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2003-11-25 Snobbery

While just about to enjoy dinner with friends in a Dublin restaurant recently, the waiter greeted us and presented us with the wine-list. He asked if anyone had any preferences, and one of my fellow diners replied authoritatively "ABC!".

 

It was explained to me that this in fact meant "Anything but Chardonnay". "Oh dear, was one of my dearest friends a wine-snob?" Everyone but me was aware of this alternative yuppy use of "ABC", and this in itself disturbed me a little.

Then I began to look at myself and others, and realised that sadly, we all have a tendency towards snobbiness. I do not like instant coffee, for example, and I will only drink real coffee. Am I therefore a coffee-snob? There are those who, when holidaying in Spain, would never dream of setting foot on a Torremolinos beach, but would rather spend time in dreamy Andalucia. A skiing holiday in Bulgaria would be frowned upon by regular Austrian skiiers.

 

Cunard cruisers would most definitely look down upon P&O cruisers. Many supposed dog-lovers will always insist on having a pedigree dog, and would never even consider giving a much-needed home to a rescue dog. In suburbia, "keeping up with the Joneses" seems to be on the up, and weddings, as a rule now have to be super lavish, over-the-top and cost thousands.

 

In the world of music, sadly, snobbery abounds. There was a phase back in the 1980s where many believed the only way to perform Baroque and Classical music was on authentic instruments with an authentic sound. A lot of purists still cling steadfast to their convictions in this regard, but surely if Bach and Mozart had today's musical resources they would use them to their fullest.

 

Mozart was famous for his wacky sense of humour, so I have no problem imagining him letting loose on a synthesiser with all the effects it would have on offer to this brilliant mind. Even the piano has an extra two octaves since his time, are we seriously to believe he would ignore them? There have always been classical and opera snobs who look down on the inferior world of pop and rock. Sir Thomas Beecham said that the 'musical purist' was a 20th century phenomenon, and so then perhaps is the 'musical snob'.

 

The elitism often associated with opera seems to have become more pronounced in the last hundred years, with ticket prices being a possible contributory factor. This snobbery seems a little incongruous when one realises that composers such as Mozart and even Lizst were hailed as pop stars of their day. The operetta composer Franz Léhar was shunned by his serious opera composer contemporaries for being a sort of 'Andrew Lloyd-Webber' of his time, his "Merry Widow" enjoying 400 performances in its first two years.

 

Even Verdi's "Slaves Chorus" from "Nabucco" became an alternative national anthem, and his tenor showpiece "La Donna é mobile" from "Rigoletto" was whistled in the streets.

 

Despite being branded with the label 'classical crossover', we three tenors have managed to avoid any negativity so far towards our 'classical-pop-Irish' recordings and performances.The snobbery doesn't just end there however, as there also exists a sort of 'inverted snobbery' with those pop and rock fans who "don't like classical music and opera" or "don't think they like tenors". People can often be intimidated by the white tie and tails, or simply by the word 'tenor' which tends to alienate many. A barrier can form and suddenly there is a 'them' and 'us' scenario.

 

There are many singers who, despite very lowly beginnings, have developed an attitude, a superiority and a snobbiness, which belies their rather more humble origins, and makes them appear very ugly indeed.

 

There seems to be a thin line between snobbery and taste. If you like something, surely you ought to go for it, but if you are doing it to simply follow the crowd, then think again. One of my pet hates is the obsession with wearing 'designer label' clothes. I am a huge fan of "Absolutely Fabulous", and in a favourite scene Eddy arrives downstairs in a hideous looking ensemble, to which Patsy exclaims "Oh my God, what the hell are you wearing?". "It's Christian Lacroix sweetie", she replies. "Oh well then, it's fabulous darling!".