Thread: Opera Small Talk

          
   
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  1. #1126
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    According to this commentator, the only national female critic at opening night, Fiona Maddocks of the Observer, contradicted her male colleagues.

    It's a fascinating debate and I'm just glad I'm not a critic.
    "The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
    Lucy Maud Montgomery

  2. #1127
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sospiro View Post
    According to this commentator, the only national female critic at opening night, Fiona Maddocks of the Observer, contradicted her male colleagues.

    It's a fascinating debate and I'm just glad I'm not a critic.
    "Alice Coote called for a more holistic approach to casting." Not the way I read her article.

  3. #1128
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sospiro View Post
    According to Johnston, what "differentiates opera from other dramatic art forms" is "simply the voice, the (almost super-) human ability to communicate all manner of emotions and thoughts to those listening." This is true enough--singing, as the primary expressive medium, differentiates opera from, say, spoken theatre or ballet. For that reason, Johnston maintains that "there may be a stage, sets, costumes, orchestra and a conductor, but what opera audiences pay for is to hear the singing, as otherwise they wouldn't be there, they'd be at the National Theatre or the RSC."

    I think the confusion lies in this either/or mentality. Yes, singing differentiates opera from other forms of theatre, but opera still IS a form of theatre, with all that this entails. So yes, audiences DO come not only for the voice but also for the stage, sets, costumes, orchestra, and conductor--as evidenced by how cheated they feel and the complaints they raise when one or more of these elements is substandard. One may believe otherwise, of course, but perhaps it's no accident that singers are the ones holding this exclusively voice-centered view.

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  5. #1129
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    According to Johnston, what "differentiates opera from other dramatic art forms" is "simply the voice, the (almost super-) human ability to communicate all manner of emotions and thoughts to those listening." This is true enough--singing, as the primary expressive medium, differentiates opera from, say, spoken theatre or ballet. For that reason, Johnston maintains that "there may be a stage, sets, costumes, orchestra and a conductor, but what opera audiences pay for is to hear the singing, as otherwise they wouldn't be there, they'd be at the National Theatre or the RSC."

    I think the confusion lies in this either/or mentality. Yes, singing differentiates opera from other forms of theatre, but opera still IS a form of theatre, with all that this entails. So yes, audiences DO come not only for the voice but also for the stage, sets, costumes, orchestra, and conductor--as evidenced by how cheated they feel and the complaints they raise when one or more of these elements is substandard. One may believe otherwise, of course, but perhaps it's no accident that singers are the ones holding this exclusively voice-centered view.
    Their position is so simplistic and so easy to counter...

    Ask any member of an audience: given the same cast, conductor, and orchestra, do you prefer to see an opera in concert form, or fully staged, provided that the staging is a good one, and not ridiculous or distracting?

    While a few might actually go for the former, I believe the overwhelming majority would go for the latter.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  7. #1130
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    "The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
    Lucy Maud Montgomery

  8. #1131
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Their position is so simplistic and so easy to counter...

    Ask any member of an audience: given the same cast, conductor, and orchestra, do you prefer to see an opera in concert form, or fully staged, provided that the staging is a good one, and not ridiculous or distracting?

    While a few might actually go for the former, I believe the overwhelming majority would go for the latter.
    It would also be interesting to hear the reactions of opera conductors, musicians, directors, and set, costume, and lighting designers upon learning that their contributions are of no importance whatsoever.

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  10. #1132
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    I really like what Anne Midgette said. See, she takes the middle ground very elegantly.

    No critic should be too eager to cast stones. I have certainly written things in reviews that had people up in arms, and I have certainly observed that a given singer was not small, when the occasion warranted it. But there’ s a distinction between description and criticism. Mentioning a singer’s looks may be relevant in some cases, but dismissing a strong vocal performance as a “problem” because of those looks seems to me singularly clueless.
    This is in the spirit of what I said. A singer's body is fair game - when warranted, and when done tastefully. Throwing stones at this young woman like some of these critics did is not tasteful.

