How to make misery interesting

I´ve just been down in the rehearsal room where Massenet´s hero Werther has been dying since 10:00 this morning. The atmosphere is brisk and deeply practical. Tenor Edgaras Montvidas is worried about his neck – all that last-gasp craning upwards to kiss Charlotte before his final breath expires on a D natural. Charlotte, our mezzo-soprano, Catriona Morison, Scottish and no-nonsense, is concerned that her corset may get stuck while she is trying to support his head.

Have no doubt, when Bergen National Opera´s new production of Werther opens on March 16th, we will all be in tears at the extraordinary trauma of the last scenes, at Charlotte´s journey of emotional self-discovery and at Werther´s ultimate sacrifice. Truly theatrical depictions of misery are hard to sustain – especially over the four acts of an opera which starts with innocence and a troupe of jolly children and ends with suicide. Charlotte and Albert, dutifully engaged to be married, have barely exchanged a hug when Werther appears, all poetry and angst, and she is thrown into life-disrupting confusion, heartbreak and self-questioning. Two hours plus is a long time in which to look soulful and fascinating. And as most of us know, misery is unkind to its victims. We are not at our most appealing when red eyed, pink nosed and quivering with passive aggression.

And of course animated misery on stage is hard to achieve in an opera without sickly consumption or blazing rows, some spectacular if unlikely misunderstandings or at least a distracting trip to the underworld. There have been countless productions of Ariadne auf Naxos in the last seasons – not one of them has really defeated the monotony of the eponymous heroine´s moping amongst her Nymphs and dreaming of death. Mimi, in La Boheme keeps it fairly short, expiring with some elegantly timed wheezing, surrounded by her weeping Bohemian friends. Courtesan Violetta fades gracefully – more coughing – reunited at last with her distraught lover. Verdi´s Desdemona barely gets a word in edgeways as Otello vents his rage and grabs her throat.

But my favourite angst-occasion was when playing in the orchestra for a European company best left unnamed, when the baritone, rushing on stage to announce further disaster to two weeping sopranos, was subject to perhaps the worst directorial decision in decades. It involved a dog, a table insufficiently fixed to the floor and a stage hand who changed profession rapidly after the event. Matters were not helped by an assistant conductor who had no doubt intended to embrace his most shining hour but who left the orchestra pit red with shame as opposed to triumph. The dog it was that had its day.

The director had decided that the scene lacked drama. The sobbing ladies were tedious, and the baritone, on his solo entrance, lacked gravitas. What better than to give him, an older gentleman in a tweedy suit and cape, a canine companion? Auditions were held for a suitably un-stage struck mutt, and eventually a large basset hound turned up slobbering a little but totally uninterested in theatrical life. Rehearsals proceeded. Stage management looked nervous but the dog was so lethargic, so indifferent, so floppy that anxieties subsided. I remember that it had a sign round its neck saying “it is forbidden to feed this animal”.

At the appointed moment, the baritone had to run on to the stage dragging the dog on a lead. He had to console, briefly, the ladies who raised their heads mournfully to ask what has happened. The baritone then tied the dog to the table where it snuffled and looked hopefully at the sopranos as if to say ‘any chance of a biscuit?’.  The baritone then embarked on a long mopey aria about some depressing saga in a wood when he was hunting. Faintly energized, all four then left the stage.

All this went fine until the dog went sick and a substitute had to be found. Now it was clear, from moment one, that this animal had different aspirations. Its eyes sparkled and mouth hung open with that gummy doggy smile much loved by old ladies and photographers. There was little time for rehearsal and Casper (his name) seemed genuinely taken with the baritone.

So the ladies wept and sang and wiped their eyes for just long enough before the audience began peering at the programme from fatigue, when the baritone and Casper made their entrance. No dragging this dog. Casper frisked onto the set, tail upright and waving, as though about to audition for Dogs Got Talent. The baritone tied him to the table leg and began to sing. Casper cocked his head and looked attentive. 

