Viswa Subbaraman

Opera and Orchestra Conductor

Thoughts on Avatar... and Opera (Part 1 - from blog)

First off – Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year!  Bon Annee!  Joyeaux Noël!  I hate to say it, but I truly love the quiet moments in the holidays to catch up on some blogging and some score study.  I’m not much of a vacation person, I guess.  I know I am juggling a bunch of threads right now – the Michael Kaiser Houston visit, thoughts on Wagner, and thoughts on Beethoven.  I promise I’ll get back to those, but I want to take a Holiday detour. I can’t name the number of times that I’ve been told that the problem with opera is “that it is too long!  Nobody has an attention span that can sit there for three hours anymore!  We’re a video game, iphone society.  Nobody can sit still for three hours!”

I would like to be the first to publicly thank James Cameron for proving all those people wrong.  (And me right, I might add!)  I went to see Cameron’s new movie, Avatar last Sunday.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I saw it in IMAX 3D, and it was an incredible experience.  I call it an experience because it truly was more than a movie.  I thought the 3D effects were used elegantly.  It used to be that 3D movies (much like non-standard instrumental techniques) were overdone.  In other words, the 3D was used simply because they could – things would just fly out at you non-stop and it seemed that the underlying plot line was secondary to the effect.  I thought James Cameron stood that idea on its head.  He used the 3D effect to propel the plot – not in place of the plot.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a sight to see.

So what does that have to do with opera?  I can’t tell you how many people have told me that opera is too long for modern audiences.  “We should cut this entire Act because the audience needs us to keep this under 3 hours.”  (This sentiment is expressed by stage directors, other conductors, musicians, general directors, trained singers, the general public – you name it, I’ve heard it).  I think with Avatar, James Cameron has officially proven the naysayers wrong.  The movie clocks in at 162 minutes (without previews), so that’s about 2hrs and 42 minutes.  (Tack on previews, and we’re getting close to the 3 hour mark).

I confess that when I realized that it was going to be a good 3 hrs in the theater, I was certain that I’d see people leaving, texting, going to the bathroom, hitting concessions, etc.  Wrong!  I was impressed – nobody seemed to move.  It was quiet the entire way through.  People were enthralled by the movie!  I think we can put to rest the attention span issue.  I know what some of you are thinking – but the movie was in 3D, it had a driving plot and music, it was so different from what we’re used to!  I would politely put forth that opera is always in 3D!  Most operas these days have special effects.  In fact, Opera Vista primarily uses video backdrops.  They all have driving plots and music.  So where is the problem?  Please feel free to give your suggestions as to what you think it could be!  Comments are appreciated.

If you'd like to learn more about opera in a fun laid-back atmosphere, Opera Vista's next Opera 101 is at Boheme, Cafe and Wine Bar on January 8, 2010 at 8:00PM.