A few months ago, I heard the arts editor of a prominent local weekly (no, not THAT one) say she didn’t like opera and didn’t know anyone who did. Just the other night a bunch of friends, sitting around my table, said the same…how dumb opera was, how long it took for anything to happen. Why bother?
All this made me wonder why, if opera is so unpopular locally, are its tickets so hard to come by? Is affection for grand opera another Love that Dares not State its Name? Did all these people in reality have season tickets, but were too frightened of being outed to admit it? Maybe even tickets to next year’s controversial Wagner Ring cycle? Which is costing LA Opera a reported $32 million to mount.
And which just drew a hostile motion from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. This was a motion which the rest of the LA County Board of Supervisors, confronted on the same day with the county’s worst budget crisis in 75 years, found time to flatten. Mike, as I get it, had just heard that Wagner was an anti-Semite. His reasoning seemed to be that the performances ought therefore to be diluted with material written by non-anti-Semites–maybe Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, or Rogers and Hammerstein.
Now, Mike Antonovich is probably the longest-serving elected local office holder in Southern California — certainly in LA County, where he’s been on the board for 29 years. I giggled to hear him assert, at a Monday press conference protesting the state’s homicidal new budget, that… one remedy to California’s problems would be to remove term limits. Particularly since his legislation against a great composer who’s been dead for 146 years was clearly the product of a political mind that’s seen better days. Not a single local organization or group reportedly backed him on his solo anti-cultural adventure, so it appears that, besides his wide-ranging North County supervisorial district, Mike’s now found himself a phantom constituency to represent. The flesh and blood folks who do vote for him might want to consider whether, in these hard times, they’d be better off with a supervisor more focused on reality.
Be it said that Zev Yaroslavsky, who is the only Jew on the board, led Wagner’s defense.
This has often been the case, by the way–even in Wagner’s own era. Since then, critic Bernard Levin helped reclaim Wagner’s reputation in England after WW II. The Jewish conductors Bruno Walter and George Solti made some of the greatest Wagner recordings of all time — and all of these people distinguished easily between Wagner’s mighty music and his dim-bulb opinions. That music, from the Wedding March to the Ride of the Valkyries, is an indelible part of world culture. The Ring Cycle is by turns profound, absurd, magnificent, silly, and stirring — and like nothing else ever created by the mind of man. Assuming you like that sort of thing, you might even want to check it out.
[Edit: You’re right, Burns! Here are tickets to the Ring Cycle.]