The Opera Fanatic
Ethnography of an Obsession
Though some dismiss opera as old-fashioned, it shows no sign of disappearing from the world’s stage. So why do audiences continue to flock to it? Given its association with wealth, one might imagine that opera tickets function as a status symbol. But while a desire to hobnob with the upper crust might motivate the occasional operagoer, for hardcore fans the real answer, according to The Opera Fanatic, is passion—they do it for love.
Opera lovers are an intense lot, Claudio E. Benzecry discovers in his look at the fanatics who haunt the legendary Colón Opera House in Buenos Aires, a key site for opera’s globalization. Listening to the fans and their stories, Benzecry hears of two-hundred-mile trips for performances and nightlong camp-outs for tickets, while others testify to a particular opera’s power to move them—whether to song or to tears—no matter how many times they have seen it before. Drawing on his insightful analysis of these acts of love, Benzecry proposes new ways of thinking about people’s relationship to art and shows how, far from merely enhancing aspects of everyday life, art allows us to transcend it.
“Opera inspires passionate responses among audiences. This engaging, subtle book explains how one society shapes those passions. For Benzecry, operagoing in turn illuminates experiences of national honor, of belonging to a city, and of local loyalty to others. Wit and pleasure are not usually found in works of sociology, but they overflow these pages.”
“In this imaginative and deeply researched study, Benzecry provides a powerful alternative to the notion that people engage culture to gain distinction over others. He shows that meaning and passion are central, that people are looking for transcendence, and that opera feels like love. This theoretically sophisticated work will help to change the conversation about cultural consumption.”
“The wonder of The Opera Fanatic is that nobody wrote this book before. An ethnography of opera fans in the Buenos Aires area, this study pinpoints a phenomenon that is worldwide in scope today. Challenging the common sociological wisdom that attending high-culture events expresses the need to establish class distinctions and to build cultural capital, Benzecry provides a convincing alternative model of operagoing that, at least for a sizable public, portrays this activity as affective, quasi-religious, and addictive.”