Ride of the pot stickers?
Amid the pomp, pageantry and athletic prowess of the Summer Olympics, the folks at NBC’s “Today” show continue to provide little insights into Chinese culture, usually while embarrassing themselves in the process.
A few days ago, the crew was trying to sing Chinese opera, and we finally understood the full meaning of “caterwaul” ” it sounded like cats being thrown against a wall.
To Western ears, Chinese opera, even when performed by pros, sounds like some combination of shrieking robots and titanium fingernail extensions being dragged across a blackboard.
But then we started thinking: Just how different is Chinese opera from European opera? People have made jokes about Euro-opera roughly forever. “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” is an opera joke.
Think about it: If you’d never heard Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” before, you’d think it was pretty awful, especially with the shrieking sopranos.
But that piece of music is ingrained in our popular culture. It was used to great effect in “Apocalypse Now,” leading to one of the great lines in movie history:
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like … victory.”
Better yet, it was used in “What’s Opera, Doc?” among the top five Bugs Bunny cartoons ever (the very best, “The Rabbit of Seville,” also had an opera theme).
China may have its equivalent pop culture/opera mashup, but it would probably still sound odd.
So, if we’re going to have opera, let’s have “Ride of the Valkyries” blasting the next time Michael Phelps swims. But please, God, don’t let Al Roker sing it.