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Do current opera stars lack stamina?


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#1 Mashinka

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 08:51 AM

Antonio Pappano is critical of unreliable modern singers.

http://www.independe...rs-8533125.html

Critic Rupert Christansen doesn't agree

http://www.telegraph...-sensitive.html

There's some truth in the comment about nasties caught on planes though, a rogue germ I picked up on a flight in December nearly carried me off.

#2 abatt

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 09:02 AM

I think a lot of opera singers nowadays are chosen for their physical appearance, and not necessarily their voices. We live in a culture that is very focused on the visual, and this is especially true in circumstances where operas are being recorded for DVDs or for movie house broadcast. As an example, I heard Grigolo live at the Met and was definitely NOT impressed. However, his good looks and charm have carried him to into lead roles in major opera houses. Would someone like the significantly overweight Pavarotti make it in today's opera climate?

#3 Mashinka

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 09:16 AM

I think a lot of opera singers nowadays are chosen for their physical appearance, and not necessarily their voices. We live in a culture that is very focused on the visual, and this is especially true in circumstances where operas are being recorded for DVDs or for movie house broadcast. As an example, I heard Grigolo live at the Met and was definitely NOT impressed. However, his good looks and charm have carried him to into lead roles in major opera houses. Would someone like the significantly overweight Pavarotti make it in today's opera climate?


I saw Grigolo in Boheme on Wednesday and the orchestra drowned him out, but then the rest of the cast were subject to heavy-handed conducting too. Out of interest, what did you see him in? He is very impressive in both Manon Lescaut and Rigoletto, but on the whole he divides the London opera buffs.

#4 abatt

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 09:22 AM

I saw Grigolo in Boheme too. I have not seen him in any other opera because I now intentionally avoid his performances. If he is cast, I don't go.

#5 Mashinka

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 09:49 AM

To be fair to Grigolo I don't think he has a reputation for being unreliable, and I think you should reconsider if he ever sings Des Grieux in your neck of the woods.

He is certainly not your average tenor though.

http://www.guardian....rad?INTCMP=SRCH

#6 dirac

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 09:55 AM

Thanks for starting the topic, Mashinka. It’s hard to say on the basis of what’s in this article – it sounds as if in this instance a combination of bad luck and bad planning led to a rash of cancellations. I would be interested to see some hard numbers. As Christiansen pointed out, singers travel a lot more and modern productions require more work and rehearsal – the days when an assistant could walk the director through Flagstad’s Isolde are long gone. Unreliable stars weren’t exactly unknown in the past (hello, Mme. Caballe).

And not all cancellations are equal. Christiansen cites Callas as an offender, but Callas only began backing out of performances and commitments when her voice had entered the unpredictable stage, although she was criticized as a spoiled diva at the time.

abatt does have a point about singers chosen more for their pretty faces than a robust sound. Pavarotti wasn’t always so huge, though. In his younger years he was heavy but also tall and handsome, not the tub of lard he later became.

#7 abatt

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:02 AM

The Queen of unreliability is Angela Gheorgiu. She is a Diva in the worst sense of the word. She has not been invited back to the Met in several years, and I suspect she will never be invisted back as long as Gelb is at the helm. I can't blame him, frankly. She pulled out of two new productions which she was supposed to star in - Faust and Carmen. Over the years, I think she has cancelled out at the Met at least as many times as she has appeared there. I see she is back ont he roster for Covent Garden for next season in Boheme (opposite Grigolo, I think).

#8 Mashinka

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:05 AM

[size=4][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]abatt does have a point about singers chosen more for their pretty faces than a robust sound. Pavarotti wasn’t always so huge, though. In his younger years he was heavy but also tall and handsome, not the tub of lard he later became.[/font][/size]


I've a feeling young singers may be health conscious to the point that some may well be gym bunnies. I've a picture in my mind of Simon Keenleyside swinging above the rigging in Billy Budd a couple of years ago, but then baritones have always tended to be a bit more trim. Posted Image

#9 dirac

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 11:06 AM


abatt does have a point about singers chosen more for their pretty faces than a robust sound. Pavarotti wasn’t always so huge, though. In his younger years he was heavy but also tall and handsome, not the tub of lard he later became.


