Since I can't seem to think of anything to write about, I might as well argue with Jeanette Winterson. That's not an obscure figure of speech: I really do have a bone to pick with her. Flicking through this month's Gramophone, I came across Jeanette's (sorry, I don't feel scholarly enough tonight to call her "Winterson) little article at the back, the usual "Classical Music and Me" kind of spot. It's pretty innocuous stuff and this is not some kind of vitriolic taking to task. She likes Wagner and Natalie Clein and other things and good for her; she's just edited a collection of opera-themed short stories (called Midsummer Nights) so I suppose in some ways she and I are probably kindred spirits.
What I really can't get over is her suggestion that the purpose of surtitles can be served equally well by merely boning up on the plot ahead of time. As if a broad strokes understanding of the story were all that anyone could need. As if all the complex dialogue or lyric poetry or punning wit of a libretto (even a mediocre one) serve to do is add a bit more detail to a story whose full richness can still be understood from a programme note or your handy Grove. Would Jeanette suggest that reading the Wikipedia synopsis of Pride & Prejudice is as rich an experience as reading the novel, or that downloading a pixelated Artchive image of an Ingres is as good as seeing it in a gallery? Should we check IMDb and then watch foreign films without subtitles? Are the Cliffs Notes all we need after all? No, I don't for a moment imagine she'd advocate anything of the sort. An appreciation of the details, and of the style in which those details are realised, can vastly enhance our appreciation of the whole. In opera, surtitles are a fantastic way to reveal those details, and yet she urges their removal. It's beyond me.