Mozart the Certain

If titles could cry, this one would be committing suicide by drowning itself in its own tears in a small, cold, windowless greenroom of the Vancouver Opera House.

Brad Frenette
Vancouver Sun, Community of Interest Blog

Now, because the title is perhaps one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever encountered, I feel I need to provide a little background, so we don’t get the wrong idea. First, we should note that Brad Frenette is the general director of the Vancouver Opera, so already there’s a lack of journalistic standards and, perhaps, a conflict of interest. And second, the Sun’s Community of Interest blog describes its mission as “[…] featuring the opinions of tastemakers, community advocates and thought leaders from across Vancouver, Canada and the world […],” which means, if the title is any indication, that Brad is more of a tastemaker rather than thought leader. I guess, the wrong idea is already the correct one.


Alright, let’s dig in.


So, what exactly can Mozart teach us about leadership? [tongue in cheek] Not that I expect an answer.

There are many reasons why I am passionate about opera:

That’s nice. Why don’t you list your reasons? Because, you know, they won’t be generic or anything.

“Okay,” he says.

…beautiful, emotional and inspiring music; literate, poetic language; grand and glorious productions on stages filled with singers, choristers and dancers; and very often, a link with important people and events in the past.

So often—but not all the time, mind you—there’s a link (i.e., ?) with things in (of?) the past.

Believe it or not, I, too, am passionate about the past. Like, it happened and stuff.

But another reason I am passionate about opera is the relevance it has for our lives today.

Because the general director of the Vancouver Opera is telling me that opera is relevant today, I should believe him. After all, he’d have no incentive to tell me otherwise, right?

Fine. How is it relevant? Does it have something to do with Mozart teaching us about leadership?

[Ha ha ha! I still can’t get over the title. It’s just wrong for so many reasons. Anyway…]

Opera is certainly not alone among the arts in this ability to speak to us about our own times, but it is the art form I know best and about which I can speak with certainty.

There’s certainly a lot of certainty going on here.  Certainly, when I encounter so much certainty, I am surely reminded, with certainty, of that without-a-doubt inspiring quip by the most famous of Jedi: “Only certain Sith Lords deal in irrefutable absolutes.”

And after a bit about how the opera company works hard to help their audience appreciate its 21st century relevancy, despite its “powdered wigs and foreign languages,” this:

But here I believe is the wonderful secret of my art form: opera is about the big things, the important emotions of all of us humans….and these “big things” and large emotions don’t change from year to year, decade to decade, or even century to century. 

Rarely, these days do I encounter such advocacy of classical-era (enlightenment) thinking. Maybe I should go bleed myself to alleviate the headache this is causing me.

Sometimes these sweeping themes…

That is, large emotions that never change.

Sometimes these sweeping themes are rather personal: love and betrayal; estrangement; the distances created between families and friends and the bridges to span those distances.

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me! Me! Pick me!

Yes, Empiricus?

That means, sometimes the sweeping themes, which are large emotions that never change, are also societal.

Very good, Empiricus.

Sometimes the big ideas are societal: when we last produced Aida, we investigated the plight of “Women in War” with Lloyd Axworthy, Ruth Segal and others;

Now pick me! Pick Me!

Yes, Brad?

Sometimes, self-promotion is all about leadership and Mozart taught me that.

Wrong, Brad.

…when we staged Macbeth our panelists examined “Power and its Abuse;”

You’re still doing it wrong, Brad. You’re not carrying the four. And you multiplied the denominator only afterwards. See what you did wrong, there?

…in 2002, during the opera Of Mice and Men important BC artists discussed the “Role of the Arts in Effecting Social Change.”

Nevermind, Brad. Just go to recess.

Our current offering, Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, is about one important thing:

Well, if the above was of any help, I would guess that Tito is about leadership, which is one large emotion. [cough]

But will it ever be explained? Tune in tomorrow for all the answers or not.


Meanwhile, back at the Detritus Towers…

Our current offering, Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, is about one important thing: what qualities do we want in those who lead us?

Finally! Finally something refers to the title, that absurd, absurd title. Maybe now we’ll know the answer to the big question: how can Mozart teach us about leadership?

Mozart’s gorgeous and spirited music, the intriguing scenery and stellar singing are all in the service of this big idea [i.e., one large, never-changing emotion].

Yeah, yeah. But how is it that those things teach us about leadership?

