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Posts tagged ‘opera’

Everybody Hates Rap And Opera

Not really. I like one of ’em. NPR article on why some of the same people can’t listen to rap music and opera music.

 

Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera?

link: Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera? : Deceptive Cadence : NPR.

So what’s wrong with rap and opera? Not much, really. Except that last week when we asked readers to name their musical blind spots (genres or bands they ignored, either by choice or neglect) a distinct refrain emerged within the responses. Two examples:

“Oh, and by the way, rap is not music. It is mostly a bunch of meaningless drivel by people with no real talent and who certainly should not get paid.”

“Very little of opera is worth bothering with and even then only as instrumental music rather than as the sounds of tortured cats.”

It was clear that opera and rap, more than any other genres, hit some kind of nerve with people. And it’s a fact that seems to hold true far beyond our highly unscientific social media polling. But why?

 

For some people, taste — why we dislike one thing and prefer another — is complicated. It’s connected to self-esteem, personal branding and creating social divisions based on things like class and education. In a 1996 article for the American Sociology Review, Bethany Bryson attempted to show that people use their musical tastes to erect what she calls “symbolic boundaries” between themselves and others.

There’s little doubt that both rap and opera have traveled with significant prejudicial (if stereotypical) baggage: Opera is for rich, white, elderly snobs; rap is made by poor, young, black thugs. Some people reject both groups, while others relish degrees of perceived inclusion. Bryson would say perceptions help determine musical choices and vice versa.

On a less academic level, I asked a couple of my NPR Music colleagues to weigh in. For Bob Boilen, creator and host of All Songs Considered, social structures, he says, have nothing to do with it. It’s all about communication. The languages of rap and opera just don’t speak to him. “If the crux of the music is focused on the words and if the words don’t relate to the listener then it’s all is a big disconnect,” he says. But he’s willing to admit exceptions, including the mournful strains of Portuguese fado: “I don’t care what they’re singing about, I’m with them.”

Frannie Kelley, who swims in the world of rap like I do in opera, agrees that at first glance the two genres would appear to have little in common. Digging deeper, one can argue that there are many connections, not least of which is the obsessiveness of each genre’s most dedicated aficionados.

Opera fanatics incessantly evaluate all aspects of singers, conductors, directors, composers, set designers and opera companies. True geeks know the intricacies of how the human voice works, and how it should work in any given operatic role vis-à-vis any given singer. Opera roles are like clothes, which singers “try on” to varying degrees of success. Certain voices fit certain roles perfectly, but singers often try on roles a size or two too big. Not pretty.

In the higher realms of rap, Frannie says, you have to navigate the interior social strata, the subtleties of sampling and layers of meaning behind the braggadocio and how it relates to selling records. Rap, like opera, also has complicated “cast lists.” Keeping up with who appears on whose singles, mixtapes and remixes can be as confounding as keeping track of who sang what on the famous Knappertsbusch Ring cycles. And with rap, like opera, there are a huge amount of regional variety, from Compton to Atlanta to the Bronx, London and Istanbul.

And then there’s the language, as Bob mentioned. Both the actual language that each genre uses in performance and the cryptic vernaculars each has engendered (click here for a handy Bay area hip-hop dictionary, and here to decode some opera jargon). Opera and rap rely heavily on words, many of which are not immediately discernable. Rap can have complex poetry (and profanity) zipping past at indecipherable speeds (especially theturbo rappers). Opera often has foreign tongues and high flying phrasing, requiring CD listeners to run to their printed librettos and opera houses to install supertitles.

Opera and rap take work to appreciate — perhaps more effort than many of today’s music consumers are willing to expend. In an age when more and more music is available to anyone’s ears, are we turning into lazy listeners? Is it too easy to download too much, to acquire everything but actually hear nothing? Does any time remain to fully appreciate a complete hip-hop album, let alone an entire opera? It also takes work to enjoy music that’s as in-your-face as opera and rap are. With all the melodrama, social consciousness, violence and intense vocal styles, they certainly are not musical wallpaper.

