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Subject: Re: tosca
From: Frank Cadenhead <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Frank Cadenhead <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 22 Apr 2017 12:27:47 -0400
Content-Type:text/plain
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On Sat, 22 Apr 2017 08:38:25 -0400, A Katalin Mitchell 
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:
-snip-
"Not all singers are actors, but I almost would prefer if he did less rather than 
more.  And this director even managed to make Opolais look ridiculous, who 
usually acts so well that one forgets her shortcomings in the voice department.  
Maybe because I work in the theater and am spoiled, I tend to be more critical of 
bad acting, though ultimately what matters is the vocal performance, no question 
about that."

This not a rebuke of the writer, but she might have missed the "Golden Age" of 
opera where overweight singers lumbered about the stage and acting was painfully 
bad. It was clear that the only reason anyone was in their seats was to hear the 
voices. In my lifetime, the drama became a critical factor in performance practice 
and I am, on the contrary, delighted at the effort of the production team and the 
singers to bring to life the specific text. The words and the music are carefully 
associated in every opera and to ignore them and wait for the big arias is an insult 
to the composer and to the art of opera. For me, remembering the vague theater 
and overwrought gestures, the current crop of singing-actors bring the text to life 
brilliantly and the new emphasis on the drama has returned even Tosca to a 
specific piece of theater with themes of love conflicting with oppressive 
governments. I saw the stars as particularly engaged and clearly working with 
detailed dramatic coaching. If you think Opolais looked "ridiculous" I have a story 
about a Tosca with Caballe. 

Here is a second observation, somewhat related to the above. I grew up in San 
Diego with a regional opera company that did remarkably well with great voices
(They even contracted Pavarotti for a Boheme and during the time between signing 
and the performance he became a superstar. Our GM, Tito Capobianco, had the Pav 
play a young student and even had him mount and stand on a table for some first 
act singing - he was hefty but not enormous at the time). While you noted the 
quality of Pavarotti or Sills, there was a whole range of singers which the San 
Diego opera could afford and could effectively perform. I found, on a good night, 
that the performances I saw in San Diego were on the same level as much opera 
cranked out by the Met. 

Which brings me to one of the continuous topics of all opera discussion groups and 
that is the worship of selected artists. The "selected" artists - just a handful - are 
the subject of constant blabber and much of the talk is inside the "club" of people 
who consider themselves pompous authorities. The singers at the San Diego Opera 
were, by quality, hardly distinguishable from those at the Met but the "club" had 
always a different take. This club goes on and on at Parterre and often here. If 
they were talking about artists most would agree that Claude Monet was a great 
artist but George Seurat would not be worthy of mention. Normal intelligent 
discussion for other arts would not go on like that but this is not only common but 
dominates discussion among operaphiles. 

Opera is hampered by these operaphiles just like wine-tasting is hampered by self-
important oenophiles (there is a lot of wonderful wines out there to be tasted).  
Your personal reaction might be different than others but it does not always mean 
that your personal reaction is the superior reaction. 

The bottom line is that much of the talk is about only a few stars and that the most 
important artists singing today, Barbara Hannigan or Anna Maria Antonacci, for 
example, are ignored. We could go on about the limited repertory scheduled and 
the wealth of genius sitting on the shelves. This could also be a result of the lack of 
intelligent dialogue. European theaters have widened their rep and audiences have 
responded. 

When you see Scarpia with, behind him, scores of screens with cameras watching 
public places, you might understand what prompted Edward Snowden to do what 
he did. Tosca can be contemporary and so should the discussion. Bottom line, less 
talk about stars, more talk about the art of opera. 

Sorry about the mess of a rant.

Frank Cadenhead

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