Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to the La Bohème Future

So this weekend I did something kinda fancy. I went to the opera, namely "La Bohème" performed by the Canadian Opera Company.

Now I've heard that admitting to like this crowd-pleasing opera is, for highbrows, kinda shameful. But I really liked it—in addition to being a major visual spectacle in this production, there was plenty of material therein for one to consider the portrayal of artists in popular culture.

For one, the portrayal of artists—like painters, poets and even lady-textile artists—in La Bohème, written in the 1890s, pretty closely mirrors the way that artists are often portrayed today in film and television. That is to say, poor, passionate and living lives of sometime scandal. (Can it really be all that long aways from Rodolfo's Bohemian garrett to Rufus's Brooklyn loft on Gossip Girl? OK, so he's not burning his guitars for heat, but the idea is there.)

I know "Rent" basically updated this opera to the 1990s, but it would be fun to see it adapted today onstage, everyone running around with laptops and cellphones. Of course, I'm also well aware of the fact that according to recent studies, many Canadian artists are dirt poor. That came to mind too, as well as the fact that poverty in one's present day is never perceived as quite as romantic as poverty of the past eras.

Also, I really enjoyed thinking during the performance about the way "low" arts become "high" over time. Oh, it's an old old critical chestnut, that one, but it's one that's still incredibly powerful in terms of class and cash. Back in the 1890s and prior, the opera was a form of popular entertainment. Now it's mega-highfalutin and costs megabucks. As the exhibition Surreal Things at the AGO details, even to work for the ballet was considered artistically selling out, perhaps just as much as creating custom graphics for Microsoft or Wal Mart might be today. But now the ballet signifies discernment and elevated aesthetic taste.

I do wonder, for instance, if a century from now the upper classes will pay big money to see reruns of Lost and yes, Gossip Girl, or perhaps to see related plays or exhibitions. Or if owning an early millennium No Frills bag might be considered in prestigious.

If you've got any aesthetic-sociological predictions to call dibs on, I look forward to hearing 'em.

Image of players from the COC's La Boheme from its website


Valentin Diaconov said...

We'll die, and the world will be an uglier place. That's my social/aesthetic prediction.

L.M. said...

Next week you should go to the ballet and listen to the dancers thump as they hit the floor.

(when I was young I was outraged to find that they weren't actually weightless)

Leah Sandals said...

Hm, Valentin. Your prediction seems a little... specific. Could you broaden somewhat?

LM - you mean ballet dancers weigh something???

Valentin said...

Ah, that was just some general silliness on my part. But come to think of it, I'm at pains to predict anything here. And I thought about this before. What part of today's mass culture could end elite? Yours is a good try - about Lost - but still, the DVD is several million copies, accessible to anyone, how could you possibly make that elite? You pose an interesting question to which I can't figure an answer.

Leah Sandals said...

Oh, no, I really appreciate your reponse, Valentin, I was just being silly too.

It's true, how could TV or DVDs ever be elite? The technology would have to die out on a mass level and then somehow be available to only a few.

I guess that's where live performance and one-off objects kinda take the elitism cake!

How about in Russian examples?