|VERDI SQUARE INCIDENT
||[Aug. 20th, 2006|04:12 am]
Ricardo, a professional novelist, as well as "our man in the trenches" (when he has some extra time), reports – |
I was sitting on a bench, editing a manuscript. The Getting Opera poster sat next to me.
...Afterwards, I spent some time trying to remember whom the fellow reminded me of. Finally I got it – Arturo Toscanini, when he was just over fifty.
Anyway, he was Napoleon’s height, and wearing shorts, sneakers, T-shirt, etc. Unlike Toscanini’s, his face expressed a mixture of perpetual skepticism and habitual suspicion, with the eyes of a person whose thoughts on any subject can only be definitive and unquestionably correct.
Which is to say, I knew I shouldn’t have talked to him at all. Opera may be for everyone, but not the seminar, I guess. He was not interested in the seminar at all. He was only interested in showing me that he was superior, knowledgeable, and always right. I happen to like people of that sort, except when it comes to dealing with them.
His first phrase threw me off a bit.
He said, "Bear in mind, I’m not giving you any money."
I didn’t get it at first. Like, huh? What money? Then I got it. Still, my reply came out a bit too formal, I’m afraid, something along the lines of, "This is a commercial venture. We’re not looking for a subsidy." Something like that. Whatever. I made it sound like a joke. I smiled. He had been smiling all along. His smile was anything but affectionate.
"So, what’s it all about?"
I started to explain. Among other things I mentioned that, once a person participates in the seminar, we guarantee that he or she will never again be bored listening to opera. Not once. Ever. Before I could get to explaining why this was, he interrupted me, saying,
"I go to the opera very often. I’ve seen most of the Met’s productions over the years, and I haven’t been bored once."
Hmm. I mean, what do you say to something like that? The alarm bell went off for the second time – I should have ended the conversation there and then, politely but firmly. I didn’t. I’m an idiot.
A person who sees all of the operas in the repertoire and hasn’t been bored once is a very unusual person – to say the least. Some of those spotlights aren’t functioning properly. I mean, really. I mean, out of every forty movies, some are bound to be a bit boring, if only a little bit. Two dozen books must contain a tedious passage or two. Opera as a genre is no different. The law of averages, you know.
I picked up on that – I explained, very politely, that the seminar wasn’t for him. He was too much of an expert. Sorry.
He said, "Show me that flyer."
I did, and I’m sorry.
He glanced at it. Then he inquired condescendingly, "So what do you tell your audience?"
I started (again) to explain. I mentioned that a person can be taught a whole lot of things, such as counterpoint, harmonization ...
He interrupted me again. He said,
"I have a very good music education."
The alarm went off for the third time. Why did he feel that I absolutely had to know the degree of his educational prowess at that point? Did he imagine it would elevate him in my eyes, or make me feel inferior?
I got back to the beginning of the sentence. "You can teach a person anything – counterpoint, orchestration, harmonization, voices, modulations, dynamics, the circle of fifths, but you cannot teach someone how to compose a melody. Melody constitutes the "art" part in music. A musician can only call himself an opera composer if he can dash off any number of melodies at will. A good opera calls for ... "
I should have stopped there, after finishing the intro. I didn’t. I went on, moving swiftly (I thought) towards the punch line.
He interrupted me again.
"Can you name some operas that don’t have melodies?" he asked, sounding contemptuous and dismissive. "Do such operas exist?"
He threw me off – again. A man who goes to see operatic performances indiscriminately should know ... well ... I named the first title that crossed my mind, "Lulu."
"Are you saying," he asked with dripping contempt, "that there are no melodies in Lulu?"
"That’s what I said," I said. "There are no melodies in Lulu."
Well, when all is said and done – that’s something a person who thinks of himself as an expert should know – after all, it is a well-established fact that the author of Lulu specialized in atonal music.
"You’re wrong," he said. "You’re wrong," he repeated, qualifying it with an expletive which, for whatever reason, did not seem to come naturally to him.
He stepped away and, ripping up the brochure very demonstratively, threw it in a trash can.
"Fine," I said. "If there are any melodies in Lulu, why don’t you hum one for me."
With even greater contempt than before, he said,
"A melody does not have to be hummable."
Right. Water does not have to be wet. Presidential candidates do not have to be intelligent (the results are before us). Everything’s relative.
He walked away. Stopping once, he turned and said,
"You’re lucky I ripped it up. I should have reported you."