The ensuing duet was extraordinary. The dog took the upper lines with a clear, vibrato-less mezzo-soprano. The baritone, to his credit, sang on, while desperately trying to untie the dog from the table-leg. Casper, meanwhile, was trying to drag the table front stage. The conductor, urging the strings to play louder with one hand, was frantically signaling to stage management to get the animal off. Eventually a stage hand, having donned a cape and waving a branch – forest scene, remember – came on to the stage a little as though assisting Birnam Wood on its way to Dunsinane. The dog put up a fair resistance and sang all the way to the wings.

In truth, I don´t remember what happened next. Any weeping came from the orchestra pit where the players had long since given up and had got to the stage of mirth where breathing had become difficult. Maybe there was an interval. Someone else conducted the second half.

Werther, be assured, features no animals, and our Werther, Charlotte and Albert have no need of stunts to make their performance astounding. And great music, like Massenet, sweeps into the corners of the soul.

Meanwhile, rehearsals for the day have finished, and discussion on necks and corsets have turned into cast party plans for the weekend and how Karl Lagerfeld´s enigmatic cat Choupette is dealing with her grief. Someone is recalling a feline duet from Rossini. I´d recommend singing along.

Mary Miller

25th February 2019

Future sounds from Bergen

Oslo, minus several degrees, the landscape monochrome with luminous streaky skies. Bergen National Opera is in the capital at Operaen with a fine mix of nationalities and three Nordic composers to develop new operas for premiere in March.

This morning we slither over hard-packed ice to the rehearsal room to work on Øyvind Mæland´s new opera – one of three short works which Bergen National Opera has commissioned for Borealis Festival. The violinist is missing, the bass player is deep in discussion with conductor Steffen Kammler, and the singers are practising small swooping sounds and spitting consonants. Øyvind´s little opera is about tiny emotions – twitchy moments of apprehension, compassion, embarrassment – and the music is lucid, varied, and wonderfully eccentric.

Yesterday, Rebecka Sofia Ahvenniemi´s opera – a ‘trailer’ involving Beyoncé and female power – provoked fierce conversation. Ahvenniemi herself, an animated elf of fizzing energy, has a way with words: “Guitar” she says “you have an important role in creating confusion at this point.” The guitarist plucks with enthusiasm. Rebecka´s music here is full of collisions. Baroque vocal lines underline splintering string sounds, and Beyoncé song quotes croon over Straussian harmony. “Let´s go into this late-Romantic porridge a little earlier” she says briskly, adjusting her score.

In the canteen, singers from Operaen´s in-process production of Bellini´s Norma – the director is upcoming young Norwegian star – are noisily at lunch. A large baritone in fur, cape, Tolkien-like garb, is munching salad and barking on his phone. Long straggly hair, large boots and facial hair abound, along with Hollywood blondes and some startling make-up. Meanwhile the ballet corps are fiddling with their feet and giggling – other than a tiny ballerina who is crying quietly in the corner. Our guest BNO director, Sjaron Minailo, is wrangling cheerfully with dramaturg Gaea Schoeters. “How can you ask the composers about their ‘point of urgency’” says Gaea, rolling her eyes “it´s such a nineties question”. Sjaron mimes indignation “Really? Well how do we put it for our new cool age? Where´s the edge? I want to know their critical message.”

He had asked this of all of the writers at yesterday´s session. Our third composer, the quiet, thoughtful Lars Skoglund, had talked about how his opera – which takes place in a library where three people, an awkward triangle, converse in fractured whispers – reflected his fascination about how conversations chose words in a space where texts line the walls. Rebecka had talked about female assertiveness – a line in her opera talks about Beyoncé wanting to ‘wear a suit, go to meetings’. Our only male singer present, Halvor Melien, a proud recent attendee at a Beyoncé concert, spoke up fiercely ‘What! I don´t recognise the male sexuality you´re talking about!’ and we hastily moved on to how new violin bowing might produce white noise, and how to scream elegantly “without sounding like a horse” says Halvor helpfully, recovering tranquillity.

