Sunday, November 1, 2009

Talent for What?

It all began when my colleague, SF Opera Examiner Cindy Warner, called my attention to the YouTube clip of a salesman at CarPhone Warehouse in Britain singing "Nessun Dorma" on Britain's Got Talent. I have never been a big fan of this kind of television programming in either the United States or the United Kingdom. At the risk of sounding too much like a sourpuss, I think I am beginning to home in on just why things like this rub me the wrong way. It comes down to the simple fact that neither the judges nor the audience are particularly serious about opera; and, for them, "Nessun Dorma" is nothing more than a World Cup anthem. I find myself reminded of the Knaben Wunderhorn poem, "Lob des Hohen Verstands" (Praise of Lofty Judgment), about a jackass called upon to judge a singing contest between a cuckoo and a nightingale. Lacking any other criteria, the "judge" awards the prize to the bird singing the loudest (the cuckoo). I suspect it was not by chance that Gustav Mahler selected this as one of the poems he would set to music, and it would not surprise me if this was one of his personal favorites. I do not begrudge either the Britain's Got Talent judges or their audience (who could barely hear the music for all of their cheering during the performance) their enthusiasm; and, if the guy in this particular video clip benefits from that enthusiasm, I wish him the best. If he is serious about singing opera, he may be able to apply his newly advantageous position to getting himself a good teacher; and that would be a win for all of us!

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