If anyone is looking for a sign that opera is on the verge of a big change they need to look no further than the launch party for Joyce DiDonato’s new album, Stella di Napoli. Not surprisingly, it has made huge international waves not only for its quality, but its uniqueness as well. It is a set of unheard and forgotten songs from the 19th Century by prolific composers like Rossini and Donizetti. However, it’s not so much the album’s content that have turned heads these past few weeks, rather it’s the location DiDonato chose to hold the party. Under the Sputnik-inspired, Swarovsky chandeliers of the Met? Nope. At the recently saved and rejuvenated San Diego Opera? Guess again. In the center of Napoli? Wrong. Loft Opera, a tiny but innovative new opera company in Brooklyn, received the call of lifetime: opera’s darling, superstar mezzo wanted to honor Loft’s ardent, avante-garde company with a concert performance of her new album.
You can pick your jaw up now. But why Loft? Well, it is Brooklyn – perhaps the universe’s epicenter for everything hip. But this goes beyond trying to sell an album. This is an acknowledgement from the top tier that a shift in the identity of opera is not only necessary, but is already happening. Moreover, DiDonato indirectly makes it acceptable in the eyes of those who believe that the last century of opera performance is the only way to go; with taste buds merely able to palate that which is grand.
DiDonato uses her status generously and responsibly. In one simple gesture she shows the world that she supports the growth of new companies and innovative new places – big or small. There are not many other forces out there that are doing the job as well. The media is always outdating opera, even when they don’t mean to. For example, on Tuesday the Wall Street Journal posted a blog on Speakeasy on this very topic. Pia Catton summed up the events nicely, but in her attempt to weave a recurring pop-culture theme with the hip atmosphere of Loft she trivializes the connection that DiDonato tries to make in her comparisons of opera, arts and eras. Why is it surprising that Ms. DiDonato refers to the Beatles or Warhol’s factory? Could it not just be that a beautiful, sexy and talented singer liked the look of a Hollywood-style dress enough to feature it on the cover of her album and that, like most conversationalists do to emphasize a point, relate an unknown but important subject to that of a popular and historically significant subject. If Ms. DiDonato had been coached on how to best promote her new album and was trained to connect to a pop-culture paradigm then one would have to believe names like The Strokes, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, and Spencer Tunick would have graced her tongue. Instead, this deceptively harmful prose, which is laden in the media’s handling of the classical arts, only serves to separate the form even more. It creates a sense of surprise and border between the reader and the artist. Why distance it? For, if opera’s due credit were given, we’d find that it is more avante-garde, more innovative and perhaps more risqué when compared to any other popular form. It needs no such qualification through prose, but merely to be talked about in a relaxed, modern tone.
We applaud you Ms. DiDonato for using your stardom in a generous way. Such public acts seem to be working as Joshua Bell even did such a thing in Union Station this week playfully giving a second chance to the thousands that passed him by years back when he performed there unannounced. Needless to say, he had onlookers in a tizzy. I’ll bet you’re curious if there are tickets available for Loft’s big night this Friday. Well, maybe you can be one of the lucky ones to score a ticket to such an internationally curious, yet intimately plugged-in occasion.
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