Monday, October 27, 2014

1401 An Opera Lesson from Spike Jones

Bizet’s “Carmen” worked in a cigarette factory.

When the comedy bandleader Spike Jones recorded parody of the opera, he portrayed her as a worker in a chewing gum factory.  Too bad the Australians didn’t seem to know how to make that switch.

When a sponsor objected, the Western Australia Opera Company crossed “Carmen” off this season’s schedule.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reports that the opera company didn’t want to lose a two year, half million dollar sponsorship from the government agency “Healthway” which “promotes healthy living.”

Half a mil AU is worth $620,000 US.

The three largest tobacco companies in Australia divvy up 97% of the market.  They share combined revenue of close to three billion dollars. You’d think among the members of this trio, there’d be a few spare bucks lying around.

But no.  Tobacco companies are cowed.  And Carmen of “Carmen” is a chain smoker. Can’t have that!  

Does the singer/actress actually smoke on stage or does she just pretend.  Usually the latter. Guess it doesn’t matter.

As opera goes, “Carmen” is kind of mid-to-low girl on the ladder. It’s not Wagner or Verdi or any of the other really big guns.  

Take one step down and you’re standing on Gilbert and Sullivan.  One lower are Rogers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Lowe.  One more and you’re down with with Leonard Bernstein and Tupac.

Still, Carmen is part of the “standard” opera repertoire and deserves to be performed as written.  Even if Australia counts 15-thousand smoking deaths a year, which it does.

Of course the Smoking Police list every death of a smoker a “smoking death” even if the deceased is hit by a bus and lands on a stray Marlboro box.

Once again, we are tricked into false equivalencies  on the twin paths of illusion and reality.

Reality: Smoking kills a lot of people, and probably people shouldn’t smoke.

Myth:  Opera featuring smoking doesn’t hurt anyone.  Of course, the occasional patron of the arts can get bored to death.

And while we’re at it… Carmen’s a light story -- no pun intended.  There are plenty of operas about death: La Traviata, Madam Butterfly, and much more recently in the disgraceful “Death of Klinghoffer.”

Should we ban drama about tuberculosis, knives and cruise ships?

Chances are bandleader Jones changed cigarettes to chewing gum because chewing gum is funnier than smoking.

Carmen’s been smoking since March 3, 1875, more than 139 years.  And she ain’t been sick a day in her life.  But at her age, she better be careful about crossing the street in front of buses.


--Politics strikes science again.  Governors Cuomo and Christie of New York and New Jersey impose strict quarantines for people without symptoms but who may have  been exposed to Ebola.  A nurse in  isolation threatened to sue.  So now, at least in New York, the quarantines take place at home instead of in a tent with only a phone and a porta potty.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

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