Lucy over at Opera Obsession has a thought-provoking meditation on opera and audience. Having lived through a few decades of the Imminent Demise of Opera™, it always seemed like mine would be the demographic cohort destined to kill the lights and slam the door on the way out (if there turned out to be enough of us, which was doubtful). Now people who probably weren't born yet when I was hearing my first dire predictions are trading tweets about how much it sucks to be missing the Khovanshchina prima. That's the prima I'm listening to right now, leisurely on a Monday night, not in some hard-won, barricade-defended Saturday afternoon NPR ghetto. Kewl :-)
On the other hand, I was just listening to a Met broadcast from 2005, and the degree to which Margaret Juntwait has changed her game is quite striking. Back then, of course, she was replacing the magisterial Peter Allen, and she was a solo act. I kind of preferred it to the Juntwait & Berger (or Siff) Show. Yes, I suppose it's a more, uh, user-friendly presentation now. But, frankly, nothing blows the atmosphere faster than two bright-voiced people brightly chatting about the auto da fe that just happened in Don Carlo or the kid about to go over the cliff in Peter Grimes. And what will they do with those Carmelite nuns next year? Gives me the willies just thinking about it.
Oh wait, one thing does blow the atmosphere faster, and that's interviewing the singers at intermission. Remember that absolutely drop dead awesome exposition of Billy Budd John Culshaw did for some intermission back in...Probably not, I think it must still have been the Carter (Trudeau/Thatcher/Schmidt/d'Estaing) Administration(s). Not all intermissions were like that, and I grant that Boris Goldovsky could be kinda freaky. But you learned a lot, and it wasn't about where Anna Netrebko bought her frock.
Can intermissions be made user-friendly, not to say informative, without being like an interview with ARod? Maybe not. Lucy writes of being an evangelist for opera. I was, once, too. But not long ago I decided it was no longer warranted. Now people can find their own way just fine into some iteration of the opera house without anybody having to Virgil them. Above all, they want no details, smooth or spikey, to come between them and the surface experience: they don't want to know how Iago starts that riot just by sliding off the beat or how Isolde, at a mere suggestion, makes the hunting horns morph into the sound of the fountain right there, and suddenly, despite your better judgement, you're in her world, not Brangäne's.
Which means what they don't want is to know exactly why this stuff really is as amazing as it is.
This is an unstated doctrine of the Gelb revolution, and I know it to be true.
Does it matter?