On Day Two, Annelies Van Parys – award-winning Belgian composer whose Private View Bergen National Opera co-produced with seven European partners in 2016/17 and is now with us here as a mentor – is discussing microphone techniques with singers Elisabeth Holmertz  and Lore Lixenberg, Lars Skoglund is handing out revisions and Øyvind Mæland is doubling as rehearsal pianist. Ahvenniemi is in the canteen writing furiously.

Exciting times – to have three new works in development, each one brilliantly individual in its sound world, each one topical, each one visually distinctive, is remarkable. Don´t let´s worry about our future opera. It´s all in good hands.

Mary Miller

January 9, 2018

Händel and Humanity

 

In Grieghallen´s basement rehearsal room, figures in tattered grey sing Händel as they shuffle towards a table where soup is ladled from a vast battered pot. The scene is bleak. We are in Ireland – or it could be Norway – in some kind of timeless misery with freezing weather and famine, where the country´s distant officials have long ceased to care, and where the church is struggling between old-school hell-fire authority and its need to offer succour.

So, here at Bergen National Opera we are creating a staged version of The Messiah for Festspillene i Bergen in a special edition by Malcolm Bruno, created from the original material which Händel took to Dublin for the oratorio´s premiere. The director, Netia Jones, acclaimed for her layering of stage direction, film and live video, is talking with passion and extraordinary clarity about the circumstances in which the oratorio was first performed: about the text – its writer, Charles Jennens was a devout Anglican and unflinching believer in scriptural authenticity – and about 18th century English snootiness towards a religious work being intended for the theatre. She talks about hypocrisy, about rural communities where a fundamentalist priest thunders about divine retribution as his congregation sickens and starves, about political representatives turning their backs and returning to warm well-fed firesides, about Godly but kind folk with a belief in hope tending the needy. She muses on Händel, newly settled in London, writing music of genius at furious speed as public opinion turned against showy Italian opera towards a near-craze for English-text oratorios.

But in creating the Messiah, Händel swerved from what had become his norm. For this new work, there were to be no highly dramatic roles for the singers; no individual narrator and no quoted speech. Though Jennens didn´t intend his text to be a dramatization of Jesus´s life and teachings, he did want to present (as opposed to explore) what he described as the “Mystery of Godliness” through extracts from the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, and from the Psalms in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

For Netia Jones, the Messiah tells a deeply human story. The four soloists can hardly be said to have theatrical roles as such, but their characters are distinctly drawn. Soprano Kateryna Kasper is an angelic voice, a figure of innocence and purity. Mezzo Renata Pokupic is a mother – a shy, little known member of the community with a very sick child for whom she is seeking help; urgent help, as he is stricken with typhus. Our tenor is a curate – a young, naïve, idealistic priest in his first parish, struggling with the seeming brutality of his Lord and the flickering questions which torture the basis of his faith. Meanwhile, fire, brimstone, Godliness and prejudice define our bass, an old fundamentalist priest with the Old Testament emblazoned on his brow, and anger surging in his heart at the sin of his parishioners who have brought such devastation upon themselves. The chorus personifies the village, a mix of kindness, lost hope, burning zeal and raw survival. We see them in church, in icy limb-freezing weather, and, at the soup kitchen.

So the atmosphere, in rehearsal, is extraordinary. It seems that we hear Händel´s music unfold for the first time. Freed from the bulging choral extravaganza of the British concert hall, the music seems at once extremely intimate and frighteningly spacious. We are working with Bjarte Eike´s Barokksolistene and the gut-stringed mewing sound with chittering harpsichord is acutely human. The compact chorus – a mix of our own fine Edvard Grieg Kor and Washington Cathedra´s elite Cathedra vocal ensemble – produces fantastic sounds: blazing, glowing, gasping, and what seems, at times, like an end of life breath.

