Friday, August 5, 2011

Opera Lovers versus Opera Singer Lovers

This is the eternal battle that has been forever waged between these two camps. Which one are you?

There are those for whom opera is the supreme performing art – the gesamkunstwerk to which Herr Wagner and others both before and after him dedicated their art, gifts and lives. Then there are those for whom the singer, not the song, is the thing. At times, serving as the inspiration for composers, singers are necessary, for without them, there simply is no opera. Looking at the myriad components necessary to make up that which we call an opera, one logically concludes that, as important as the singer is, he or she is an integral part of “the thing” but not “the thing” itself.
Nonetheless, due to an host of reasons, excuses and foibles far too numerous for discussion here, the Opera Singer Lover (“OSL”), will frequently view the Opera Singer as “the thing” itself, often resulting in an inability to relate to the world

But, through considerable study, I’ve arrived at the conclusion there are those who respond only to certain sounds or voice types and for whom opera serves merely as the vehicle from whence to obtain their fix. Neither camp is necessarily “wrong” but time has proven that your standard issue OSL tends to be far less tolerant being than the average Opera Lover (“OL”). An otherwise near perfect performance can devolve into a ruined and unsalvageable evening for the OSL merely by the presence of a competent, if less than spectacular, singer. Actually, it need only be a singer the OSL him or herself has deemed less than spectacular, even despite critical
acclamation by critics and public at large.

What amazes the OL is how an OSL, may have heard an opera dozens, perhaps even hundreds of times over the decades, yet remains familiar only with the bits involving directly the object of his or her affection. This may include (or exclude, as the case may be), instances of ensembles where said object is only one of several voices, which serve (in the mind of the OSL) only to interfere with the artistry of their beloved.

While an OL may indeed become a fan of a singer, he/she is inclined to worry less about “who” is singing, trusting, with a not unrealistic expectation, that the company has hired singers capable of performing the roles their agents have contracted them for, and that a competent director is on hand to put them through the paces, inspire them to convince a paying audience to believe in the situation at hand, and encourage a strong work ethic while infusing them with an excitement that will, hopefully, become palpable to those on the other side of the curtain. The OL finds that, more often than not, this is precisely what happens.

OSL’s often find themselves stuck in a self-imposed rut, the OSL being more prone towards statements (which sometimes come off as pronouncements) such as “Callas ruined any other soprano’s Tosca for me.” Such statements, while often earnestly expressed, present a bafflement to the OL who cannot comprehend the possibility of a world where one singer could “ruin” an opera for every other singer coming after him or her. Such statements further perplex the OL who simply cannot fathom or wrap himself around the idea that one may have endured half a century incapable of enjoying Tosca. A tragedy, really.

While neither OSL nor OL need be a musician, able to read a score or comprehend the technical or aesthetic components of musicmaking or opera production, one finds, more often than not, the OL has some training (formal or self-taught) as well a slightly more open and realistic expectation of what an evening at the opera will entail. It is a sad truth that OSL’s often attend the opera because it is the only opportunity afforded them to cheer their champion. Realistically the OL would prefer a concert or recital setting, eradicating all those nasty recitatives, sets, costumes and other singers, getting them all out of the way so as to be able to more properly enjoy an evening with their favorite diva or divo.

While there exists a large gap between these two camps – one seemingly, fundamentally irreconciliable – each has learned (if only out of necessity), to coexist and tolerate each other. In some instances, friendships have been known to evolve between the OSL and OL wherein each has contributed to the elucidation of the other’s enjoyment of the lyric arts.

Confusion surrounds as to which camp one actually belongs to, as many who believe themselves to be OSLs are, in reality, actually OLs merely with proclivities towards particular singers.

I’ve devised the rather simple test which follows, as an aid in discovering the camp to which you belong. You’re welcome.

1. On your birthday you would rather receive:
A – A ticket to your local company’s new production of Don Giovanni.
B – A ticket to a Villazon recital of Schubert and Brahms.
B – A ‘78 of Jeritza singing excerpts from “The Bohemian Girl.”

2. When visiting New York you are most excited by:
A – Snagging a ticket to a controversial new Handel production at City
B – Waiting in line for an exhibit of gowns worn by divas of the Belle
Epoch era.
C – Attending a luncheon hosted by Licia Albanese featuring unknown young

3. Your immediate reaction to a gifted singer being hailed the “New Callas”
A – “Cool! I hope I get to hear her before she disappears from the face of
the earth!”
B - Yawn. “Yeah. Right.”
C - “Who do those muther“%#$>$%#* think they are!!!!”

4. Your favorite opera character is:
A – Don Giovanni.
B – Violetta Valery.
C – Joan Sutherland.

5. You see the Onegin Duel Scene as:
A – A tragic but necessary plot device juxtaposing the lyric with the
B –Tchaikovsky’s painful paean to the heartbreak of friendship’s end.
C –Wunderlich’s greatest moment.

6. Melisande is:
A - Debussy’s difficult, gauzy heroine: a singing symbol of life’s
B – A fascinating study and a challenging opportunity for a gifted singing
C – Something you endured once to get another autograph from Victoria de
los Angeles.

7. For you, “Ah fors e lui . . . and Sempre Libera” is:
A - The pulse pounding finale to Act I of “La Traviata.”
B – Another brilliant summation by Verdi revealing the heart and essence of
a character.
C – Track 6 on Prima Voce’s Tribute to Amelita Galli Curci

8. A tenor cracks on an exposed high note. You:
A – Boo and depart in disgust vowing never to attend another of his
B – Angrily and noisily explain to all it was the fault of the conductor,
director or soprano.
C – Weep uncontrollably.

9. “Tombe degli avi miei” is:
A – The propulsive final scene of “Lucia” tying the entire evening’s drama
B – Carlo Bergonzi like a house on fire!
C – Excuse me . . . what are you talking about?”

10. When dreaming you tend to dwell in:
A – Marble Halls.
B – La Scala.
C – Vallhalle.

Labels: , , ,