Cross Words: Head to head - Out of tune

It's Glyndebourne next week: anachronistic opera elitism, or the purest, greatest art form? Leading soprano Lisa Milne takes on musical maverick Roy Harper

Pro-opera

"My mum and dad went to see La Boheme last week and it was pounds 5 per head - cheaper than going to the cinema or a football match. Opera is considered very expensive and elitist, but it really isn't all fur coats and diamonds. People in Britain associate opera with the upper classes, but in the rest of Europe it's not like that - it's recognised as being very much for the people. There's surtitles in most theatres now, so even if it's sung in Italian, you can follow it just as you would a subtitled foreign film - you don't have to do a horrendous amount of homework before you go. In fact, people are often surprised how many of the tunes they already know.

To people who say they can't stand opera, I would ask, `Have you actually been into a theatre and watched a live opera?' Because the majority of people that I've spoken to that say they don't like it, have never experienced it - apart from seeing a few minutes of it on TV. Opera is the ultimate art form: it encompasses music, drama, dance and, best of all, it's live. I can't understand it when people question its relevance and say, `Why should we sit and watch opera by composers that have been dead for 300 years?' Well, if you follow that logic why stand and look at a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci? Opera is an art form, like any other, but with the added bonus that it's live.

If people were to open their minds and go just once, I'm sure there'd be a lot of converts. The power of the human voice, unamplified (unlike the majority of singing you hear these days) is amazing. When you go to an opera you get unadulterated, raw energy coming out of a body. Done well, it's just the best thing ever."

Soprano Lisa Milne will be performing Handel's `Rodelinda' at Glyndebourne Festival, 19 May to 29 August (01273 813813)

Anti-opera

"Opera is what happens when the rich are joined by a fashion-driven wannabe bourgeoisie, resulting in an expensive frenzy of mediocrity. It's Hello! magazine and penguin suits. In fact, to my mind, it's penguin-suited Pink Floyd. Opera-going has become fashionable for people who don't really want to be bothered with music from the street - the opera-loving penguins just carry on off the cliff into the water, all together like lemmings. They should stop and take a look around at what is actually happening in the real world. I absolutely agree with what Nietzsche said: opera is an `art form for philistines'.

The music just grates on me and as far as the verbal content goes, it's empty. There's nothing really there, unless they've taken lines directly from Shakespeare, like Verdi or Rossini did - opera's full of words lifted from authors who aren't connected with the medium at all. And much of it is very nationalistic. The visuals are prosaic, and often the music is incredibly dated - it belongs to another age completely. It may be passionate and a demanding discipline in many ways, but it's empty, there isn't any substance. Opera's very decorative, but not in a nicely decadent way - it's for the straitlaced; and completely overblown.

Opera is a form of identification with wealth by people who will never do anything but hang on to the coat-tails of the privileged. As a pastime you could argue it's valid, but when people claim a sort of religious status for it, it's ridiculous - it's a Western bourgeois phenomenon and just fashion at the end of the day."

Musician Roy Harper (royharper.com) plays the Glastonbury and Guildford festivals this summer, and starts a UK tour on 5 October

Interviews by Fiona McClymont

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee