The Royal Opera announced Friday that Sir Elton John will be named Resident Composer immediately, if not sooner. Spokesman Reginald Foggybrane broke the news, which stunned the opera world and caused other Rocker Knights to spit nails.
"When the Ballet appointed Wayne McGregor as Resident Choreographer, well, that was a real wake up call for us," Foggybrane explained. "We could not be left behind. We don't want to lose out on the youth movement that's desperate to see the lyric arts, if only they could relate to them.”
Why Sir Elton? "Well, Madonna isn't British you see, and we're not sure she actually composes her own songs. So the Board mulled it over for a bit and lots of names were bandied about, but when they remembered that beautiful Candle thingy that Sir Elton sang at Princess Diana's funeral, there was really no question that he was the right man," said Foggybrane.
Unlike McGregor, whose recent work for the Royal Ballet played to screaming audiences and rave reviews, Sir Elton has never created a work for the Opera. "Of course not," said Foggybrane. "Don’t be silly. He's not an opera composer." Quite. But he will be now? "Oh, he's very excited by this and is working on the form as we speak. He's already got melody down, of course," said Foggybrane.
“And anyway,” Foggybrane continued, “who says he has to create an 'opera'? Who's to say what 'opera' is? McGregor isn't going to do anything that looks like "Swan Lake" or "Symphonic Variations" now, is he? Of course not! They don't want that — God, nothing like THAT. They want something that no one could possibly confuse with ballet." And if Sir Elton doesn’t produce an opera, but some kind of Contemporary Song Thing? "Who cares?" said Foggybrane. "It's all a matter of what the audience and critics will buy, and we think this is something we can sell."
When it was pointed out that Sir Elton, 59, may be acclaimed in his genre, but is neither young nor especially cutting edge, Foggybrane was quick with an answer. “Baby steps, baby steps,” he said. “We’re really lagging behind the Ballet here. They’ve been stuck with all those great Heritage Works, but haven’t found anyone to make ballets on the same level for years. So they’ve had to look elsewhere and bring in people from outside and call what they make ‘ballet.' Brilliant, isn't it? They’ve been doing non-classical works for some time now but it’s new territory for us. We can't just dive in and pull out some Punker. But Sir Elton is still a big name to young people, and at least some of our longtime subscribers will know him. We think of him as a bridge between the traditional and the contemporary worlds.”
Foggybrane admitted that the Opera’s problem was a bit different than the Ballet’s. “Of course, we don't have that many Heritage Works to toss out, just tons of Italians with a few Germans and Frenchmen thrown in here and there, but we do need new works. After all, how many times can you see 'La Boheme'? Young people don't like it, they just can't relate to it — good Lord, who dies of TB nowadays? And the singers need new works created on them, made for their very own vocal chords. That's what it's all about, isn't it?” We wondered how the singers’ classically trained vocal chords were going to take to New Tunes, but decided to save that one for another day.
Foggybrane reminded us that Sir Elton’s appointment is well within the operatic tradition. "We must remember that we've been stuck in a stodgy period for awhile now. We need someone to shake things up a bit. Verdi was a real rebel in his day. So were Beethoven and Mozart, not to mention Puccini." Yes, they were rebels, but they were rebels within their art form, exploring new paths without bulldozing the forest, someone pointed out. Foggybrane became impatient: "That's old thinking. Opera is old news now. No one’s writing it, and young people don’t come to performances."
That seemed to be the impetus. Young people aren’t coming to performances. Young people aren’t coming to performances. But even if young people are enchanted with Sir Elton's appointment, someone asked, will they be coming in droves to hear his work at £170 a ticket? Could that possibly be a reason why The Young aren’t first in line at the box office? “Our prices are perfectly reasonable, considering the expenses of opera,” Foggybrane sputtered. “It’s such an elaborate art form—grand designs, great music, the most respected conductors, superb singers with years and years of the finest training. That’s what our subscribers expect when they come to the Opera and they're willing to pay for it. You can’t do performances that sear the soul on the cheap, you know!” Foggybrane said, and who could argue with that?
Volume 4, No. 44
December 11, 2006
copyright ©2006 Alexandra Tomalonis