From the moment I first won gainful employment at OPERA NEWS, I have regularly faced those uncomfortable cocktail-party moments when some new acquaintance, learning how I earn my living, says with wrinkled nose, “And do you actually like opera?” Now, I know we don’t all have the luxury of choosing a congenial career, and I freely confess that as a college grad desperate for a job, I once interviewed for a newsletter called “Garbage Collector Weekly,” eager to get my foot in the publishing door any way I could. But it’s hard to imagine a consenting adult spending nearly a quarter-century at the same magazine if its subject did not genuinely appeal.
Those conversations are always a rude reminder that opera, though thriving in many respects, is still not exactly a mainstream entertainment. So it always pleases me when I run into it in unexpected places. The most recent such encounter was in a re-run of the Inspector Lewis series on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. Back in the days of Lewis’s erudite predecessor, Inspector Morse, it used to be a fair bet that the culturally savvy protagonist’s elitist pursuits would periodically lead to some reference to the lyric art — perhaps even with some actual music thrown in. But with Morse replaced by his erstwhile sidekick, the distinctly working-class Inspector Lewis, the opportunity for operatic enlightenment seemed to have passed, so I was surprised to find Wagner at the center of a recent episode.
With the murder victim an Oxonian Wagner expert, connected obliquely to a Stasi informer with the code name Siegfried, the master of Bayreuth had a prominent role in the plot, but the fun part for me came toward the end, when Lewis — partly in a nostalgic tribute to his old boss, partly as a way of trying to understand the dark forces at play in the case — put on a Ring recording and sat down to listen. It wasn’t a long excerpt; Lewis’s operatically challenged partner arrived all too soon to pre-empt it with some modern musical drivel of his own. Still, it pleased me to think there might be mystery fans out there in TV-land with no previous experience of the Ring who might be sufficiently drawn in by the intriguing plot references and the brief snippets of that glorious, sweeping score, to find their way to Youtube for a second helping. And from there … who knows?
LOUISE T. GUINTHER