I've a feeling young singers may be health conscious to the point that some may well be gym bunnies. I've a picture in my mind of Simon Keenleyside swinging above the rigging in Billy Budd a couple of years ago, but then baritones have always tended to be a bit more trim. Posted Image


Nathan Gunn's rigging got a lot of comment when he appeared in the same work. It could be an audience-drawing subtitle for the opera: "Billy Budd, or Shirtless Heaven."

#10 Birdsall

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 12:57 PM

A good Wagnerian mezzo/soprano of a previous generation who is no longer around but taught many singers still singing today believed weight lifting was deadly to the voice, because it caused neck muscles to thicken. She would get mad if her singers started lifting weights. But most of the male singers now do it, b/c they get more gigs. The crazy productions have them on stage in their underwear half the time. So they get gigs due to being buff but they can't really sing the roles.

The emphasis is no longer on "voce, voce, voce".....it is on looking hot and whole careers are being made by looking hot and singing adequately. You now pay top dollar to hear "adequate" or "decent" singing, not amazing singing. The days of amazing jaw dropping voices are over, because the emphasis is on being "hot"....

I mentioned in another topic that Deborah Voigt was once one of the outstanding voices of our time, but after gastric bypass surgery she is a shadow of her former self voice wise (although she's probably a happier person and she does act better). She was a prime example of voce, voce, voce. I don't think she would have ever been drowned out by an orchestra back then. She had it all.

I will take a Dolora Zajick or a Piotr Beczala any day over some "hot" singer!!!!

#11 Birdsall

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 12:58 PM

Or give me fat Voigt back any day!

#12 SandyMcKean

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 01:54 PM

The emphasis is no longer on "voce, voce, voce".....it is on looking hot and whole careers are being made by looking hot and singing adequately.


My, my....aren't we cynical Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Hey, I'm with Wagner: "Gesamtkunstwerk", remember? Opera is nothing if it ain't drama. For my money, opera is the ultimate art form, and for sure the ultimate dramatic vehicle. "The Voice" has always only been a part of that "Gesamtkunstwerk" concept. Lighting counts. Customes count. Why not physical appearance? And I don't mean gratuitous looks either, but a look that serves the story. In short......a look that is part of a "Gesamtkunstwerk". (Naturally, this takes balance; but that's what artistic directors and general directors are for -- to provide that balance. I think, on the whole, they do a pretty fine job of it.)

Personally, I don't want Merrill Streep playing Peter Pan regardless of her acting prowess.

#13 Birdsall

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 05:53 PM

Don't get me wrong. There are a a few great singers singing today (ones that also do the drama justice), and when you hear them, you know it. When you hear someone like Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde or Jonas Kaufmann in almost anything he sings the hairs on your head tingle. You are literally blown away. Of course, these types are always special.

Yes, Gesamtkunstwerk is what it is all about, and ideally we would get singers who act up a storm and sing wonderfully at the same time, but we rarely get that. If we are lucky we get decent singing and adequate acting, but hardly ever a night to remember for the rest of our lives. And that is okay too. Mediocre nights at the opera are okay. They can satisfy like an average dinner can also satisfy us in some ways. But I personally (and this is my opinion) would rather have amazing singers in front of crappy sets and crappy lighting and wearing crappy costumes rather than what I think is the norm today: crappy singing with outstanding costumes, sets, and lighting. Before I slowed down on my opera attending I started joking with a friend, "It sure is sad that I am going tonight mainly to see the sets! To this I have sunk. I am excited about the sets!" LOL

I guarantee that a soprano who can do the strip tease herself in Salome is almost never someone who is going to sing Salome well. That role requires someone to have a powerful and pretty heavy voice (but a silvery sound). I would rather have a fat singer in Salome who goes off stage and a dancer strips in her place rather than a beautiful svelte soprano who can not do the singing justice but can do the Dance of the Seven Veils. Not to mention most svelte sopranos are most likely going to shred their vocal cords singing Salome, because more than likely they are too young to be singing such a role!

