Do I have to wear something fancy?
No, just make sure you are wearing something?
The first line above was the first thing I asked when a student asked me to attend her recital at the Hanoi Opera House (Nha Hat Lon Ha Noi). The second line was her response. I laughed. Although I failed to attend her recital because I had to do something during that night, still I congratulated her for her performance. She played the flute.
A week ago, a friend invited me again to watch his cousin’s presentation in the opera house. He would play the violin. The inside of famous Hanoi Opera House is nothing different from other ornate opera houses in the world. I was told by an Australian visiting professor to the University of the Philippines in Diliman that Manila also has its own opera house but was left to crumble in utter disuse. What a waste, I thought.
Going back to the presentation, there were several music, dance, and theater schools in Vietnam who participated. Violin, brass wind, ballet, opera, and juggling (which I believed was out of place until I realized that this was part of the entertainment in the emperor’s court before in China. The art of juggling then is given a high regard and therefore part of high culture).
What is high culture then?
The term, which is more often associated with elitism and the highly educated bourgeoisie, has much to do with the the appreciation for the high art. This then leads to the next logical question–what, in the world, is high art? For most experts on the arts, they consider something as high art if it has been part of the blossoming of major events in mankind’s history. Examples are the arts of the classical Greeks, Roman, Ancient China, India, Eypt, and more recently the Renaissance. So operatic singing of Italian aria, fiddling, ballet, concerto are all high art so are Greek and Roman mythologies.
I might have lacked enough appreciation for these things because I did not grow up in a household that places so much value to out of this word (at least as far as my world is concerned) sensibilities. My taste is that of a working class; even my academic exposure with these arts failed to make me a fanatic of concerto and the likes.
But in the end, I must say they’re beautiful, regardless of their extrinsic value. They elevate human consciousness, an elevation that goes beyond social climbing.
Someday day I might watch an opera again with somebody, hold that somebody’s hand and just feel the emotion of being suspended in the atmosphere of high culture.