I get the impression that many of the points made in this article by Roger Scruton, lamenting an apparent desecration of beauty in much of modern art, could apply in almost any age. I get a sense here, amongst the flowery language and lofty ideals, of an older person complaining and decrying the fact that 'things are not what they used to be when I was young', as many old people tend to do.
We should not forget that what most people consider to be beautiful is largely a result of upbringing and familiarity. It would not be difficult to imagine an ancient Egyptian, familiar with the very stylised figures and carvings that were the norm in ancient Egypt, upon seeing for the first time the (then) modern Greek sculptures depicting so clearly every muscle of the naked human form, might recoil in revulsion.
It is often said that music is the universal language. Not true at all. One has to become familiar with, and make an effort, to appreciate, for example, Arabian music with its quarter tones. Those of us who appreciate opera and classical music, tend to find most modern pop music pretty dreadful, and those who are really into modern pop music tend to find calssical music pretty insipid and boring.
Those of us who really appreciate and find beauty in the music of Beethoven, should not forget that many people who lived in the era when Beethoven was composing, who were steeped in the more traditional and classical forms of Bach and Mozart, found a lot of Beethoven's works pretty dreadful and downright ugly.
It wouldn't susrprise me, if one were to do some historical research and dig into the archives of that era, one would come across an article of very similar tone to Roger Scruton's, decrying this awful trend in modern music towards ugliness, started by Beethoven.
One thing I have to thank Roger Scruton for, in this article, is his reference to the production of Mozart's Die Entführung, directed by Calixto Bieito. Is this avaliable on Blu-ray? (I just checked, and it appears not. Sigh!)
Until I see this (shall we say ultra-realistic) version of this opera, I shouldn't comment on specifics. But in general terms, I can say that operas tend to have silly and unrealistic plots. With drama in general (plays and novels), there's a certain capacity for 'suspension of disbelief' required from the audience. With opera, that capacity for suspension of disbelief needs to be very high. One of Mozart's most popular operas, if not the most popular, The Magic Flute, is totally silly. If it wasn't for the music, one might think one was watching an episode of Sesame Street.
It so often happens in opera, the music is sublime but the plot is silly. Wagner's Ring cycle is considered to be one of the greatest achievments of a marriage between drama and music, yet so often the stage work and acting is turgid, bombastic, boring and plain silly. I really wish someone like Steven Spielberg would modify the drama into something worth watching.
I can only assume that Calixto Bieto tried to make that silly opera by Mozart more credible to a modern audience by injecting a bit of realism into the plot.
There's an interesting turning point in the history of opera around the time of Wagner when Nietsche became dissatisfied with Wagner's heavily romanticised, unrealistic and soporific depictions of ancient myths in his operas. The first performances of Bizet's Carmen were like a breath of fresh air to Nietsche. This was opera verissimo for the first time. A plot that did not require super-human effort in suspension of disbelief, a plot that resonated with the experiences of ordinary people, whether personally or now through the ABC news.