Top Five Similarities Between Opera and Football

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - 04:00 PM

Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Paulo Szot of the Metropolitan Opera Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Paulo Szot of the Metropolitan Opera (Getty Images/Ken Howard/Met)

As the NFL takes over the tri-state area in anticipation of the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 2, the grandiosity of this annual event could be called operatic, and that’s not only because Renée Fleming is singing the national anthem.

To tease out some of the similarities between the gridiron and the opera stage, we called in composer Peter Stopschinski, librettist Kirk Lynn and director Luke Leonard, the team behind Bum Phillips All-American Opera, a new stage work about O.A. “Bum” Phillips, the head coach of the Houston Oilers from 1975 to 1980. The work is to receive its world premiere at La Mama in March. Here are their top five:

1. Talent

“The least talented person performing is incredibly talented,” says Lynn of both the football field and the opera stage. Moreover, both realms force either singers or players to face several hours worth of physical tests, whether it’s singing a high C above a full orchestra or making an incredible catch to score a touchdown. Furthermore, the fans in both audiences pay top dollar to watch these super-human feats being accomplished.

2. Rhythm

Stopschinski was inspired by the actually sounds of the football game in composing the score to Bum Phillips. "There definitely is a flow to a football game, but there is also a jerkiness to the play. We actually scored plays from three of the Oiler’s playoff games," he said. The composer also spent hours watching footage of in-the-huddle chants and listening to play-by-play calls. “The cadence of the announcers is very musical. They pretty much scored Dick Enberg’s calls note-for-note using the inflection of his voice.” Stopschinski isn’t the first person to try to score the sounds of the gridiron; Charles Ives also attempted to do the same in his 1898 piece for orchestra, Yale-Princeton Football Game.

3. Language

Meanwhile, the melodramatic and over-the-top verbiage bandied about on the field was also well suited for an opera. There are a lot of clichés, but it’s beautiful because the other side of a cliché is that it becomes universally understood, so if you use wordplay the audience understands it immediately." Phillips’s witticisms, such as “The harder we played, the behinder we got,” provided an almost endless source for the librettist.

4. Larger-than-life characters

Like opera, football isn’t just about the in-game action, but also the personalities that occupy the field of play. A game is as much about the score as the players' personal triumphs and failures; similarly, opera revolves around characters. “The opera is not about football, it’s about Bum Phillips and the sacrifices he made,” says Leonard. "The story of Bum Phillips is a story about a life of great passion," Stopschinski added. There’s this sort of grandness to it. One can say the same about most of opera’s protagonists from Falstaff to Siegfreid.

Angela Gheorghiu and Richard Sherman meet the microphone.

5. Pageantry

“There's something similar in the way that football fans get dressed up for a game with jerseys and facepaint, and the way that opera fans get dressed up in their cocktail attire,” says Kirk, drawing parallels between the voyeurism of the loges and the stadium seats, as well as the rituals of tailgating and the pre-opera champagne bar. However, it doesn’t require any knowledge of football or opera to see similarities between Viking fans and Wagner’s Ring nuts.



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Comments [6]

Anders Jone from Frödingsvägen 7, Stockholm

Awesome post.thanks for sharing.....

Apr. 15 2014 09:01 AM
Stanley M Stern from N.Y.

The conductors for both Seattle and ""Denver should lead a short classical
"piece" in open view, conducting either their home town orchestra or a local
young group from N.Y, and N.J.
The converge will upgrade classical music and promote our area

Feb. 02 2014 09:39 AM

And this year the Met and MetLife will both have the same great diva!

Jan. 30 2014 08:39 AM
Gev Sweeney from The Jersey Shore

The other similarity between opera and football: it's a tragedy when nobody scores -- especially in a romantic opera.

Jan. 30 2014 07:27 AM
David from Long Island

Surely you mean this as a joke!!!!

Jan. 29 2014 12:51 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

There is a substantial intersection of football and classical music,opera in particular.Keith Miller,Morris Robinson,Lawrence Harris, and Ta'u Pupu'a have all combined these two disciplines.David Daniels played basketball,and there are a number of foreign-born performers who have played rugby and/or soccer.

Jan. 28 2014 08:46 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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