    By the way, my pictures above had proved it already, and Anne Midgette's article has introduced still a new one that confirms what I think: this young lady is positively adorable and very attractive, in my opinion. Yes, curvy, so what? So is Anna Netrebko.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  12. #1133
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    By the way, my pictures above had proved it already, and Anne Midgette's article has introduced still a new one that confirms what I think: this young lady is positively adorable and very attractive, in my opinion. Yes, curvy, so what? So is Anna Netrebko.
    I suppose a "curvy" Octavian requires that much more suspension of disbelief. But then again, it makes Ochs appear less foolish in pursuing Mariandel.

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  14. #1134
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I'm sorry to have missed this discussion - I'm up on Cape Cod again, trying to get the house ready for rental season.

    I don't really know where to begin. I'm likely the only one here to have heard and seen Tara Erraught sing (La Clemenza di Tito, Munich, February 2014). I found Ms Erraught's singing to be outstanding - perhaps even the best performance of the evening. She totally out sang the very attractive Kristine Opolais, for one. I don't recall that she was remotely as big as the critic would have us believe - she seemed perfectly normal to me - and the Staatsoper's opera house isn't all that large and I was seated toward the middle of the orchestra section.

    I have to admit, that while some valid points have been made, the discussion made me angry. Yes, opera performances comprise a large group of skills - but the voice is pre-eminent. I've seen Pavarotti, Caballe and Marilyn Horne on stage, I've also seen Nilsson sing at age 62 (in recital) and consider myself very fortunate. Sometimes body type and voice are both ideal - frequently they are not. We, the audience, do not get to choose (except, I guess, those of you who buy DVDs). I, for one, prefer attending performances where the singing is terrific, regardless of the physical appeal of the singers. Yes, of course, it's a delight to have both vocal and physical beauty but, in life, I've come to understand, one can't have everything. Who is going to pay to go to the opera to see a cast of attractive singers who might be able to act, but don't sing very well? Not everyone can be Netrebko or Kaufmann. I'm certainly not (or, at least not any longer...).

    The critics in question were cruel in attacking Tara Erraught's appearance while completely disregarding her performance. I suppose they think they are George Bernard Shaw. Think again. For many years after I first moved to Washington, the Washington Post critic was prone to yakking about the scenery and costumes for two columns, then would wind up by stating that "the singing was also very good". Please.

    Anyway, it's time for bed - somehow a mosquito got in the house and is trying to make me her dinner. See you later.

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  16. #1135
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    Yes, of course, it's a delight to have both vocal and physical beauty
    Then you basically agree with what I was saying. I indicated that the physical side is fair game for a tasteful comment when warranted. I don't doubt that the singing is the most important aspect of a... well, singer... but it's not a disembodied voice. Beauty does add to the enjoyment, and when it is lacking and/or the acting is lacking sometimes it will be, at the very least, a slightly negative factor, which is worth commenting upon (provided that it is done elegantly) *when warranted.*

    I don't think anybody here is saying that beauty is *more* important than the singing; just, that it can't be ignored as a factor. If we admit to that, then to be coherent, we need to admit to the fact that the lack thereof is also a factor. Meaning, *a* factor, not the most important factor.

    You all know that I love Anna Netrebko (and also I've been very impressed with Olga Peretyatko) but this is true most importantly because these two very beautiful ladies *can sing* and do it very well. I've seen plenty of beautiful opera singers who, well, weren't much of a singer. There are dozens of them, some of them even more beautiful than Anna Netrebko. Do you see me talking about them over and over? No. Why? Because they can't sing.

    You've seen me lavishly praising some very large ladies as well, such as Lea Crocetto. Why? Because she is an excellent singer.

    So, we agree on the basics. It's just that I think that physique *is* fair game since it is *a* factor - again, provided that it is commented upon with a significant degree of respect and elegance (which was most definitely not the case of the reviewers who targeted Ms. Erraught, who were not only inelegant, but also inaccurate, since she is actually very attractive).