Is ruling with compassion a better idea than ruling with vengeance?

Let’s ask Mozart!

Is the good of the people more important than the reputation of the leader? Does forgiveness in a leader show strength or betray weakness?

Sounds more like Mozart is asking the questions, rather than answering them.

Mozart’s opera inspired us to bring together a first-class panel last week at the Vancouver Public Library to discuss this notion of effective and compassionate leadership.

What can Mozart teach us about leadership?

Columnist Gary Mason, UBC professor Michael Byers, Tsawwassen First Nations Chief Kim Baird, Superintendent of West Vancouver schools Chris Kennedy, and Brenda Eaton, Chair of BC Housing Management Commission, discussed with one another and the audience their beliefs concerning leadership. 

Hello?! What can Mozart teach us about leadership?

Mason spoke of VANOC CEO John Furlong’s exercise in nation building which was built in part on the biggest Olympics torch relay in history…


…involving Canadians across this land, as well as convincing the powers-that-be to invest in the performance of our athletes, which paid off handsomely and helped unite the country in its pride and patriotism.

That doesn't have anything to do with Mozart, does it?

Michael Byers noted that after his long prison sentence and eventual rise to the South African presidency, Nelson Mandela rejected revenge as a tool of governance and instead focused on “truth and reconciliation” and sought to heal his country by his ferocious support of the Springbok Rugby team as it grew to be the World Cup winner, as portrayed in the film Invictus.

Ah, yes, Invictus. Wait, what?!

Isn’t Mozart supposed to teach us about leadership?

Qualities of leadership:

Just great. Another fucking list.

Qualities of leadership: what the past can tell us about, warn us about, prod us to think about.

Forget grammar, that doesn’t even make the slightest syntactical sense! And if those were the conclusions of the panel...well, "first-class" and "thought leaders" might be a tad exaggerated.

What great art – whether opera, symphonic music, great theatre or inspired painting – can help us to understand about our own lives and our own times:

Will our author give us another list, or is he just feigning? Vote now.

…isn’t that a timely and relevant conversation [...]?

Sorry, you clearly voted incorrectly. Please try new, more certain, leadership. Definitely delete. Obviously not Mozart. Patently an error. Irrefutably 404. Indubitably.


Anonymous said...

Oof. Reading his writing is like trying to sit in a chair that's too big for me and has really really really squishy cushions. Help! Someone give me a hand out of here! Oof!


I notice that many writers confuse the composers of operas with the librettists. I don't know who composed the libretto for La Clemenza di Tito, but it is that writer's text that addresses issues of leadership, not Mozart's music.

Regarding journalistic standards, I don't think that blogs, op-eds, and other opionion writing need be subject to the same standards as hard news, arts reviews, etc. I agree that arts journalism should be carried out by qualified journalists, but this blog essay does not pretend to be anything other than his fluff about an upcoming presentation.

Empiricus said...

You're right Anon. I was simply trying to draw attention to that so we wouldn't hold up the author to those standards. That said, I tweeted English; it replied that it was pretty bummed.

Thanks for the comment. Got to run. Got to teach, if you can believe that.

Anonymous said...

Brad Frenette is not the general director of Vancouver Opera.

Anonymous said...

The piece is an opinion piece and should be critiqued on those standards.

Anonymous said...

It is not unusual for a staff copywriter to write the headline for a piece rather than the author. The basis of your critique seems to be this disconnect, as well as your belief that the title (sic) is absurd.

It could be that your critique is based on a false assumption that the piece was written to address the question of the headline.

Empiricus said...

Thanks for the correction. James Wright is the general director of the Vancouver Opera, not Brad Frenette. Going back and forth from the VO website and the blog post must have short circuited my short term memory.

Is it opinion, however? There are few opinions contained therein. I took it to be a "community advocacy" piece.

Also, I am very aware that titles are often not the authors'. The disconnect between content and title is a favorite critique of mine. So, what I take as a premise IS often faulty; but on purpose, in order to highlight that disconnect.

That said, the title was alluded to, in this promo piece: "[...] Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, [sic] is about one important thing: what qualities do we want in those who lead us?" So, the title wasn't too off the mark. This, in my opinion is what's funny about the piece, because 1) there are no answers, 2) there are only questions, and 3) this has nothing to do with Mozart.

Thanks for your retorts. It is always appreciated.