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Do current opera stars lack stamina?


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#16 ballet_n00b

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Posted 14 March 2013 - 10:24 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.


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.

#17 Mashinka

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 05:44 AM

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.

#18 SandyMcKean

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 10:22 AM

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!! Posted Image

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 Posted Image), 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!!

#19 Birdsall

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 01:31 PM

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!!!

#20 dirac

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 01:48 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."


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).

#21 abatt

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 01:50 PM

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.

#22 kfw

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 07:20 PM

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.

#23 Quiggin

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 11:46 AM

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.

#24 dirac

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 12:21 PM

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.....

#25 Quiggin

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 01:31 PM

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.

#26 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 11:51 PM

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).


Posted Image

#27 Birdsall

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 09:57 AM

Yes, Voigt is better looking and probably happier and healthier. She has become a more interesting actress. However, I think her voice used to be a force of nature. The selfish side of me misses that force of nature. She can still give decent performances, but it no longer astounds you in pure vocal terms, in my personal opinion.

#28 abatt

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 01:51 PM

Do you think the gastric bypass was the source of her vocal decline, or perhaps just the result of age.

#29 Birdsall

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 03:12 PM

Do you think the gastric bypass was the source of her vocal decline, or perhaps just the result of age.


I think the gastric bypass is the direct result. A soprano who is singing with a good technique is usually in her prime around 50 and maybe showing tiny signs of wear if she has sung heavy repetoire, but many great sopranos sang into their 60s decently, and I think she is 52. Hypothetically, she should still be in good or possibly excellent form.

I could be wrong but I think the Salome in Chicago that she sang was her first or one of her first appearances after the surgery and I heard a totally different voice (loss of strength, loss of size of voice, high notes not as good, etc.). Of course, she was learning how to use her muscles differently due to no longer having weight to depend on to help force the column of air out. I have heard even when you lose weight without surgery you sometimes have to relearn your technique.

Ever since that surgery she has never sounded superhuman like she used to sound (in my personal opinion). She improved after the Salome that I heard but I still hear a voice that is a shadow of what it once was. Of course, all of this is my own personal opinion. Some people still love her. I want so very much to love her as a singer, but for me her tone is now very ordinary. Before the surgery I thought she had everything (high notes without strain, low notes, agility in the voice....she even trilled as Lady Macbeth, large voice, etc). I was actually waiting for her to gravitate toward the dramatic soprano repetoire back then, but she was careful and then after surgery she started taking on more and more heavy roles (Minnie in La Fanciulla, Brunnhilde, etc) when I feel she should now avoid heavy repetoire. Now I hear she will do Marie in Wozzeck next season! Gran Dio!!!!

#30 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 03:33 PM

I work in a bariatric unit-(gastric bypass patients). There's a before and an after procedure for every single body system in relationship with the aftermath. There's a lot of gain, but substantial losses too, particularly to the gastrointestinal system. There is basically a complete makeover to the abdominal walls, being the most common danger what we call "dumping syndrome".


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