Some of us know that classical music persuades, inspires, and consoles, but it seems that the masterpieces also convince the uninitiated.
For quite a while now there has been a commercial airing regularly on Dutch television; its storyline always features a main character at the low point of his or her day who, after consuming a bit of the pick-me-up being advertised, is transformed into an energetic, creative leader. In a recently introduced iteration, a police investigator attempting to elicit a confession from a suspect suddenly begins to sing Vesti La Giubba (beautifully, I might add) — with the text, still in Italian, cleverly altered, and with subtitles to make sure the message is not lost — and all in the vicinity are moved to tears and to telling the truth. It’s fairly silly, in one way, although no more ridiculous than the drawn-from-life plots around which operas are composed. What fascinates me is that someone believed that this musical excerpt, of all the choices available (albeit with an adjusted libretto),would be the most compelling for an audience doubtless used to and expecting something very different.
Classical music persuades, recognized or not
It is impossible for me to judge in unbiased fashion what the effect of the score to Tosca could be upon someone who is unfamiliar with it, let alone with Puccini’s oeuvre and the entire genre of opera. This compels me — knowing that I can never succeed — to try to unravel another mysterious commercial, one which intrigues me even more than the one described above. I can only think that its makers believed that classical music persuades and, more specifically, that anyone watching (and more importantly, listening) would have to be convinced to rush out and buy what is being shown. In this case, the words of the aria have not been changed and could hardly be further from the scenario; while the artist Mario Cavaradossi can be heard singing his heart out about the contrasts between his painting’s subject and his true love, we see frenzied customers grabbing items in a do-it-yourself store, flying through the air in slow motion.
I would give a great deal to have been present at the discussion concerning this clip. Did the art director at the advertising agency proclaim, “Tosca is so passionate that it will make people buy our products”? Was there an argument about it? Did the dissenting voices (the client, perhaps) have to be told that classical music persuades? Did anyone know what the aria is really about and either not care, think it was appropriate, or believe it could be used with not-so-subtle irony? Oh, what I would give . . .
In the case of this particular audience member, the exact opposite of the hoped-for response has been achieved. I admit that I never get tired of this tiresome commercial, no matter how often it pops up: a testament to how classical music persuades me to keep listening — and to close my eyes immediately and ignore the action until it has faded from the screen. Tosca happens to be the opera I most recently played, and I am very happy to dwell upon it. How wonderful that, instead of the common situation of having some annoying little ditty repeating itself over and over in one’s head all day long, unwanted, I am left with the final four thrilling measures from Recondita Armonia, of which I truly can never have enough.