There are tough questions both to Bjarte – for the singers, it´s not straightforward to follow a skittering violin bow, as opposed to a conductor´s baton – and to Cathedra´s Michael McCarthy whose beat leads the most complex, contrapuntal material. For this is chamber music on the move – hard lines to sing in ensemble while navigating all kinds of instructions on stage.

In the weeks to come, we move to Den Nationale Scene as the work takes shape for performance; from the Great Music Hall in Dublin 1742 premiere for charitable causes – prisoner debt and aid to hospitals – where because of over-crowding, the audience were requested to wear neither swords or hooped skirts – to London´s Covent Garden Theatre, where the reception was chilly (such exalted outpourings should surely be heard in a church) to a small, beautiful Norwegian theatre.

There, after weeks in a grey airless room, Handel will take the stage. And why his masterpiece has endured, through theological questioning, public adulation and disenchantment, multiple editions and orchestrations, overcharged performance and countless Christmas bawlings, will become gleamingly, movingly clear.

To Jennens´ words, Händel will spell out his own glory. In some way, we shall all be changed – by great music shown to us as humans, and by a staging of consummate humanity.

Mary Miller

5th May 2017

Il turco in Norwegia

Ilturco_nySelim_nett

“Wow” says Pietro Spagnoli, great Rossinian buffo baritone “we´re talking Rossini to Broadway!”

At Bergen National Opera, everyone is breathless from high kicks, razzle-dazzle, fancy moves and footwork. The dancers are sweating lightly, stretching their lycra-clad legs and fiddling with their feet. The chorus is gasping quietly and practising jerky movements as though searching for a wasp lost in their clothing – dance director Sean Curran´s routines are not, for sure, in their usual repertoire. The soloists are beaming and chattering in Italian by the coffee machine.

Welcome to Il Turco in Italia directed by American opera supremo Mark Lamos – a riotous combination of highly sophisticated ensemble, fabulous arias, touching moments and carefully choreographed mayhem.

Mark, along with designer George Souglides, last illuminated BNO in 2014 with Rimsky-Korsakov´s The Golden Cockerel – a Norwegian premiere which put Russian opera firmly on the Bergen map – and which created pictures never to be erased from memory: a golden cage shimmering above the stage with a jittering boy/bird as the eponymous cockerel; a wicked Eastern queen in a dazzling scarlet feather coat singing seductive lines to bewitch a foolish, doddering Tsar; a blasted landscape under a blood-red moon with ruined trees and a scattered, broken army. Unforgettable.

But Turco! It couldn´t be more different. Now, listen carefully – like most Italian opera, the plot is tortuous. We are at the seaside – maybe even in Pesaro, Rossini´s eccentric, enchanting home town. A poet, Prosdocimo, is looking for a story for his next libretto and in front of him, an interesting tale begins to unfold. Old Geronio (Spagnoli´s role) has a tiresomely flirtatious young wife Fiorilla, a girl troubled by a voracious need for male attention, preferably not from her husband. A Turkish ship sails in captained by the glamorous Selim – do not look to this opera for political correctness – and Fiorilla wastes no time. Meanwhile, Selim´s old girlfriend and a pack of gypsies are in hot pursuit. In the end, after a domestic ruction, a masked ball, a critical letter, it all resolves… How? You will just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, upstairs on Grieghallen´s third floor, a mix of Hungarian, Norwegian and German costume makers are draping bling onto delighted extra cast members. The clothes are outrageous, all froth, silk turbans, shocking pink trousers and bosomy dresses. There are harlequins in primary colours and pom-poms, crazy hats, and skirts the size of Victorian overmantels.

Along the corridor, Øystein is working with his puppets, little gesturing, weaving miniatures of the principal characters, clad in matching extravagant silks. Little Fiorilla is learning to stretch her wooden hand to slap mini Geronio. He is organising his dangling feet to swerve smartly away.