So it is a really difficult problem in opera. Who serves the drama better? The soprano who does not look the part AT ALL but sings the hell out of the role or the soprano who is totally wrong vocally but looks the part? In more than any other art form you have to suspend disbelief in opera. In the past a huge woman like Monserrat Caballe could sing Salome who is supposed to be a sixteen (not sure exact age) year old beauty. Historically, opera has had no choice because Artistic and General directors used to hire singers mainly based on whether they were actually right for the role. When you find the right voice you snap her up regardless of weight or looks. I think this is a phenomenon in opera that started out of necessity. I suspect before hard rock took off, the average person knew what good singing was and so the average person on the street back in the 1950s probably could tell good singing from bad singing. So opera companies had to hire the right singer for the right role. Now that screaming in hard rock and speak-singing (Madonna for example) in pop and whatever it is in rap......this is the only thing people hear, they don't know if the opera singer they are hearing is good or bad. I have been told by non-opera lovers that "All opera singers sound the same..." and I had a non-opera lover friend attend an opera with me and he was enthralled by the worst tenor I ever heard in my life....totally off key and screeching up a storm. I didn't have the heart to tell him how lousy I thought the tenor was. I think people just hear bellowing in an opera-ish sort of way and think it must be wonderful.

By the way, notice the huge amount of audio bootlegs or audio studio recordings of opera. Ballet, for example, requires the visual. Opera doesn't for most collectors. People trade opera (audio only) like it is going out of style. There are videos too but they were much slower in taking off. The singing in opera is what most people crave. Yes, everything else is on the wish list, but the Number One thing we crave is good singing, although I have met the rare opera lover who doesn't care about the singers, but I think that is very rare.

I spent a long time collecting over 100 Norma bootlegs in my years of opera going. I had Angela Meade's Caramoor Norma debut on cd within days of it happening. It was like searching for the Holy Grail to get all these Normas. Maybe this one would be the one. With hindsight I could have saved time and energy and just collected the ones with Callas, maybe a couple of Caballe ones......Sutherland's first studio recording has some exciting extra music......etc. But all those other recordings of sopranos I have in Norma can really be trashed, I hate to say. By the way, Meade does some very decent things, and she will sing the role at the Met next season. But I don't think she's the Norma we've all been waiting for our whole lifetime. Back to the drawing boards.

#14 Birdsall

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 06:02 PM

Just ignore me, by the way! I just went on too long! I am VERY JADED when it comes to opera. I sort of went cold turkey once I found ballet (and ballet started giving me the highs that opera was no longer giving me), but I did go see Kaufmann in the HD Parsifal at the movies recently, and he gave me that thrill that made me fall in love with opera. Very few singers do that. So I have hope for myself that I will find the thrill again in opera! LOL I am actually looking forward to his HD Werther next season!!!!

Oh, and I went to a rare Verdi opera a couple of weekends ago in person: Un giorno di regno.......it was his second opera, I believe, and he hadn't found his own voice yet. Sounds almost like Rossini or Donizetti. And I found it interesting, but don't ask me about the singers.....I want to dwell on the positives in this particular posting!!!! LOL

#15 sandik

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:08 PM

Nathan Gunn's rigging got a lot of comment when he appeared in the same work. It could be an audience-drawing subtitle for the opera: "Billy Budd, or Shirtless Heaven."


This made me giggle. A few years ago, the Opera News calendar featured Placido Domingo in costume for Samson. My sister and I still refer to him as "Mr. January."


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