No one will ever mistakenly accuse me of being high-browed and cultured. I certainly don’t track with the black tie penguin suits of high society. Sadly, this extends beyond my lack of interest in participating in the extravagant social rituals of the aristocracy and my lack of money to pursue them. I genuinely do not seem to know how to enjoy or appreciate some of the things that are adored by this set. For example, I do not see the fuss made about foie gras. Please, it’s liver! Apart from the debate about whether it is ethical to force feed the ducks to get the fatty liver which is made into foie gras (in humans, a fatty liver is medically a diseased liver), I never liked eating my liver and onions and hiding what it is behind a foreign (non-English) name still does not hide its intense liver taste.
Another thing that brands me solidly as a Philistine squirrel is my lack of appreciation of opera. Wikipedia says that “Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (called a libretto) and musical score. The word opera means “work” in Italian (it is the plural of Latin opus meaning “work” or “labour”) suggesting that it combines the arts of solo and choral singing, declamation, acting and dancing in a staged spectacle.” Hmmm. Well, that just sounds like a musical just like “West Side Story” or “Phantom of the Opera” but in a different language (just like the foie gras case).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the modern musical. I just don’t understand why people pay top dollar, get dressed to the nines and go an see a musical which tells a story in a foreign language that I can only understand from reading the souvenir program which I have to purchase separately at an extortionist rate.
It probably did not help that my early introduction to Opera was something from Wagner’s Ring Cycle based on German and Norse mythology. It is of course sung in German, and as I remember it, sung by big women wearing fake blond wigs with pig-tails, armoured breasts (like Madonna’s) and horned helmets. Even one of its more famous songs, “The Ride of the Valkyries”, made no sense to me in German. It only became a song that I could really appreciate when it was used in a media that I could appreciate; and that was as the song “Kill the Wabbit” sung by Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. Now who said Saturday morning cartoons cannot be educational!
However, if Elmer and Bugs helped me to begin to understand opera, the one performance that really opened my eyes to the true wonders and possibility of Opera was the stunning performance of the Albanian songstress, Inva Mula Tchako, who was the voice behind the character Diva Plavalaguna in the movie “The Fifth Element“. In it she sings an aria from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (the mad scene), and “The Diva dance” song. I may still not understand the language but the way it is presented certainly helped me appreciate it. Allow me to share this song with you. For those serious Philistines like me, try to hang on till at least the 3.28 minute mark when a transformation occurs.