In the course of researching an article for OPERA NEWS, I was obliged to spend part of a recent workday watching excerpts from the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera on YouTube. (And before you ask, the answer is no — I would not care to switch jobs with you, or anyone else in the world.)
In sending a link to the big opera-house scene to a colleague, I started to write "Here's Il Trovatore as you'll never see it anywhere else" — but it suddenly dawned on me that the way things are headed in the opera world, the indignities heaped on Verdi's masterwork in that movie by Groucho, Harpo and friends are as nothing compared with some of the purportedly serious attempts of modern régisseurs to "rethink" beloved repertory staples. Why not a railway station, a fruit cart or a battleship as a fresher and more novel backdrop to the plot than the old-fashioned idea of a Gypsy camp? Why not interpolate "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" into the overture, as a more currently recognizable and "relevant" indication of the kind of nationalist fervor the works of Verdi evoked in their time?
Like the old radio team Bob & Ray, who predicted the future with their then-absurdist commercials for the post office, perhaps the Marx Brothers weren't poking fun at opera at all: perhaps they were just ahead of their time.
LOUISE T. GUINTHER