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I'm going to the opera!
Posted on Saturday, January 19 2008 @ 04:21:15 PST

Alright, clean those glasses of yours (assuming you're not wearing contact lenses), because this is something you should in fact read about. And it will be -very- relevant to video gaming.

It started some months back. I was listening to a satire show on P2, which is one of the three national public radio channels in Norway. Sort of like BBC. Afterwards, I just let the radio stay on in the background while reading some Terry Pratchett, but then suddenly something caught my ear.

It was some sort of "weekly commentary" thingie, and the journalist in question - called Nina Krohn - was talking about how it seems a bit paradoxical that opera is looked upon as so very elitistic, when back in the days, you would also have opera playing for the masses (not in the same theatres as the operas played for nobility and royalty, though). And those operas were usually about drinking, whoring, and other party activities. And people would drink and sing and fool around in the corners and vomit and all that kind of stuff. To put it in US terms, it would be your average sophomore party.

Now, the commentary was interesting enough in itself, but it seemed to me that this Nina was one that might be open to a thought I've been having for some time, and I promptly sat down and wrote her an email. It was long and in Norwegian, but I'll rewrite most of it here:

"Hello. You don't know me, but I listened to your commentary. It got me thinking, because there's something I've been thinking about when it comes to opera.

I believe, that in today's media world, the worst place to introduce opera to a new audience is the opera house.

I mean, you can't simply just decide on a whim to attend to an opera. You have to prepare for it and read about it in advance, because the opera itself won't make much sense as such. While opera scores are emotional powerhouses, that doesn't help unless you know what they're supposed to be emotional about. And then you do read the plots, they seem almost insultingly simple. Because often, they are there merely to provide the backdrop for the arias.

Now, the opera scene isn't the only place you can find opera, but the other places do have their problems. Opera scores on the radio, for instance, is almost exclusively for those who already like and know opera. Those who can tell the subtle nuances of one famous soprano from another, like a wine taster can taste the tiny differences between wines that for him makes a huge impact. When your average radio listener turns on the radio, he's more wont to listen to (if it's a decent station) good rock bands that are instantly reckognisable. Nobody's ever going to confuse AC/DC with Guns'n Roses if they just actively listens to either band at least once. Listening to a bunch of people who all sounds the same just isn't my idea of fun.

And as for broadcasting opera acts on television, it doesn't really make much difference from opera on stage. The other way to add opera in television is to incorporate it into f.ex. a movie, but the problem is, an opera aria is not easily put in the background. It demands, if it's to be there at all, to be as important as the visuals, and that limits its options of what kind of movies and series it can be incorporated into.

However, there is one medium left, where opera can be presented to a new audience, and with less limitations than with movies.

I'm talking about video games. And perhaps it's easier to provide examples than to simply try and explain. (Note: For both these examples, I provided links to videos on Youtube. I imagine that if you haven't in fact seen any of those videos, you're more than capable of finding them yourselves)

First off, we have the opening to Final Fantasy VIII. Yes, the score - called "Liberi Fatali" - is more of a choir aria than real opera, but I think it's close enough. Video games as a whole has a completely different pacing than movies, and that gives them the option to make opening scenes like this. Or in the middle of the game for that matter.

And then, we have the opening of Gran Turismo 4. This is a racing game, without any plot whatsoever. None. You drive cars in races, and that's it. And yet, the opening movie sees fit to include an opera aria that's not only written specifically for this game (by another Japanes composer), but also, when released for the US/European market, translated into Italian. And it is nothing less than perfect for the scene. The way the camera moves around the car slowly with the sceneries gradually fading into each other, I don't think any other kind of music could have completed that scene as well as this aria.

Not only does the second video show how opera fits together with video games as a means to make a powerful sound to complete an already strong visual - which is what opera should be about - but the movie also highlights another issue with opera: That it's often segregated from other music genres. But here, halfway through, the movie changes into a more standard "car game opening movie", and the music seamlessly shifts into rock music.

That is no accident. In fact, it's rather common in Japan to have several genres of music fit into one game, because the philosophy seems to be that it's all about what fits the scene rather than "this game is going to only have rock music". The composer of the music for the first clip is called Nobuo Uematsu, and he is possibly the most well-known Japanese composer. And he couldn't care less about sticking it to one genre. Epic choir and symphony, mushy love songs, simple (yet powerful) piano scores, flamenco tunes, heavy metal, silly tunes, scores where the ukulele is the main instrument... He'll incorporate all of this into one single game if he feels that's the best way.

So, there you have it. From someone who is not in any way a music expert, but who do enjoy playing video games, and who do enjoy good music in video games.

With regards."

So, I sent this email to Nina Krohn. And her reply was more than I could ever hope for. She found it incredibly interesting. So interesting, in fact, that not only would she invite me to our brand new Bjoervika opera house once it's opening (a couple of months from now on), but she'd also like to bring some recording equipment, and then we would have a chat afterwards about all those things I said in that letter. And then broadcast this interview on national radio! Just how awesome is that, huh?!?

And don't forget, this is not only frickin' cool in itself, but it's also a chance to get some positive publicity about video games, where the focus isn't on how an anecdote about someone playing Grand Theft Auto before killing his classmates means all violence should be banned.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to put on Gran Turismo 4 just to listen to that beautiful opening aria...

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