I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I write here and why I write and where I want to go. Some of this is just that nagging “what is my purpose” thing that’s always hovering in the background, some of it is driven by writing more for Opera Canada and some of it by knowing that I was going to have to talk about it at the Massey College Opera Club. The Massey event happened last night with Iain Scott moderating a session in which Robert Harris of the CBC and Globe and Mail and I were very politely grilled by the formidably intelligent audience. It was a really interesting evening and one that’s led to some really long conversations with Katja this morning and maybe even some conclusions
Last night confirmed for me, that as far as blogging goes, I need to try and keep a very personal voice. There’s no formula or “required content” for a blog, which is pretty different from writing a review for a magazine of record. I sensed real passion about the future of opera last night and a majority view (though far from a consensus I think) that the arts, including opera, need to challenge us and to make us think. That’s a much more difficult and risk prone enterprise than dishing up comfortable entertainment and one that absolutely requires intelligent discourse. We have to accept that sometimes people will be baffled and sometimes they will be offended. Sometimes because they don’t “get it” and sometimes because a production just doesn’t work. That’s the price we have always paid for art and it’s one worth paying.
“The Critic” (a title I’m finding it harder and harder to disown) can perhaps help most by contextualizing. We see more opera from more places than most of the audience and, because we have to write about it, think a lot about it. We have access to performers and directors and their perspectives. I think I’ve been slow to realise how much this has affected my perceptions. When a singer tells you “It’s amazing, $director can sing every note in the score” it tends to make you discount the oft heard view that “$director doesn’t care about the music. He’s only out to shock”. When one realizes that the cast of a production are (or aren’t) really committed to the production concept it says a lot. That’s a very privileged viewpoint and one that needs to be (with appropriate discretion) shared I think. We also have a point of view, however subjective it may be, and I think we should be very open about, respectfully, sharing it. I don’t want to tell people what to think or what to like, let alone get into “this production rates 2.5 stars out of 5”. I want people to read what I write and be intrigued enough to go see for themselves or to reflect differently on what they’ve already seen and, hopefully, get more out of it, or even just get insights into their completely unrelated opera experiences. I want their experience to be richer because of what I do.
I’m still not sure I know in my own mind how to manage being as objective as possible with still being able to hang out with people I like! Being a grumpy old Rupert Christiansen isn’t going to work for me for sure but I’m far too snarky to go all Pollyanna on my audience too so that’s a work in progress.
I needed to have this conversation so I’m enormously grateful to Iain Scott for arranging last night, to Robert Harris for his gentle brilliance, to a fabulous and insightful audience and, above all perhaps, to my wonderful partner who besides being scary smart is the first to call “bullshit”.