TV Experiments & ‘Taxpayers’ Money’
Every few years there’s an attempt to change people’s idea of what opera might be. I’m not much of a fan of long, impenetrable Wagnerian opera, or trippery-frippery Italian plots involving mistaken identities and dying courtesans. Some of the music is wonderful, of course, but too much is demanded of modern audiences who can’t relate to what are, these days, fairly abstruse concepts. To see proof of this, check out the audience at Covent Garden, even in the cheap seats; it’s rich, white and very old.
A few years ago Janet Street-Porter gamely commissioned a hoary old opera called ‘The Vampyr’ for TV, and revamped it (sorry) as a present-day tale of city bankers’ greed – I thought the result was pretty successful, but it’s interesting that a section of the public gets very exercised about ‘how our licence fee money is being spent’ and screams in horror whenever a cultural experiment is presented before them. I mean, I don’t yell every time the appalling ‘Top Gear’ team make more racist and homophobic jokes at my tax-expense (although I should).
So it was that Kombat Opera, the team who staged the brilliant, multi-award winning ‘Jerry Springer – The Opera’ came to do a TV series about social issues, sung in various operatic styles. This was a genuinely innovative show, but it was tucked away in the schedules and was never released on DVD by the BBC. And once again, the outrage at ‘wasting taxpayers’ money’ can be seen in the YouTube comments of incensed dims who would rather it was spent on ‘The X Factor’.
Yet, every now and again, the BBC has another bash at producing something weird and wonderful, and its diversification of channels has allowed it more outlets to find discerning audiences. The rest of this particular episode of Kombat Opera can be found on YouTube, where it has garnered hardly any hits. Clearly it’s a minority taste – it’s surprising how many people have an innate antipathy to any singing that happens away from a rock stage – and in times of recession tastes revert to the safe and bland, but there is always a place for the new and unexpected.