But right now, we have a half hour break. Spagnoli has taken his dog for a walk – he never travels without her – and our office has adopted her with somewhat soppy adoration. The dancers are outside smoking, and Fiorilla, Spanish soprano Sylvia Schwartz is on the phone to Rome, to her children´s nanny.

Mark is composing an email to the Metropolitan Opera, New York – they´ll revive one of his Verdi productions next year – and we are trying to catch our breath. We´ve just had cake for Mark´s birthday, and the sugar high compounds the atmosphere of overall exhilaration. In ten minutes, Rossini will swirl gloriously back on stage, the music will bewitch us and our toes will start to tap.

Broadway, Pesaro, Italy, Bergen – here we come, with the Norwegian premiere of an opera like no other. Bring your dancing shoes – isn´t that what the aisles are for? – and settle in for a night on the town, at the seaside, in the company of our cast of sparkling stars.

Mary Miller

11/03/2017

Farmers & Fiddles

Festivaldirectors_Mimi-nett

Planning for Norway’s quirkiest festival – Mimì Goes Glamping 2016

We are standing amidst chintz and gleaming crystal in the exquisite downstairs dining room at Åmot Operagard talking about slaughtering sheep. The evening sun is catching climbing strands of honeysuckle outside the window, we are drinking champagne and the group of Austrailan farmers currently visiting on a Grand Tour are not in the least concerned with ambience. Not for them any lyrical chat about fish leaping in fjords or limpid azure skies. No, they want to know about fencing and grain quotas. Fresh from days in Iceland, a landscape from which they have emerged a little bewildered – more different from Queensland one cannot imagine –  they are off at dawn to Oslo, then Stockholm. Then, bizarrely, Bejiing.

So talk about opera doesn’t quite hit the mark. We’re visiting our partners Steinar and Yngve to make final plans for Mimì Goes Glamping, our boutique and somewhat quirky festival of opera, drama, food, nature and all kinds of fun. The Australians listen politely as we explain about Sir Thomas Allen as artist-in-residence, young Norwegian stars in the making who will sing arias on boats on the water, and bonfires with fiddles and folk music. They escape, possibly with some sense of relief, to dinner upstairs. We hear them chattering happily – the beef is delicious – and no doubt discussing its butchery.

Next morning to Førde, to talk to the hotel about festival guests, free passes to the spa and a possible opera brunch. Norway’s hotel workers are on strike and are sitting playing cards in a jolly yellow tent outside. Sunnfjord Hotel’s management, currently running a family chain gang, look tired but seem immensely cheerful. The spa, it turns out, is enormous and designed for suitably sybaritic lounging – we look with some longing at marble-lined pools where the water steams gently, and huge windows give on to meadow. No chance – we are due at the Farmers’ Market where a chill wind is scudding round the stalls and the temperature is close to zero.

The region’s producers, busy setting out fish, cheese, home-cured meats, artisan chocolate and juices, are critical to Mimì’s success; while they will bring a fabulous market to the event and their produce will feed our guests and artists, we want to celebrate them more. In Førde centre, this morning’s range is astounding – salami from young goats, dark, rich berry syrups in glinting bottles, salmon cured in local herbs. Grills spit and spark with roasting lamb threaded on sticks with wild asparagus, the scented warmth curling fingers into the air. It is now threatening to snow. Harald is slicing home-dried lamb and singing lustily. Hurrah. We hire him straight away to entertain late-night at the bonfire.

We talk to Sunniva who makes cakes and has just bought a beautiful vintage red van from some obscure part of Poland which she will turn into a mobile shop. We order a Mimi chocolate from Janne and discuss a possible festival cocktail made from blackcurrant liqueur. I begin to jitter from large mugs of tar-like coffee.

At the Kulturskule we plan a new opera involving local singers in which Sir Tom will star as a troll, and discuss fanfares with Angedalen-Brunns Brass sextet, a group who play on vintage instruments and dress -for reasons a little unclear- as though they are resident in pre-war Yorkshire.

