Mashinka

Do current opera stars lack stamina?

41 posts in this topic

Antonio Pappano is critical of unreliable modern singers.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/news/song-and-dance-at-opera-as-director-sir-antonio-pappano-lays-into-underperforming-stars-8533125.html

Critic Rupert Christansen doesn't agree

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/9930191/Opera-singers-need-to-be-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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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. smile.png

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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. smile.png

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."

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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!!!!

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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 wink1.gifwink1.gifsmile.png

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.

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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.

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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

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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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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 wink1.gifwink1.gifsmile.png

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.

Frankly, I don't think Opera is Gesamtkunstwerk for the reasons Birdsall outlined above. It's a nice idea but does not work in practice (or at least not consistently).

Also unlike a medium such as film, which is the most "complete" art form imo, little is lost from the total effect when one removes the visual element.

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Also unlike a medium such as film, which is the most "complete" art form imo, little is lost from the total effect when one removes the visual element.

Not sure I agree, though I'll admit I've seen some terrible productions in London that left me wishing I'd saved my money and simply bought the CD instead.

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Birdsall,

Just ignore me, by the way! I just went on too long!

I don't think so for a minute! I think this discussion, and your insights in particular, are fascinating. Frankly, I don't have too many folks in my life with whom I could have such a discussion. Please, go on long again....or even longer!! smile.png

I sort of went cold turkey once I found ballet (and ballet started giving me the highs that opera was no longer giving me)....

I can understand that easily. I am much like you (except I haven't gone cold on opera). Ballet is numero uno with me too. I would walk on broken glass to see ballet, but I need a sidewalk to get me to see an opera. I am totally addicted to ballet.....it seems I have no choice but to go to every production 3, 4, or 5 times (and see every possible cast). In fact, I will be seeing PNB's current program (Concerto Barocco, On the Front Porch of Heaven, In the Upper Room, and a world premiere by PNB's own Paul Gibson who I think is a masterful, but little known, choreographer) 3 times in 24 hours starting tonight. Operas I usually see once, sometimes twice, and very occasionally more than that. I skip operas; I never skip ballet.

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.

I was thunder struck by his performance. I'll be there for the encore next Wednesday too. You mentioned "a night to remember for the rest of our lives".....well, in that last Act, Kaufmann gave me a night (day actually) I will never forget. He was born to do that scene (talk about drama!!).

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?

There's where the "balance" comes in. Can you achieve perfection? Maybe once in a great while.....maybe never; but can you strive every time to get as close as possible while making the trade offs that nearly always have to be made.....you bet! Not only that, but every audience member has the right to react differently to the balance presented. Clearly, you would prefer that the better voice was used, I might settle for less voice if I got a better actor. Kaufmann, you and I can agree, got it all right in Parsifal.

I have been told by non-opera lovers that "All opera singers sound the same..."

I've heard that too; not only that but I was one of those people just 10 years ago (maybe even less). But when I said that, I was not putting down opera, or being resigned that my experiences with jazz and rock had spoiled me; rather I knew there was something there that I just didn't yet have the experience or knowledge to understand. Well, I worked hard at it, and went to dozens of operas. Now, I hear the difference all right, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. How glorious it all sounds (and feels) to me now. I don't think I'm alone. If I had to guess, I'd say more folks appreciate great operatic voices than ever (Met HD is helping with that I think......my wife and I even took a 15 year old friend who was into rock music big time to see Met HD's Die Valkerie a couple of years ago, and he got it....all 5 hours of it!)

There are videos too but they were much slower in taking off. The singing in opera is what most people crave.

I disagree with you strongly here. I don't know how typical I am, but I am in the process of moving to a new area and a new home, and I can't wait to install a biggish flat screen near the hi-fi in order to purchase only DVDs of opera (no more CDs). Why? Gesamtkunstwerk again. Now that I "get" the drama that opera is, simply listening to the music is not enough for me. I want to see character. I want to read the super titles because I've learned that nearly every word is reflected somehow in the orchestra, and that it is the emotion and "human-ness" that the singer puts into the words that counts with me. A pretty voice is just a piece of what I'm looking for now. (OK....for those who know an opera cold, you know what is being said at each moment with your eyes closed, but I ain't there yet.)

I spent a long time collecting over 100 Norma bootlegs in my years of opera going.

WOW.....I think that is so cool. Perhaps you are just an obsessive collector of things (I am the opposite), but I'd bet that you did it out of love of opera.

Anyway, opera is wonderful (it was Kaufmann that got me going this time smile.png), but ballet is nirvana. In about 6 hours I will be seeing my spiritual guru, Mr B, work his magic once again. Can't wait!!

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Sandy, it is nice to hear your enthusiasm for both opera and ballet. Inject me with some of that enthusiasm, please! LOL I used to have it for opera but now only for ballet.

I am the opposite of you. I spent the last 20 years + traveling to go see operas (and singers) and collecting opera cds, dvds, etc. Opera was the Love of My Life when my sister died 20 years ago. I craved it more than anything. I even told my partner, "Opera comes first. You are second!"

I would squeeze in ballets if I could. If I were in a city and no opera was playing. If there was a touring company or local company performing, etc. But opera always took first priority. I kept wanting the ballet bug to bite me, and although I enjoyed what I saw (and knew absolutely nothing about what I was seeing) I still kept trying. It also didn't hurt that very short ballets are contained in some operas, although usually they use very new choreography.

