Dear Gove and Opera Critics, Stick to What You Know
Two events in the arts world have caught my attention over the last few weeks.
The first was the news that Michael Gove, in another stroke of genius, has decided to ban all post-1914 fiction and drama by non-British authors from the GCSE English Literature Syllabus. The second event occurred in the Opera world, when singer Tara Erraught was slatted by critics for being too "dumpy" and "chubby" in her role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like both the Opera reviewers and Gove think they know more about producing Operas and educating teenagers than the people who spend their lives doing just that.
In the case of Der Rosenkavalier, several critics from many reputable publications have either deemed Tara Erraught too tubby for Opera, or believe only they have the expertise to cast an opera correctly.
"Did director Richard Jones not know that chubby girls can never play romantic leads? Does he not realise that only thin people can fall in love? Better send him a memo!"
As for Gove, whether or not he has outright banned modern, non-British literature, his stance is clear enough that Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Crucible are no longer on the OCR Exam Syllabus. I mean Gove you can hate on Of Mice And Men all you like, but I loved To Kill A Mockingbird when I studied it and learnt more from that book than just how to pass the exam.
But what's crazy to me is that these views are not the views of creators.
So what gives them the authority to dictate the status quo?
The vehement backlash from the Operatic community shows that, in the eyes of many for whom their life is Opera, the critics don't have that authority. But, whether we believe he should or not, Gove does set the status quo, if not for the present than for the future.
And that's dangerous in my opinion, because he isn't adding to our literary culture (or any culture, for that manner). His elitist view of British literature being superior is blind to what can be gained from world literature. And while he may choose to live in ignorance, should he be able to force his bias on the Education system?
Art in all it's forms is about discovery, exploration and breaking boundaries. Rules are broken. Ideas are challenged. Whether by casting a girl in a role traditionally played by someone more slender or by discussing some of life's biggest questions against the backdrop of the American South.
I believe that artists understand and strive for this; to reveal a new layer to a thought, an idea, a character and find new meaning in it. And that requires different perspectives, perspectives that aren't always the same as the audiences. And some audiences don't like that.
But until you experience it, how will you know? And how can you learn?