Saturday, November 26, 2005

National Psyche Destroyed

Once again today's Globe and Mail provides some mirthful insights into our sorry and silly national mentality, seeking slights everywhere. Apparently there is good and bad news in the opera world.
First the good news: Canadian opera singers are hot in Europe. While there's nothing new about singers from this country performing overseas -- they've been crossing the Atlantic since Emma Albani, from Chambly, Que., boarded a ship for Paris in 1868 -- this season there's a bumper crop of Canadians on European stages.
Opera is one of the truly globalized industries, and long has been. And Canadian singers do well in it. What could the bad news be?
The not-so-good news, however, is that Canada's contribution to this most European of art forms tends to go pretty much unnoticed: Like Canadian movie stars in Hollywood, our finest opera singers are often assumed to be from somewhere else. Heppner, who was born in British Columbia and lives in Toronto, is frequently taken for an American. Once, in Vienna, when someone dismissed his claim that Canadians were in any way distinct from Americans, he retorted that he had the same view of Austrians and Germans.
Heppner's point is a good one (I have family ties to Austria, and many business ties to Germany), but what is the problem here? I find myself mistaken for someone from the US all the time in Europe; this has never bothered me and has created no single difficulty in my life. I am more shocked when I am spotted as a Canadian since I studiously do not mark my baggage or self with flags or the like.

Needless to say, the reporter manages to elide some key points reporting on another slight to his imagined national identity:
Particularly confusing, it seems, is the Canadian concept of layered national identities. Isabel Bayrakdarian, who makes her debut at Covent Garden in London in February, is this year's poster girl for the Royal Opera. Currently her image can be seen plastered on Underground stations throughout London, above the words "Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian." A Canadian who was born in Lebanon and educated in Toronto, she is of Armenian descent. But apparently the marketers at Covent Garden thought that "Armenian-Lebanese-Canadian" just didn't work for them.
Let's take a quick look at the current CDs available from the (wonderful) Bayrakdarian: key among them is this, which is rather explicit about Armenian heritage; it is a collection of Armenian liturgical songs, and the conductor is even named Armenian! :-) Bayrakdarian's own web page makes clear her real roots, at least whence she gets grants.

In any case I still don't see any bad news. Why should I care what nationality gets ascribed to the (repeat, wonderful) Isabel Bayrakdarian?

There are some other observations of some note in the article:

There's also the problem of lower demand for opera singers in Canada: Most Canadian opera companies only mount a few productions per season. To fill out their schedules, Canadian singers have to look to Europe, the United States and even Asia.

"It's bloody frustrating," complained Toronto tenor Michael Schade in September, while in London to make his Covent Garden debut. "I swear that if it wasn't for the Toronto and Montreal orchestras, a couple of CBC producers and a few concert series like Toronto's Aldeburgh Connection and the Vancouver Recital Society, there'd be almost no work for me in my favourite country."

Of course even the demand that exists is inflated by government subsidies here in Canada. That particular waste of money does seem to me to be a real problem but goes unaddressed in the article.

Personally I am thrilled for all these performers that the European taxpayers are willing to support our nationals. And while I do take full advantage of the (likely smaller) subsidies our government gives to similar enterprises in Canada by attending events, I don't think it is fair that our taxpayers who have no interest in such performances are helping to buy my tickets.

Abiola Lapite addresses a similar subject in a rather handy way here.


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