So, I was listening to some clips of the Bavarian State Opera’s Don Carlos very kindly provided to me by TD. Never fear, I am not about to launch into another over-wrought attempt to figure out why I am obsessed with this opera. I think it’s best to consider it as analogous to Princess Eboli’s obsession with Don Carlos himself. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and often it’s borderline unconvincing in terms of characterization, but there it is and there is no getting around it.
What these clips did make me think about was excerpts. Specifically, they made me remember a conversation I had years ago about a recital CD. I think it was one of Magdalena Kožená’s, but I am not sure and it doesn’t matter. The point is that I was excited about this recording, whatever it was, and I was explaining why. The response I got was “well, I prefer to buy by composer rather than performer.” This communicated to me very clearly that I was Unserious and should probably shut up. This was about eight or ten years ago. I was about twenty-three at the time, and back then when it was intimated to me that I should shut up, I usually did.
What I should have said in reply, of course, was that performers give recitals all the time in which material from a variety of composers is offered, and that recital CDs fall neatly into this category, and what is the problem? Certainly it’s true that bits of operas pack more wallop when you see them as part of the whole rather than as isolated pieces, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying isolated pieces now and then.
This accusation of being Unserious also reminded me of a phrase I occasionally see in reviews, something along the lines of “every serious record collection should contain X” or “no serious record collector can be without A and B.” The assumption seems to be that somewhere out there there is a sort of Platonic ideal of a Serious Record Collection which we are all intended to approximate. By this standard, my own collection is profoundly unserious. There are all kinds of gaps in it. I am fond of it nonetheless.
But the whole serious/unserious thing points to this assumption that with music there is a Right Way to listen to it and a Wrong Way. I think this is based on a false equivalence between taking music seriously and being Serious About Music. The latter involves having a Serious Record Collection that contains All the Right Recordings and, evidently, avoiding certain recital CDs by Magdalena Kožená.