And, we devise our own distinctly eccentric version of Blind Date for the festival. By August we will have assembled a gleaming new Volvo estate (the local dealer is a sponsor), a large shiny blue tractor, and a wonderful ancient Buick, along with three very cheerful young singers. Pay 100 NOK, blind-pick a ticket and you have a 15 minute date with one of these fine vehicles and your very own diva. Just think: a gently stylish drive around glorious countryside with the wind in your hair, and music in your ears!

More meetings, more decisions and a long drive home. On the ferry we eat appalling sausages while discussing the day’s gourmet offerings, the music, the weather and the way forward. Arriving home in Bergen close to midnight, small boats plough out of the harbour. The light is still grey-pale and blue clouds rush north.

Sleep. Dreams of redcurrants and vintage trombones. And possibly a date with a tractor. Mimì’s going glamping. I can feel the joyful madness settle into my summer.

Mary Miller

Sir Thomas Allen to Mimì Goes Glamping

SirTom_nett

It’s such a pleasure and privilege that one of the opera world’s great treasures Sir Thomas Allen will bring a unique late-night show to Mimì Goes Glamping. Lucky us, lucky Norway!

But pity the poor journalist who tries to interview Sir Thomas Allen, our artist-in-residence at Bergen National Opera’s sparky summer festival Mimì Goes Glamping. Sir Tom, Britain’s most distinguished baritone, knighted by the Queen, awardee of practically every musical and vocal honour in Europe, star of everywhere from the Met to La Scala, now turned director is not prone to taking himself too seriously.

“Tell me, Sir Tom” said TV interviewer recently, wriggling a little in his chair “when you… er … re-embrace a role like Don Alfonso, is it hard to bring something fresh to the stage?”

“Oh no” grins Sir Tom “not when you’ve got a brain as small as mine…. Lucky to be singing anything at all at my age, actually….”

And so on. Ask about an opera, he’ll tell you a story about something hilarious that happened backstage. Ask about backstage, and you’ll get a ribald tale about the composer. But ask about making opera the art form more popular and expect an explosion.

Sir Tom is passionate about opera for everyone – in a speech at the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Awards he raged about ‘wet T-shirt string quartets’ and the promotion of ‘cutie’ opera stars as opposed to the development of the genuinely gifted through painstaking study. “I just want people to see opera for what it is” he says ” it doesn’t need to be popularised. It needs to be available!”.

Born in a Northern fishing village where almost every male family member worked at the local coal mine, he became a grammar school boy who sang but avoided school plays as being for ‘sissies’. Choirs were fine – part of the male voice choral tradition. The first member of his family to go away to college, he struggled with homesickness, rattled by the noisy swagger of his peers. But his voice pulled him forward. He became the college star, and the first of the important prizes followed. He sang in his first opera – Escamillio in Carmen- more by accident than design. The Queen was visiting the college, and the opera school was short of a baritone.

An extraordinary career has followed, paced by his own mix of outrageous talent and common sense. He turned down the mighty Herbert von Karajan in 1970’s because he “had a family and a mortgage and didn’t want to blow my voice on Verdi” – not reasons, one suspects, that von Karajan would begin to comprehend. But by the end of the decade he had left a regular job at London’s Royal Opera to embrace international stardom.

These days, in his early 70s, he is singing – still on glittering stages – teaching, painting and drawing, golfing, and a vital, vigorous champion for excellent performance. At Mimì Goes Glamping (and wow, we are so excited that the concept of our opera/activities in nature/great food festival tickled his imagination) he’ll treat us to an amazing late-night show where he’ll reminisce, sing and no doubt tell enchanting stories, and teach masterclasses to our young voices. And, true to his inner democracy, he’ll take part in our unique write-an-opera project with young singers and local choir members as….. Troll Murmartinstein, a beasty tyrant who eats small boys.

How good is that? No to von Karajan; yes to rural Norway! And some lucky journalist may even get a serious story.

www.mimigoesglamping.com

Learning to love bad taste

Published in Aftenposten, 4th April 2015

Isn´t it time we come clean and let go of the class wars, or at least allow ourselves to admire what we regard as bad taste.

