Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Lessons from Wagner about innovation: 2. welcome strange adaptions

In the 1890's the New York Metropolitan Opera presented Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnbeg as I Maestri Cantori Norimberga.

In response to noisy and influential box holders, the Met had decided to ban German language operas. No one, however, had said anything about banning Wagner's music, so a German opera was converted into an Italian one.

Now to us, glancing casually back down the years, this seems an odd or even strange adaption. If Die Meistersinger was going to be translated into anything why not English, the language spoken by the majority of people?

But a more careful look at the context of the times begins to make sense of what initially seems strange and a little laughable.

The noisy, influential (and wealthy) box holders were nostalgic for their past Italian pleasures: Italian, the voice of song (English was purely for the down market screeching of the music hall); prima donna coloratura sopranos; set piece arias sung upon expensive sets; the freedom to talk during the performance when and with whom one liked; and to applaud when the moment took one.

By successfully calling for a ban on German language operas the noisy box holders could perhaps get some of the above things back. At the very least they would be granted a rest from the rich diet of symphonic, never pausing for breath narrative driven operas that demanded their full attention and left them exhausted by the evening's end.

However, the music of these German operas was very good indeed, even some of the noisy box holders agreed on that, and the majority of those making up the Met's wider audience (many of whom were well-educated German immigrants) lapped it up. In fact, it was Wagner's German operas that had enabled the Met to turn a profit during the preceding years.

So, given that Wagner's new, symphonic operas were gaining popularity and signalling the artistic and musical way forward, but doing so at the risk of alienating and losing an influential, high profile and wealthy segment of the audience, the Met decided upon a simple but clever adaption that would help reassure and appease the noisy box holders and dampen down most if not all of the resentments of the wider, German immigrant seeded audience: I Maestri Cantori Norimberga was born.

So remember that what at first glance looks like a strange or even absurd adaption to an idea or innovation can often, on closer inspection, make perfect sense given the context and situation. Do not let its strangeness mask its value; remove the mask of its apparent absurdity; seek to reveal how it will support the introduction and adoption of your new idea. 

Do not be afraid to adopt the adaption.

(To read more posts in this series go to the July, August and September 2016 Blog Archive.) 

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