The Erosion of Quality

by  —  January 8, 2008

I spent the holiday week around xmas in New York City. It’s a great time of year to be in Manhattan as many of the locals have left the city and it’s relatively quiet. During this visit my partner decided we should attend the Metropolitan Opera’s showing of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” which I thought was a great idea. Other than reading the narrative in advance, I was not familiar with the opera, nor have I been to the MET in New York before. Sadly, save one act, the opera was quite awful. During the first intermission I headed for the bar with the thought that a very nice glass of red wine would ease the pain somewhat. Certainly at the MET, this great institution of the arts, they would have an excellent wine list and if there is one thing in this world I am willing to throw down for, it’s a great glass of vino.I arrived at the bar and had a look at the wines that were available. Four out of the five were plonk. The fourth a passable Cotes de Rhone. I ordered a glass of the Rhone, which I am familiar with, (2003 Guigal…it ain’t the ’97) took a sip and nearly spat it out. I headed around to the other side of the bar to watch the bar tender serving the guests. There were two open bottles of red wine under the bar. Both were the cheapest wine they had. No matter which wine was ordered, the guest would receive the same thing. Also, as my partner pointed out, all the wine was served in plastic cups which were discarded after one use. I think there is a direct correlation between what was going on at the bar and what was going on in the theatre. You see, two tickets for a ‘reasonable’ seat for this show came to just under four hundred dollars (with tax). I believe that if, as an individual seeking out culture, I arrive at the doorsteps of a revered institution such as the MET. It should be the responsibility of that institution to uplift me in every regard related to it’s purpose, but I left feeling like I’d been had. In fact I believe I had..been had that is…
“Un Ballo in Maschera” is a story with with a lot of great elements of Shakespearian magnitude. And furthermore, it’s based on a true story. Unfortunately the emotional content, which should be bursting out of the actors, is a limp version of the original concept. This is not an attack on the performers. There were some great voices in the show. But the overall presentation, the mix, the music, the P.C. version of love and death. It was like a song mixed into oblivion. No guts. No sweat, no life. Utter bullshit. A great opera should be reckless. It should shock people and make them cry, laugh, scream. But not so at the MET. So…in the interest of the public good, I would like to offer my services as Sommelier to the MET. No charge, really, it’s on me. You see, for the price of the crap that you are pedaling to the general public you could be selling some very nice Spanish or Argentinean varietals that are arguably more interesting than some of the “big dick” wines that you undoubtedly sell in your “patrons only” restaurant. Wines that would thrill the commoners and are even less expensive than the swill that you stock. Aside from the bar, in terms of the theater, I urge you to raise the bar. Otherwise I think eventually you’ll find it vacant. You see, you’re not selling a great experience. You’re selling what you think people should perceive is a great experience. The quality of the experience isn’t important to you as long as the general public uphold the image of “a night at the opera”.
And there’s the rub. People in America are no longer paying for a great experience. They’re paying for the idea of a great experience. It’s the equivalent of visiting “Paris” in Las Vegas and thinking, ‘well gee now I don’t need to go to Paris, I’ve seen it’. I’m quite sure the people at the MET would be horrified with my analogy. Good, because you are no better. Shame on you. Shame on your institution. When the members of your board are sitting around bitching about the demise of this precious art form, the “average joe” and their inability to grasp it, you will have no one to blame but yourselves. That is because, in the common vernacular, you suck.

Marked as: IntrospectionSocietal Policies  —  6 comments   (RSS)

6 Comments so far
  1. FatalTwilight January 9, 2008 1:22 am

    Damn, that sucks.

    I will refer you to a good place to be entertained though.

    I live near Ashland, OR. I highly recommend the Shakespearian Theatre, It comes from a rennesaince town, and the artists there take it VERY seriously. We have pagan supply shops, tons of local artists, plus it is a very eclectic town. One of the only ones that I have seen that are actually pedestrian friendly. The cops dont care about marijuanna usage, plus people there aren’t biased on sexual preference. You will see your hippie-dippie new-agers though, but what the heck…At least its not filled with wanna-be gangstas.

    Oh, and in the summer, on friday nights we have public fire dancing and semi-street party raves. Tons of european-esc pubs too.

  2. Loki der Quaeler January 9, 2008 12:06 pm

    I think there’s at least two problems here. One is obviously that the Metropolitan, or the catering company they use (if they’re smar[t|my]), seems to be breaking a law here. The second one, though, is the nebulous question of how each individual defines value. Some people may look at an opera goer at the Metropolitan drinking crappy wine that they can’t even tell is crappy and think, “It’s obscene that someone like that could be so uncultured”, but it’s quite possible that the drinker simply doesn’t care.
    (I don’t think that this is a new phenomenon, or even american, by any stretch though; the idea of ‘the person with more money than brains and taste’ has been a base for satire for as long as i’ve been sentient (for example, Steve Martin’s “The Jerk”) – and i suspect it’s been around as long as there’s been class systems (Shakespeare has the knight Falstaff find hard luck and buffoonery in the “Merry Wives of Windsor”, for example) – leaving me to believe that this type of character has never been just fictional.)
    I’ve even fooled myself into believing that i’m not playing advocatus diaboli when i assert that this is valid position one can take (“I don’t care that i’m uncultured”); it may totally offend my sensibilities, but if people want to be affluent materialistically and poor experientially: more power to them (as long as they’re not in a position to influence public policy).

    Pulling this poorly ordered response around to the possible victims in this situation… while i concur that the Metropolitan is totally off-the-rails in this scenario (woe be to the babe-in-the-cultural-woods who has shown up at that event to broaden their palate and opera sense) there’s an obvious and practical solution to the whole mess: an exposé in the NYC press — even the willfully, enjoyably, ignorant upper crust don’t like to be publicly exposed as fools – and their embarrassment will undergo a nearly lossless energy conversion to wrath directed at the Met.

  3. seekue January 9, 2008 3:14 pm

    The bartender was subversively taking a stab at you hoity-toity bourgeois types!

  4. Fitz January 16, 2008 1:52 pm

    If you’re back in town and looking for an Opera experience without the inflated sense of self-importance check out the Amato Opera. They’re a small house of madly dedicated enthusiasts and tend to be a lot more fun.

    http://www.amato.org/

  5. william January 16, 2008 2:52 pm

    Hi Fitz,

    I’ll make a note if it thanks.
    Nice to see you around these parts again.

  6. Shapka April 16, 2008 2:01 pm

    Sames’ true of everything, dude. Anymore, it seems like the more you pay for a thing, the worse you got suckered, and that really does pertain to “value.”

    Not “cultural values,” as I do believe that a person can be cultured and never attend an Opera– but the value attached to GETTING WHAT YOU PAID FOR. If you spend 400.00 USD on the Opera, you should get 400.00 USD worth of Opera.

    In a Real Glass.

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