I haven’t been posting as much lately, what with the demands of graduate school and such, but occasionally a story happens that demands a response. No, it’s not about the Donald Trump Show, the ignominious return of the Duggars to television, the death of Mother Angelica, or whatever thing Pope Francis is doing. This story is much more important: Kathleen Battle is returning to the Metropolitan Opera:
Out of all the things I’ve written about on this blog, the post that continues to generate the most traffic is “In Defense of Kathleen Battle.” Some opera group on Facebook must have posted to it at some point, because one day that post went quasi-viral and got something like three hundred hits in one day. I see that traffic to that post has spiked today, no doubt in response to the Met’s announcement that Battle will be performing her Underground Railroad concert next year. The linked NYT article has 123 comments, which for an article about classical music, is pretty impressive. Clearly, Battle still brings out people’s emotions, both for and against her.
I can’t say I’m surprised that Battle has been invited back to the Met, because the problems the company has been suffering under Peter Gelb’s direction have been well-documented. Gelb has tried to bring the “regietheater” style productions that are so common in Europe (notice I don’t say “popular”) to the United States, with very mixed results. While the Met: Live in HD performances seem to be solid moneymakers, attendance at the physical Met is down. Love her or hate her, Battle knows how to attract and audience, and having a “reputation” can actually be a plus in the otherwise stodgy world of classical music.
To return to a theme in my first post on the subject, I do think that a lot of the venom directed at Battle is racially based. How dare a black woman from Portland, Ohio think she can be an opera star! And not just an opera star but a diva of the likes of Callas (who was totally different than Battle)? You know the reason Battle behaved like that was because she was ghetto, right? Clearly, no one taught her that she was supposed to be deferential towards her “betters” and “stay in her place.”
I say bullshit to all this.
The very fact that Battle has been able to keep working and maintain her fan base despite being “sinbinned” from the opera world shows her dedication to her craft. Remember if you will that once Callas left opera, she became “rich and useless,” as I call it. People can debate all day how and why Callas’ vocal decline happened, but it’s not like she filled her life with anything useful, unless you count her fruitless pursuit of Aristotle Onassis.
If you’ve ever watched a Met: Live in HD recording, you’ll know they’re all like “Renée, you’re so fabulous!” and “Debbie, you’re so amazing!” But seriously? That’s boring. No one wants to hear/see that. If you aren’t whipping your hair back and forth like you’re “Miss Thang,” you’re doing the opera diva thing wrong. That’s part of the allure of opera; is it the highest of the high arts or just another superficial sleazefeast? The answer is that it’s both. I mean, most opera plots are sordid love stories. However, with opera, you can indulge in those sordid love stories and feel snobby about it in a way that you wouldn’t if you were watching the same plotline playing out on a reality show. Yes, there’s a degree of artistry in opera that’s missing from something like “Teen Mom 2” but both can be unvarnished looks at the underbelly of human nature, and those observations extends to the casts.
There’s already a lot of buzz about Battle’s concert, which will be in November. I’d like to go, but somehow I’m doubtful that I’ll be able to get tickets. At this point, If I could only get nosebleed tickets, I’d gladly them. It will be the same program Battle did at UGA that I saw almost two years ago, but given how I had anaphylaxis at the time, you can see why I’d want to see the concert in a more or less normal state.
To all the Battle haters out there, I’ll agree with Joseph Volpe and say that she isn’t a Callas, because Kathleen Battle never had those screechy high notes Callas did. Yes, I just went there. You’re welcome.