A book described as ”the most important piece of music criticism of the last two decades” has just rolled purposefully off the press in a fine, shiny and expanded edition. By Canadian Carl Wilson, it examines not 21st century classical giants, but the writer´s own admitted prejudice. He hates Celine Dion. Wow, a brave admission. He says ”Her music strikes me as a bland monotony raised to a pitch of obnoxious bombast”. He rages about her song hit from Titanic winning an Academy Award, chosen above elegant, more fragrant, more downright well-crafted alternatives, saying ”As far as I knew… I have never even met anyone who liked Dion.”

Courageous words indeed – even if Dion´s local Quebec newspaper once described her as ’Miss Tupperware’. But Wilson is a decent man. He goes on to explore the singer´s all-consuming emotionalism, defines its fundamental schmaltz, and lends considerable generosity to his conclusion that Dion ”incarnates the woman who takes care of everybody but herself”. The cynic might add that this is all very well if you make millions doing so. Dion herself said, when interviewed ”My work is to enter people´s lives with my music. Do you think I want to disturb them when they bake? Do you think I want to disturb them when they make love? I want to be part of it”.

Dion goes for the heart

And so she is. At her stage shows, despite the awesome lustre of her delivery and the polished machinery of the event, she is perceived to sing directly to the tender spot in every heart; to the tiny hurt place we all nurse from childhood; to the brave person with the guts to love again. Go home, buy the CD. It´s not the same, but she´s still part of your baking.

To comment adversely on all of this is, of course, to risk noisy accusations of snobbery. It may sound patronising – distressingly so – but its still reasonable to claim that our taste in music has always been linked to class. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, after hefty research into everything from theatre and food to lipstick choices, reported that what we choose relates directly to our sense of social status; that we adopt the tastes of others to whose lifestyle we aspire is certainly old news.

The definitive Celine Dion fans, apparently, are isolated white middle-American, middle-aged women. So no surprise that Wilson says that Dion’s core fan group adore exactly the opposite of what he and his classical music critic cronies most fervently support. For sure no hard-core writer on Schoenberg really wants to be aligned with a daytime movie-watching widow from Nebraska.

We are all at it, obsessed with splitting music into narrow genres. Those obsessed with the aging rockers, the Micks and the Rods– and the wrinkled rockers themselves – endlessly disparage the latest wannabe Robbie Williams. Talk to supercool Scandi fans of Sigur Rós about Arctic Monkeys and risk withering disdain. The jazz world is closed to any but the fearless, and split into tiny arrogant factions. Classical music lovers (note ’lovers’ not ’fans’) divide, sneering, into all kinds of groups: to say that you love Shostakovich – unless you want to discuss minutely the polemics of his politics in the light of Putin´s present relationship with the Bolshoi – shows you to be rather naive. An interest in French Baroque excludes you totally from the Puccini ’canary-fanciers’ (the term was used only last week by a snotty bass-baritone). The Wagner aficionados bore everybody and we all know that the contemporary music lot are nerdy.

Time to ease up

Do we really? Isn´t it time we come clean and let go of the class wars, or at least allow ourselves to admire what we regard as bad taste. I loathe that Andrew Lloyd Webber´s easy melodies slide over me like bath foam, but I greatly admire his skill, his orchestration and the fastidiousness of his creative process. If you love late Beethoven quartets, must you feel guilty about a sneaky craving for Metallica? Should we examine that guilt, and ask what it is really about? Inherited parental attitudes? Something about soppy music/sloppy habits? A fear of raw emotion expressed too explicitly in tight trousers?

Let´s ease up, take the rock and classical labels away, and allow ourselves just to call it music. Art and entertainment may be very different but they can still be friends. Now excuse me while I slip off to listen to Schubert. After a stiff drink, I may even get to Celine.

Published in Aftenposten, 4th April 2015