On Saturdays we sometimes drive back from breakfast just as the NPR opera is starting up. Today’s was Strauss’s Arabella. The male and female commentators were discussing it, and the man mentioned something about the emotionalism of the music being especially appropriate because “this is an opera that really deals with issues of human emotion.” No kidding? As opposed to all of those operas that don’t deal with human emotion? What a curious departure from the norm. A moment later the woman pointed out that Strauss and von Hofmannsthal had written six operas together, “and the amazing thing about them is that they all have two soprano roles. And this one has three!” If I weren’t already heavily invested in classical music, this kind of fatuous twaddle would drive me to steer well clear of it. It reminds me of a hallowed old bit of dialogue from the British TV comedy Fawlty Towers:
Colonel: Fawlty, did you know that the female gibbon gestates for seven months?
Fawlty: Seven months! Well, well.
In sitcoms we know this is a joke, but in the classical music world it passes for cultural commentary. I don’t know whether listening to Mozart can make you smart, but it is frequently clear that listening to a lifetime of silly classical-music mythology can turn a person into a babbling moron.