    I hope you caught that mosquito!
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 23rd, 2014 at 10:23 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  18. #1136
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    I have to admit, that while some valid points have been made, the discussion made me angry.
    I'm sorry about that; there was certainly no intention of upsetting anyone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    Yes, opera performances comprise a large group of skills - but the voice is pre-eminent.
    I think it's fair enough to see voice as the pre-eminent skill, the primary means of expression, in opera. But for me at least, that still leaves voice as just one means or skill among several, which together add up to a larger musical-dramatic totality. When I enjoy a powerful performance of Die Walküre, or Otello, or Eugene Onegin, or Le Nozze di Figaro, or Der Rosenkavalier, or Peter Grimes, or Les Troyens, I respond to a moving exploration of the human condition, for which voice is an effective and beautiful expressive medium, but ultimately not the end in itself. That's an admittedly personal view (and the choice of operas I list, and even more so those I don't, probably suggests my biases). But I think it's as legitimate an approach as those that make voice itself more central to the aesthetic experience.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    Who is going to pay to go to the opera to see a cast of attractive singers who might be able to act, but don't sing very well?
    You make a good point. But by the same token, I would be leery of attending a performance featuring a display of great singing, but devoid of any dramatic interest. While I might enjoy it on a limited basis, I would still feel I was missing the fullness of what opera, at its best, can be.

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  20. #1137
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I've calmed down since last night - I managed to evade the mosquito, which was at least a partial success.

    In all, I have to agree that dramatic impact - effect - really is critical to an opera performance's success. I continue to disagree that physical beauty is as important as singing ability in a performance, but do appreciate that it is one piece, among others - and a fair subject for polite comment in the context of an overall performance. I hope my quick reaction will be understood as indicative of the passion generated by the art form...

    I still think that Ms. Erraught got a really bad rap from an especially snarky and lousy critic. I was taught long ago that there is no place for ad hominem in legitimate debate. I would extend that advice to the 'art' of criticism.

    I love Cape Cod, but am looking forward to heading home tomorrow. The iPad is a very handy thing to have, and I would be half crazed without it while traveling, but it is not as versatile as a desktop.

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  22. #1138
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    I continue to disagree that physical beauty is as important as singing ability in a performance, but do appreciate that it is one piece, among others - and a fair subject for polite comment in the context of an overall performance.
    Yes, and I don't think anybody here said it's *as* important as singing ability - even our good Amfortas who most strongly defended the other theatrical aspects of opera still placed singing as the preeminent element.

    I hope my quick reaction will be understood as indicative of the passion generated by the art form...
    Oh sure, and even if you did want to get angry at us for our opinions, no problem... we love you anyway!
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  23. #1139
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Oh well, critic Rupert Christiansen is sticking to his guns in the case of Ms. Erraught:

    [clicky]

    And this is Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's take on the controversy:

    [clicky]

    Anne Midgette added three more points to what she had said before:

    [clicky]

    --------

    Christiansen tried to make it better but pretty much continues to be a prick.

    Dame Te Kanawa had a sort of strange take on it, blaming the costumes. Well, she seems to validate the visual aspect, but is also very kind to Tara.

    Anne Midgette, with whom I often agree, this time is a bit off, in my opinion. She seems to attack Tara as well, in this:

    "The issue in Erraught’s case is that the critics appeared to be praising her singing but saying that “glorious” singing wasn’t enough to make it a good performance. My suspicion is that, had the singing really been as glorious as all that, they might not have focused so much on the looks."

    Whoa. She hasn't attend the performance. How in the hell she suspects this? She is clearly trying to defend her fellow critics. Her first position was a bit more restrained.

    The sad part is that apparently Tara is very distraught about this.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); May 25th, 2014 at 04:15 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  25. #1140
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Anne Midgette: “‘Opera is all about the voice.’ ‘Opera is all about the drama.’ ‘The voice-visual ratio is 75-25.’ Just stop it. No art form is subject to this kind of formulaic prescription. I’ve been at opera performances where the staging was awful but the singing was glorious, and nothing else mattered. I’ve been at opera performances where the production was so compelling that I was willing to overlook so-so singing. These things have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Any time you make rules about what art ‘has’ to be, you’re doing it wrong.”

    It's good to be skeptical about the “rules” of art, and to judge productions on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, though, each individual audience member brings his or her own more-or-less clearly defined criteria, which remain pretty consistent over time. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. I may think I know what opera should be, but I can still learn from your views on the matter.

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