Opera and rap. Who knew they could be so far from each other and yet so close? And who really knows exactly why they both act like lightning rods when it comes to musical preferences? Is it deeply rooted in social psychology, elitism, racism, self-image? The discussion has already been interesting around the NPR Music water cooler. Need to weigh in yourself? Have a story about opera, rap and the reasons why like and dislike what we do? Let us know in the comments section.

book reports – THE THEATER WILL ROCK, Elizabeth L. Wollman

THE THEATER WILL ROCK: A HISTORY OF THE ROCK MUSICAL FROM HAIR TO HEDWIG (2006)

There does seem to be a common understanding that before the musical Hair there was nothing like Hair and that most of what followed Hair were flop imitations – Dude, Via Galactica, Rainbow. Though Hair became a classic, theatrical producers stopped throwing their money away on rock scores by about 1975. What Elizabeth Wollman’s through history brings forward is that Hair’s influence in musical theatre can be seen in decades of cultural tug-of-war between keeping rock music’s aesthetics authentic and produce musicals that have mass audience appeal. Hair’s long beautiful hair grew into Grease, and Les Mis, and Mama Mia but through the use of softer forms of rock music. We don’t really recognize how things of changed since Rogers and Hammerstein. Unlike any work I’ve read on the topic of musical theatre, or even in rock journalism for that matter, Wollman finally provides language for describing the variety of very different kinds of musical theatre that are too often lazily categorized as “rock musicals.” For once Hair is rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar is rock opera and Dreamgirls and Smokey Joe’s Cafe are other things too, well categorized here. I have a couple of quibbles. First, I think Wollman doesn’t emphasize that much of the failure in those fabulous post-Hair rock flops lies in being rushed to Broadway with big money backers and no existing source material. Most of the truly great shows in musical theatre are drawn from novels, plays or history. At least Hair had the huge benefit of a long and sometimes painful gestation period before finally coming uptown. The big rock flops of the early 1970’s were being made-up on the spot. Ironically two of the successful rock musicals from the same period, Your Own Thing and Two Gentleman of Verona were adapted from that rebellious beatnik Shakespeare. Next, Wollman makes frequent reference to off-off Broadway shows like House of Leather and The Legend of Johnny Pot which barely ever opened, meanwhile her research overlooks shows like Promenade (259 performances) and Salvation (239 performances). Finally, between her socio-historical chapters the author includes some short academic meditations on audience attitudes, marketing experiments, and musical aesthetics. These interlude essay are well written they do seem like step children, sections from a different book. If you are seeking musical aesthetics and composition for musical theater, you won’t find much here on the specific shows or songs. However this is excellent work on cultural commodification and the economics of Broadway over the last forty years.

A Little Opera

It seems weird to think of opera singers as Hollywood celebrities.  Although operatic musical conventions are frequently still borrowed on Broadway – Rent, Spring Awakening, American Idiot – and at the movies – Evita, Moulin Rouge, Repo! A Genetic Opera.  Staged opera in popular perception is thought to be entertainment for the affluent, the culturally elite, public television viewers, and the age 60+.  Some artists crossover – Sarah Brightman, Il Divo, Andrea Bocelli, even Josh Groban – but even they are not, well, rock stars.   In mid-20th century Hollywood film there was a call for talented operatic singers who happened also to be young and sexy.  The golden age of Broadway musicals occurred roughly between 1940 and 1970.  There was a market in Hollywood not just for musicals turned into movies, but to provide an additional product, adapted in form and content from traditional opera, the movie operetta.  An operetta is a light opera. It has more acting than an opera and more singing than a musical.  The stars of this era were usually better singers and worse actors.

The Desert Song (1953)

In Desert Song, Gordon McCrea’s acting performance is characteristically frigid and Kathryn Grayson’s singing is,  I think, tremulous.  But she is gorgeous.  In the story McCrea lives a double life as a docile anthropologist and as the secret leader of a rebellious Arab tribe.  Kathryn Grayson is a French general’s overindulged daughter who finds herself an unwitting pawn in the local Arab war.  Intended to capture vast Saharan mystery and danger, the scope of the musical looks and feels small compared to similarly set epics of the period.  Yet, I have to admit that there is an almost inexplicable charm.  Part of it is the sophisticated musical score (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein).  The other part is that the cast seems to take their participation in a ridiculous story quite seriously.  I want to believe.

That Midnight Kiss (1949)

Less ambitious is That Midnight Kiss.  An aspiring opera singer seeks theatrical greatness for herself and her talented, truck-driving boyfriend.  What’s lacking in scope is made up for in singing.  The singing does seem like the central entertainment purpose.  This was the first film role for the great tenor Mario Lanza.  His voice is magnificent and his acting is convincing, if a bit too enthusiastic.  Kathryn Grayson stars in this one to, and she’s less affected.

These aren’t great films overall, but I enjoy the format.  Outside of revisiting movies from this era, it’s a type of movie experience that is gone forever.