It took my partner moving me to Gainesville, FL and my walking away from a career I loved to cause me to fall into a deep depression and suddenly opera betrayed me and was not working. It had been my crazy meds for 20 years and BAM! It no longer worked out of the blue. I have sort of been out of work for 3 years now and unable to get a job in my career, so after years of trying to "love" ballet and it simply wouldn't stick, suddenly I plunged into ballet, and ballet is now my new crazy meds. Keeps me sane. So off I go to Russia in a week!

It is hard to find opera people, by the way, except online. My friends would go once with me as an experience but rarely wanted to go a second time. They enjoyed it, but they checked it off their list. "Well, I've been to an opera and had a good time. What's next on my bucket list?" was their attitude.

You are doing the right thing. Dozens of operas will get you to learn the variety (time periods, styles, etc). I agree that Met HDs have helped expose a lot more people. Some look down upon seeing opera in a movie theater, but I think it is better than nothing. People forget that some of us are stuck in small towns with no opera!

What I meant about video being slow to take off is that back in the late 80s early 90s opera on video still wasn't a big thing. But opera on cds was. I think video took off once dvds became the norm. Believe me, it was a real drag to watch an opera on VHS tape. You had to rewing or fast forward to go back to a part you wanted to watch again. And the picture quality was not as good.

By the way, I think Wagner is much better with the visual element. I think Wagner is fine with just audio, but the Ring is definitely enhanced big time with the visuals. Bel Canto opera is easier to enjoy as just an audio experience if you can't get to a bel canto opera in person. Bel canto is more about the singing and the acrobatics with the voice, so I think it is just as enjoyable to listen to an audio CD of Lucia di Lammermoor as it is to see the opera. But that is my opinion. But I would agree that it is preferable to have the visual when it comes to Wagner's Ring. But audio is better than nothing, and there are some outstanding recordings (audio only) that you should consider buying!!!!!!

I read the supertitles (or seat back titles if at the Met or Santa Fe Opera) too, especially if it is an opera like Il Pirata that I am less familiar with, but there are some like La Traviata or Norma that I could probably come close to singing all roles in the shower!!! As you listen more and more you will memorize whole sections of operas that you love even if you don't really speak the language. I can get by if lost in Italy, but I really don't speak the language. I call my Italian "Operatic Italian" but I could probably sing most of Norma or La Traviata.

Luckily, I speak German, so Wagner is easier to follow for me, although Wagner's German is a bit weird (poetic or wacky) so not always easy to understand.....plus, the singers do not always have great diction. But it is not absolutely essential to know the language. You will be amazed how you will memorize whole scenes and understand them, even if you don't actually speak the language.

Have fun seeing the ballets this weekend, especially Concerto Barocco which is lovely!!!

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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."

I remember that one!

Also unlike a medium such as film, which is the most "complete" art form imo, little is lost from the total effect when one removes the visual element.

Hello, ballet_n00b, nice to hear from you in this forum. It's true, film does seem to contain elements from all the arts. I can enjoy opera as a purely aural experience, but I miss not so much the visual elements of most opera productions as the special aural quality and immediacy of live performance (also the one thing lacking in the cinema).

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Opera is a much bigger financial investment than ballet. Opera also tends to be a bigger investment of time. (Most ballets are approx. 2 or 2 and a half hours.) As an example of the pricing issue, a Saturday matinee ticket at the Met Opera in the balcony can cost me as much as $130. I think the ABT price for a Sat matinee at the Met is $50. That 's a substantilal difference. I could not afford to go to so many ABT performances if the prices were similar to those charged at the opera.

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I knew there was something there that I just didn't yet have the experience or knowledge to understand. Well, I worked hard at it, and went to dozens of operas. Now, I hear the difference all right, and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

That's the spirit! Having learned to love not just opera, but jazz and classical music the same way (by study and perseverance), I've never understood the complaint that the high arts are elitist. If they're elitist, well, what do the "elite" know that I don't? Perhaps for some people it takes humility to ask that question. For me, it's just come naturally. I've never doubted the understanding would be worth the effort.

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Also unlike a medium such as film, which is the most "complete" art form imo, little is lost from the total effect when one removes the visual element.

Probably truer of silent pictures. With sound, film often became radio, especially with MGM comedies – and with televison you can tell most of what's going only by checking the screen once in a while.

I think the voice tends to trump the image. The quality, depth or lightness of the voice is always up for scrutiny, whether with opera singers or actors – their voices assure you who they are. I remember waking up to Kathleen Farrier's voice on the radio and thinking it sounded like rubies, that no other voice could possibly sound like that.

I once worked in a small second hand record shop on a side street off Hollywood Boulevard – like the movie High Fidelity but for classical and jazz – where people dug in the bins for very special old recordings, as Birdsall mentions doing, to get closer and closer to the real thing. Do you have the Steuermann Carnaval or bootleg Caballe in Avignon or the Richter Debussy with the falling chair or Well Tempered with all the birds in the background? Once it was Mel Torme looking for an out of print Quartetto Italiano Schumann string quartet set. Anyway it surprised me when people began collecting videos of opera performances – a line of some sort had been crossed. Under the harsh eye of the camera (different than seeing actors on a stage), all of the mystery of opera seemed to go away.

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A most interesting discussion, but we're wandering far from the topic, kids.

I remember waking up to Kathleen Farrier's voice on the radio and thinking it sounded like rubies, that no other voice could possibly sound like that.

A perfect description of Ferrier's tone, thank you.....

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A most interesting discussion, but we're wandering far from the topic, kids.

In my case off topic of the off-topic.

But in the old days – I think Christiansen touches on this – opera singers may not have taken care of their voices as much as they should have. I remember Joan Sutherland cited as being especially careful in chosing what she sang – and how often she performed.

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