Opera stages a resurgence in Berkshires

Opera is a fascinating art form. It is part of our culture, and while most people eschew it, those who love it, really love it.

To some, it identifies the rarefied cultural group to which they belong, sort of a cultural “Cosa Nostra” (our thing.) While some think the art form isn’t unlike “screaming in a hot room,” there are dedicated, passionate people who will pay hundreds of dollars for a single seat at the Met. I feel badly for these folks because there is a fairly good chance that James Levine, who couldn’t make Tanglewood all summer because of health problems, could curtail his Met season as well. I certainly hope not.

We know the brilliant maestro has two of the most demanding jobs in the music universe, as the head baton wielder for both the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony. If he is too fragile to do one job, does it make sense for him to have to deal with two? Why not disappoint a lot of people instead of a smaller group?

For those who don’t understand sarcasm and were about to write a letter, the last sentence was dripping with it. There are those who believe that Levine has introduced too much opera into the Tanglewood schedule and that attendance at the concerts could be improved if the BSO sticks to instrumental offerings.

We will leave it to people like Mark Volpe at the BSO to figure out what to do about that. All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not him and I’m glad he’s smarter and better paid than I am. In this case, he’ll have to be.

It is clear that some folks see opera as one of the most important ingredients in their lives. In addition to paying a fortune to attend the opera in person, many are going to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to see the opera in high-definition presentation.

The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield wanted to play the Met, too, but apparently the Mahaiwe had territorial rights. The Colonial did experiment with the “La Scala” opera, but it was met with less-than-stellar attendance. Maybe in Pittsfield they prefer American-produced opera.

Now, however, in addition to the Mahaiwe, other players are being allowed into the game. Of course, WAMC has always carried the Met broadcast season. Soon, technology may let people listen and even watch and maybe have subtitles on their computer screens so that we can all follow what’s happening. In fact, most Americans have a hard time with foreign languages and will need this help.

Just the other day, I heard from Richard Stanley, the wizard who brought the Triplex to Great Barrington and the Beacon Cinema to Pittsfield. He and his manager, John Valente, are delighted they will be bringing the Met to Pittsfield. Now the opera-loving culture vultures won’t have to drive to Great Barrington; they’ll be able to hear the music in high-def at the Beacon.

There are those who believe that Pittsfield can’t or won’t support the high arts.

I strongly disagree.

With the Colonial, Barrington Stage and the Beacon, there is no doubt Pittsfield will rise again, at least culturally. Stanley makes it clear that the all-digital Beacon Cinema was always supposed to be a lot more than a movie house.

Unfortunately, the first opera in the series will be “Das Rheingold” by Richard Wagner.

Wagner, you will remember, was a genius but an anti-Semitic scoundrel. His music is so good that one can only suspect he was the devil in disguise. Hitler acknowledged his debt to Wagner on several occasions and said you couldn’t understand national socialism unless you knew Wagner, who had written one of the most anti-Semitic tracts of all, “Jews in Music.”

The usual crowd certainly will write letters saying that Wagner’s anti-Semitism had nothing to do with his musical genius, but that, too, is pathetic. They also will say, “They were all doing it then.” I have a relative who used to go to Bayreuth, the center of all things Wagner. He was entranced with Wagner’s music and was a charter member of a Brooklyn Holocaust Society. Oh boy!

But wait — it doesn’t stop there. Now we hear that the Clark will play the Metropolitan Opera in its own theater. When it rains, it pours (or at least it sings). I’m sure it won’t be long before we start experiencing the Met hit parade on the radio.

Hey, given a choice between contemporary hip-hop and opera, I’ll take great opera anytime.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/4/10

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