Music To Die By


October 09, 1994|By DAVE BARRY

I really didn't want to get into another fight with the classical-music people.

A while back I wrote a column in which I was mildly critical of classical music on the grounds that it stinks and I hate it. Rather than respond to these arguments on their intellectual merits, many classical-music fans responded with snotty personal attacks in which they suggested that I am the kind of cultural moron who sits around all day watching TV with a beer in one hand and the remote control in the other. This is a lie. Sometimes I have beers in both hands, forcing me to operate the remote control with my feet.

No, seriously, I happen to be a highly cultured individual. I have been involved in tour groups that walked briskly past some of the world's finest works of art. I personally own several hard-cover books. I am perfectly comfortable ordering food in a swank French restaurant ("Garcon, I'll have the beef en route").

In short, I have culture out the wazoo. I just have never cared for classical music, because I believe that the artistic themes it embodies are not presented in a manner that is intellectually relevant for the modern listener. Take, for example, the following actual unretouched lyrics, written by Lorenzo da Ponte for the Mozart opera "Cosi Fan Tutte" (literally, "Annie Get Your Gun"):

"Che sembianze! Che vestiti!

"Che figure! Che mustacchi!"

After carefully analyzing these lyrics, the objective critic is forced to arrive at one incontrovertible conclusion: They are written in a completely foreign language, probably Spanish. You have to ask yourself how in the world these opera people expected to reach a modern audience if they didn't even have the common courtesy to write in English.

Please do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that people cannot enjoy opera. I am just saying that these people are wrong. They also could be in big medical trouble. I base this statement on an Associated Press article, sent in by many alert readers, concerning an alarming incident in Denmark involving an okapi, which is a rare African mammal related to the giraffe. The article states that this okapi -- I am not making this quotation up -- "died from stress apparently triggered by opera singers."

The okapi was not actually attending an opera when this happened. It was in a zoo situated 300 yards from a park where opera singers were rehearsing. A zoo spokesperson was quoted as saying that okapis "can be severely affected by unusual sounds."

So here are the essential facts:

1. An okapi, minding its own business, was killed by opera music being sung three football fields away.

2. Okapis are members of the mammal family.

3. Most human beings, not counting Congress, are also members of the mammal family.

When I consider these facts together, a very disturbing question comes to my mind, as I'm sure it does yours: What were three football fields doing in Denmark?

Another question is: Could opera, in sufficient dosages, also be fatal to human beings? The only way to find out is to conduct a scientific experiment, in which we would take a group of volunteer subjects -- I am willing to courageously volunteer that these subjects should be scientists from the Tobacco Institute -- strap them into chairs, and blast opera at them 24 hours a day until such time as they are dead.

Of course to ensure that this experiment was scientifically valid, we'd also need what is known technically as a "control"; this would be a second group of volunteer Tobacco Institute scientists, who would be strapped into chairs and blasted with some other kind of music. I am thinking here of the Neil Diamond Christmas album.

Once this experiment had proved scientifically that opera music is fatal, it would be time to think about requiring that some kind of Surgeon General warning be prominently displayed on Luciano Pavarotti. Also, we'd have to study the effects of "secondhand opera," which is what you get when inconsiderate individuals start humming opera music in a poorly ventilated office, and suddenly their co-workers are dropping like flies.

Ultimately, we may have to ban opera altogether, along with -- you can't take chances with the public health -- ballet, non-rhyming poetry and movies with subtitles. I realize that, for taking this stand, I'm going to be harshly criticized by the so-called "cultured" crowd. But I frankly cannot worry about that, because I have the courage of my convictions. Also, "Inspector Gadget" is on.


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