Saturdays of the Future: 6. Opera, the Treble Clef in PEPS

From now on, I am going to alternate between Thursday and Saturday articles. One week I will write a Breening Thursday article, and the next I will write a Saturday of the Future article. For this week, I am going to discuss my love of opera, my concern for its future, and how PEPS aims to help.

Since I was about ten years old, I have known that I want to be an opera singer. I have been singing since I was four years old, but I sang primarily musical theatre songs. However, I began studying privately with a college vocal professor when I was seven, and he taught opera as well as musical theatre. I was initially opposed to the idea of classical singing, but he gradually introduced some Italian arias into my repertoire. Within a few years, I loved opera arias and art songs so much that I only wanted to sing classical music. I knew I wanted to be an opera singer.

As I continued my studies, and my younger sister, Rebekah, also pursued operatic singing, our family began attending opera. As we did, we began to realize that not all opera productions were traditional and authentic. We soon learned that opera was being modernized, altered, and generally deviated from its traditional form. Although I did not initially like that idea, I did not immediately know how horrific the effects of such changes were. We soon encountered the devastating effects of modernization, which is called Regietheater and comes from Germany.

In 2013, we learned that the Metropolitan Opera was going to produce my favorite opera, Giulio Cesare, in April. We were thrilled at the chance to see this masterpiece by George Frideric Handel live. Although we knew that the setting was being somewhat modernized, we had no idea how much it was going to be changed. We flew all the way to New York City, and we were appalled by what we saw. The setting had not been clearly changed from ancient Egypt to a definite modern era. Instead, every scene or character seemed to be in a different setting. Caesar wore a British red coat over a Roman gold breastplate. First, Cleopatra was dressed in an Indian, peacock-like outfit, then she was wearing a black flapper dress from the 1920s! Sesto was wearing trousers and a vest, and Curio was wearing a red coat with a kilt. Supposedly, the director was drawing from the British invasion of India for inspiration, since he saw similarities between that event and the Roman invasion of Egypt during which the opera is supposed to be set. In almost every one of her eight solos, Cleopatra and her two handmaids were dancing! It was not even refined dancing. During complicated, refined Baroque arias, an ancient Egyptian queen was doing a mixture of Bollywood dancing, hip hop, and insanity. On top of that, her brother was doing gymnastics, and so were chorus members. In addition, the production was filled with crude innuendos, lewd humor, and gory violence. This production made the average pre-Code film from Warner Bros. look refined, subtle, and sometimes even decent!

This production truly opened our eyes to the reality of opera in this modern generation. Not just the major opera companies are ruining opera. Practically every professional opera company in America is changing classic operas from their traditional forms. The huge companies change the settings, story-lines, and text languages of most operas. While smaller companies usually do not actually update the settings of operas, they add modern humor, costumes, and staging, which frequently are inappropriate and improper. Thus, true purists like us never go to see opera, since we know we will be disappointed and offended.

Why do opera companies modernize operas? I think the answer is simple. They are failing financially, so they are trying to compete with Hollywood to draw new audiences. Opera has traditionally been a form of high art which is reserved for the elite and wealthy. It was considered “high brow,” and common people oftentimes did not like it, since they did not understand it. The opera crowd was composed of unashamed snobs who had no desire of sharing the art with the uncultured masses. Under this snobbery, opera remained pure and flourished. However, as the post-Code years progressed, Americans became so conditioned by the trash that Hollywood offered that they stopped appreciating opera at all. Of course, opera has never been a wildly successful business. It never could make the huge fortunes movies can. When opera earnings really began to fail, though, opera companies did not attempt to cultivate new, young talent which would inspire a new generation of opera lovers. They resorted to cheap, vulgar modernizations of old works which they had no right to change. Like Hollywood in the pre-Code and post-Code years, the opera industry, driven by small earnings, resorted to shock tactics to draw audiences. However, like Hollywood during the fore-mentioned periods, it began to drive away traditionalists, moralists, and families with young children by doing this.

Opera has never been an art form which is geared toward children, but most traditional operas, if produced properly, are not inappropriate for young people. I do not mean to say that every work in the classic opera repertoire would receive the PCA seal of approval from Joseph Breen. Many operas contain violence and amorous immorality. However, most of this would not be understood if no translation was provided, since it is primarily in the libretti. Modernized operas contain vulgarity and obscenity which is acted out. Opera companies know that their audience, which is primarily composed of elderly people, is dying, so they are trying to draw younger audiences with their risque productions. In the process, they are cutting out the huge audience which Hollywood also insists on cutting out: children.

As an opera student with a high set of moral standards and strict views on artistic purity and traditionalism, I have realized that I am training myself for an industry in which I can have no career. Thus, for a few years, I contemplated starting an organization which would aim to bring back pure, traditional opera. I contemplated calling it the the Pure Opera Preservation Society (POPS), but we soon acknowledged the need for a similar organization in regards to ballet, which is slowly headed in the same direction. Thus, I considered the Pure Arts Preservation Society, which would encompass both. I soon decided that I liked the name and acronym of the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society (PEPS), but I did not take action to start it. When I learned about the Code, the whole entertainment world had a clear picture in my mind. Modern Hollywood, without the guidance and supervision of the Code and the Production Code Administration, is polluting and destroying American moral standards, and other forms of entertainment, including opera, ballet, and the theater, are striving to compete with similar levels of blueness. If the Code were brought back to Hollywood, films would be clean again, and the general moral tone of society would be raised. I can’t believe that opera, ballet, and the theater could continue with their present levels of vulgarity and obscenity if Hollywood were producing clean, Code films. Society would no longer tolerate such content. With this idea in mind, Rebekah and I founded the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society in October of 2016.

I decided that now I should tell my readers more about the bigger impact that PEPS hopes to have on the entertainment industry. My love for opera is the reason for the treble clef in the PEPS symbol. It is also the reason that this organization is not called something like the Bring Back the Code Society. Opera is dying, since it is trying to revive its health by taking poison. What it needs is fresh, young talent and clever, new productions which follow the traditional guidelines while adding some interesting, original staging. If you want to tell Peter Gelb, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, that audiences want traditional, pure opera, sign this petition here: https://petitions.moveon.org/sign/bring-back-traditional This generation deserves a chance to see live opera in its unadulterated form. Of course, we need your support to achieve true purity in all entertainment, so I ask you to please follow PEPS, sign our petition, and share our goals on social media. Thank you for your support!

Follow PEPS to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!

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