A few weeks back, I posted a brief comment about being invited to view an operetta. Overall I enjoyed the performance, a mixture of dance, opera and orchestral music in a more intimate environment than a concert hall, but it reminded me of my main issue with opera (and other music forms).
For you to grasp the extent of my dilemma, we’re going to have to jump back into the wayback machine once more. I’ll bring the CD’s (which will transform into cassettes and LP’s as we travel further back into the past).
If I were to pick a phrase to describe my musical influences as I grew up (somewhere past “Rock-a-bye baby” but before “Love Stinks”), it would be “I was old before I was young”.
My earliest musical introduction was classical music, a vast array provided via my Dad and his home stereo and car 8-track (gasp!). This was augmented by a terrific local radio station, WTMI 93.1 (which has since had six or seven evolutions, none of which held on longer than the original — or so my dimmed memory believes). I carried this musical genre throughout most of my late single digits unto today.
This early focus on orchestral works led me to prefer music based on the melodies. All my future music choices and preferences followed from that basic origin. If a song had a good tune that captured my ear, I liked it. The lyrics were not only a relatively unimportant part of the equation, but they often times became a distraction, as we’ll see later.
During my teens, I grew to enjoy another local station featuring old music, though centuries passed between the artists’ births. Waxy 106 (105.9) was an oldies station featuring mostly 60’s music (it was only the 70’s at the time, after all), with an occasional dip into a format appropriate 50’s tune. Once again, this was augmented by Dad’s stereo collection, featuring artists like The Association (and Mom did her part with records by The Drifters and such).
When I hit college, at the renowned party school of University of Florida, I had a vast collection of classical albums and some soft ballad artists (Jackson Browne, Billy Joel, Neil Diamond), much of which might be called “easy listening” in today’s classification.
During my time at college, of course, my friends felt compelled to “free” me from my ties to “fogey” music and introduce me to “real” music. Depending on the friend, that might mean Zeppelin, J. Geils, AC/DC, Pink Floyd or any of the popular rock bands of that era (late 70’s).
After leaving college, I skipped the 80’s mostly. My head was down working and when I did come up for air, I didn’t find anything particularly tonally exciting about the music being produced. In fact, most of the songs (and performers) sounded indistinguishable.
By the time the 90’s hit, I was primarily a classical, oldies and “classic rock” listener. As the more pulse driven, less melodic tunes of the 90’s developed, I followed less and less current music. Mostly because I simply couldn’t hear the words clearly. For whatever reason, the newer, grating, harsher or high-speed lyrics jarred with my more traditional ear and I simply didn’t care to listen, even to those songs where I found a back beat or tune that appealed to me. It wasn’t the content, so much as it was the delivery.
Which brings me right back to my visit to the operetta. The reason I enjoyed musicals (including operas like The Mikado) was that they were in English. I could actually understand what the performers were doing and singing. Beautiful and powerful as Verdi and Wagner might be, without knowing what was going on, I simply couldn’t get into the music.
Absent me studying three or four European languages, it’s likely I’ll never truly enjoy opera beyond the requisite famous overtures (musical introductions). On the plus side, as I said above, I may not know to quit when the fat lady sings…since I can’t tell if she’s singing that it is truly over!