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Subject: Re: Fleming's Fach
From: "Margaret L. Harrison" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Margaret L. Harrison
Date:Wed, 12 Feb 2003 14:28:37 -0500

text/plain (29 lines)

David Kubiak <[log in to unmask]> wrote
>You can argue that part of her problem is not settling into a
'Fach' whose style she can master, rather than importing her own
to a host of things.  But surely it is not the norm for a singer
to have Imogene, Desdemona, Thais, Rodelinda, and the Marschallin
in her repertoire.

and [log in to unmask] wrote:
>my feeling is Ms. Fleming should stick to Mozart, Dvorak and R. Strauss. She seems to do best in works by those composers.

And these comments made me wonder - why SHOULD a singer stick to only one set of roles, the ones they can do "best" from a stylistic, not a vocal, standpoint.  When that question is asked, aren't we really saying, we want the singer to perform the role/work the way others have sung it in the past?

So what's wrong if Ms.  Fleming or any singer with the appropriate vocal equipment, DARED to present the work in a different way?  It might succeed artistically, or it might not. Or it could engender wildly divergent opinions.  But isn't the attempt at pushing the opera-presentation envelope in a completely MUSICAL way, what all us music-loving opera fans should be applauding?  As opposed to allegedly music-hating stage directors who impose non-musical ideas and priorities on an opera in an attempt at avoiding the same-old, same-old?

I'd rather hear an honorable failure than a by-the-numbers success.  And one never learns how many different ways of performance a work of music will tolerate, unless we hear for ourselves different ways of presenting it.  For example, the Swingle Singers doing Bach as vocalese.  Or Stokowski's extravagent orchestral transcriptions of Bach.  Or Ravel's orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Generally, I find that the higher quality a work (including opera) is as pure MUSIC, the more tolerant that work is to varied styles of performance.  Other examples: Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah, which still gets performed and sounds great if not "proper". That soulful arrangement of the Messiah that's performed a lot nowadays.  The disco version of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. "How Gentle is the Rain."  Kismet.  You get the idea....

When I heard portions of Puritani on the radio, and at first didn't remember which opera was being broadcast, I was trying to "name that composer".  And I thought to myself: It doesn't sound as musically interesting as Rossini, no way it's Verdi, it could be Donizetti (whose music I find mostly pleasant but not terribly interesting) but it doesn't sound like him.  Then at the scene change the opera was announced as Bellini's.  And I thought:  I thought Bellini was a better composer than that!  Because I've sung some of his arias and they are so rewarding to the voice.  But on the grand scale, I guess he wasn't at the top rank of composers.

(warning, tangent ahead) At the moment, I'm singing in a chorus of an amateur production of La Traviata.  Man, that is great music.  Verdi makes some of these other, competent name-brand composers, sound like hacks.  Just listening to a blocking rehearsal of the 3rd act duet with a very good Violetta and a decent Alfredo gave me chills.  I can imagine the impact Verdi's music must have made at the time, especially compared to music like that in Puritani.

Sorry bel-canto lovers.  I like bel canto too, because I love great singing, and it sure shows off the voice.  But those composers aren't even close to level of musical artistry that Verdi achieved.


Margaret Harrison, Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

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