Regular readers of this blog know that professional music journalist, composer, teacher, and blogger Greg Sandow has frequently been on the receiving end of our expressions of opprobrium for his repeated misguided and perverse if well-intentioned notions concerning the garnering of new audiences for classical music via the mass appeal tactics and practices of popular culture, and for his mindless championship of the idea of the equality of importance of pop and so-called high culture and the need to not draw lines of demarcation between the two. Perhaps more clearly than anything he's priorly written, his recent thoughts on the just-premiered John Adams / Peter Sellars opera, Dr. Atomic reveal the smallness of vision, and wrongheaded, postmodern, pop-culture-infected mindset that make possible his stance on these issues. Writes Mr. Sandow:
Haven't all these issues [treated in Dr. Atomic, and as per commentary by its creators, Peter Sellars and John Adams], and Oppenheimer's ambivalence about bringing the bomb into the world, been discussed over and over and over again, for decades? [...] We all know what Oppenheimer created; we all know how the bomb was used. What kind of new thoughts do we get from being reminded of that now?
Far better, I'd think, to explore how all these issues play out in our world now. Or, as in the '50s film Hiroshima mon amour, probe how the threat of mass destruction affects our individual behavior. Or, I'd think, even more powerfully than anything anyone could have done in the '50s, how the acceptance of mass destruction changes us.
So again, with all respect to Peter [Sellars] and to John [Adams], if you want to know why new operas tend to be irrelevant, look no further than this supposedly relevant one. Opera simply isn't an art form anybody looks to for discussion of important issues.
[H]as there ... been any new opera that's as current, deep, and probing as The Sopranos? Or, in the realm of comedy, as Curb Your Enthusiasm? Or even the SciFi Channel's Battlestar Galactica, which is sometimes conventional TV, but sometimes also far beyond that, with wrenching sexual perversity only one of many things that emerge in the wake of a massively destructive terror attack. TV, it seems to me, is by any honest artistic measure miles ahead of just about any new work any opera house is offering.
Well, I've not seen Dr. Atomic either, but I can see that Mr. Sandow declares all this with perfect earnestness, oblivious of the understanding that had Adams and Sellars followed Mr. Sandow's suggested path in the conception of their new opera by making it specifically here-and-now-relevant as opposed to their clear attempt at a realized operatic conception of Project Trinity as embodying those timeless and universal mythological concerns and themes that make it relevant to all times and cultures, what they would have ended up with would have been just another ephemeral, simpleton-appealing, unimportant, eminently disposable pop-culture event such as, well, The Sopranos, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, or Battlestar Galactica.
Mr. Sandow, I think, as well as others of his ilk, needs to take a sabbatical to do nothing but rethink seriously and deeply his wrongheaded notions on all these matters instead of repeatedly plunging ahead spouting his perverse, simpleminded, pop-culture-infected ideas of the way things ought to go and be.