...except that I don’t believe his audience is going to listen to any opera other than his. He’s made no secret of his operaphilia over the years, and it’s made no difference so far, in much the way that his Judy concert didn’t really make Garland fans out of people who weren’t in the first place.
There's something not just correct but, I think, significant in this sentiment, and as soon as I work out what it is, you'll know. This is me thinking out loud.
Say, do other people known by their friends for being an opera fan get the question "what should I listen to if I want to get into opera?" a lot? Because I do. And, not wholly for the sake of being an asshole, what I sometimes say is, "if you're not into opera, there may be a very good reason." Which is to say: it's not for everyone.
What I'm questioning, I guess, is the very idea of "bringing audiences to opera"--whether it happens at all, and whether it's worth all the pontification that goes on around whether Rufus Wainwright/Andrea Bocelli/the Muppets/&c. &c. &c. will get people to like opera. I'm not sure it ever happens that way. From time to time some appealing face of opera pops up in broader culture, but it seems to be a self-contained thing.
If you liked the blue diva in The Fifth Element, chances are really not that awfully great that you'd be excited by the rest of Lucia. If you were inspired by Paul Potts singing "Nessun dorma," I might speculate while firmly refusing to discuss the merits of his performance that what you liked was largely backstory and novelty and, sure, you might love opera, but chances are good you wouldn't, and Paul Potts is not a good weathervane.
Think of the scene in The Last Picture Show where all an earnest teacher's love of Keats means nothing to his students, because the other parts of their lives aren't fertile soil for a love of poetry. Except take some of the condescension out of that, because a love of opera, like the love of poetry, does not make you a better person. Operaphilia in addition to the love of, say, Gene Autrey does make you a broader, more interesting person, but that's a two-way street, a clap that takes two hands.
None of this has much to do with RW's day-in-the-life-of-a-diva opera, on which I can't comment because I've only heard the excerpt played on Parterre. I didn't love or hate it, though I find Wainwright's crooning a little uncomfortable to witness when it's not in music written with croon in the blueprints (how can I hate on "Poses" when I listened to it obsessively for a year?) but then I'm thinking of his youtube-documented Berlioz, and not his opera, which may very well have built-in croon.
Oh but ok, so take the Berlioz. Someone hears those, thinks "what Rufus likes, I may like," and buys Steber's ravishing trip through those songs with Mitropoulos. Yet again, I think that's not going anywhere. It's just that music is not always a continuum of listener-suitability. Opera is really specific. Opera is discrete. (That does not mean it refuses to send its picture, certain gheis.)
All that's left to do, then, is for me to suggest how new audiences are to be found so opera doesn't die if Sheryl Crow singing "La ci darem la mano" with Pavarotti* (count the problems!) isn't going to do the trick. Obviously, I have no fucking clue.
But if the answer is that opera is on its way out, I'm not going to leap out the window, just hope it outlasts me. I read this book once, okay I read a chapter, about language death, and for anyone who loves languages and appreciates that each has things it can express that no other can (though this can never be more than a hunch), the idea of a language disappearing forever is really to dab your eyes about. But it's also completely inevitable and a part of the backdrop against which the languages that hang on, for now, live out their own interesting lives. Nothing is immortal and few things last very long at all.
Sorry, I'm totally killing time 'til I can get on a train for a long weekend, so it's getting a bit purple in here. (I never work blue. Except a few paragraphs up, for a second, and then only light blue.) But I think I'm not wrong about all of this. Please feel welcome to disagree politely, as it cheers a blogger up to see comments.
*awful but not reprehensible. This is an important distinction. Also, please admit there is a loveable screwball comedy in the part where...well this one friend of mine told me about a recital in High School where she couldn't remember the words to one of the "24 Rather Moldy Italian Art Songs" and had to start making up Italian words. I always wondered what that would look like, and now, to my delight, I know.
P.S. (!) while one is momentarily asserting one's presence in the blogosphere, one really ought to take a moment to congratulate La Cieca on being quite the It Girl, everywhere but the goddamn cover of Time lately!