Wanted: Comic Opera, Must Be *Funny*

This piece in The Times suggests that opera is way too pompous and that it needs some decent comic works for a change. I couldn’t agree more, though I hardly think that the piece’s proposed topic (from this description it looks like today’s usual tired, pandering celebrity rubbish) promises to be especially appealing.

Some of my best nights at the opera have been at fabulous comedies, with sparkling texts, gorgeous music, great singers and very clever staging. Mozart, Donizetti (La fille du Regiment took the biscuit), Rossini, Verdi’s Falstaff, Offenbach (naughty!) and Johann Strauss spring to mind. Oh, and Gilbert & Sullivan, anyone? 

The trouble is…as any screenwriter will tell you, comedy is the single most difficult thing to write! It’s an art we’ve lost not only in opera but also largely on TV – I can’t believe some of the things that pass themselves off as ‘comedy’, though was certainly in stitches over the brilliant Outnumbered. Real comedy – to generalise appallingly – is original, fast, topical, off-the-wall and above all has a very light touch.

That’s hard enough to do on TV, let alone in an opera where, unless your librettist is terrifically clever (like Da Ponte, Boito or WS Gilbert), everything slows to half-pace because words take much longer to sing than to speak. And if they are to be funny they need to be heard. So you need brilliant singers too.

When it works, it really works – and I still haven’t seen Jerry Springer: the Opera because it was sold out and I couldn’t get in. But yes, we need more of them, they need to be good and they need to be created for opera with all its specifics. There’s certainly a prejudice in the opera world against having fun. A great pity. 

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