can it kill Regietheater or give it, if not a deathly blow, at least a strong one?
Of course, it’s just a hope. But why not hope? Hope of enjoying again good singers, experienced conductors, intelligent, professional directors, common sense stagings, less ego boosting, more true love for opera?
Wishful thinking, some might say.
Well, these are difficult times. Please, let us dream a little!
P.S. Just after closing this article, we have learned that Damiano Michieletto, well-known (not to say infamous) “modern” director, will host a TV show about opera on Italian RAI. More or less, like appointing Dracula as the Chairman of the Blood Donors‘ Society.