Thursday, March 26, 2009

Adieu, Villazon?

It's general opinion that Rolando Villazon has, with his inability to perform the upcoming production of Elisir at the Met due to vocal troubles, has probably come to an end of his career, or at least his career as a superstar.

I hope this is not true, and I certainly wish him all the best, but even should he rebuild himself and continue, there is nothing more devastating to a singer than the decline or complete loss of their instrument. Regardless of why it happens, regardless of whether it happens to someone who sings at the Met, or someone who sings at the Back-Ass-of-Nowhere Light Opera, it's a tragedy.

As a singer, your voice is you and you are your voice. Without it, you feel rather like Ariadne -- not precisely dead, but not precisely alive either. And rebuilding isn't an overnight job, either. Our voice is not just an instrument for music, it's integral to our body's survival system. When your voice is injured, your body starts doing all sorts of "helpful" things to try to preserve the voice. After all, your body reasons, if something I happens, I need to be able to scream, to communicate! I must help! Only, the problem is that what your body does to help simply makes it worse.

There are some in the opera community who treasure being blasé and make comments along the lines of "Too bad! Next!" But even if it were solely his fault (and it rarely is -- there's a whole money making machine behind a singer, deaf to anything that might take a little money from them), I submit to you that this is a tragedy for him, not just as an artist, but as a human being. If an olympic athlete were completely crippled in an accident, we'd mourn his or her lose, no? This is no less than that, and I should know...I've been there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review to Follow: La Didone

I was just informed that I have, in fact, gotten a discounted ticket to see a, well, for lack of better words, something that promises to be an unusual performance.

The publicity materials say:

The Wooster Group returns to St. Ann's Warehouse with Cavalli / Busenello's baroque opera La Didone (1641), in which Aeneas, prince of Troy, lands on the shores of Africa after a violent sea storm. There he falls in love with Dido, queen of Carthage, and becomes entangled in a web of love, deception, power and madness. In Mario Bava's 1965 cult movie Terrore nello spazio, the spaceship Argos crashes on the planet Aura, and its crew becomes locked in a desperate battle with zombies over the all-important "meteor rejector."

The Wooster Group stirs these two Italian cultural artifacts together, dropping Aeneas' ships onto a forbidding planetary landscape, setting the lute alongside live electric guitar, blending acoustic and electronic space, and finding an unexpected synergy between early baroque opera and pre-moon landing sci-fi: A 21st-century retelling of an ancient tale about the destructive (and redemptive) power of erotic ­passion and the sheer tenacity of human nature in the face of annihilation.

I heard about this on NPR, and was intrigued, to put it mildly. This has all the potential to be hilariously awful, or, who knows, astonishingly good. With this sort of thing, one never knows until one tries it, I suppose. I will freely admit, however, that my tastes in this sort of thing are quite possibly more liberal than average. (One of the benefits, I suppose, of having grown up in the isolated manner in which I was raised is that one comes less expectation of what something should be, leaving one more open to enjoying what simply is. Of course, it also means a deficit of learning that also has to be filled, but it's easier to learn than it is to resist a habit, I find.)

The performance is next week, and I am anticipating it quite keenly. I will, of course, make a full report!

(For anyone who may be interested in the performance, it's currently running and will continue to run for a bit -- more details are available here: )

Friday, March 13, 2009

Un scandalo, un disordine!

In NYC, and in the opera circuit, the talk of the town lately has been the new production at the Met of La Sonnambula, by Mary Zimmerman. The reaction of the traditionalists is nothing short of absolutely furious, and interaction between the various factions has been heated -- dare I say operatic in its furvor?

As to the qualities of the production, I can't comment. I haven't seen it yet, and having had a fluctuating state of personal finance, I won't be able to until the cheap seats are available.

The lastest On dit regarding the production, and what I wish to address, is the suggestion that the starring soprano, Natalie Dessay, was responsible for some of the changes in the staging -- particularly the things that the dissenters found the most objectional. (Ms. Dessay, if you believe the loggionisti, is also personally responsible for the coming goetterdaemmerung of opera. I am amazed at how one soprano has managed to accomplish so much!)

If Ms. Dessay was indeed responsible, then criticizing her choices is fair, if perhaps overly zealous. With artistic freedom comes the possibility of criticism. But! (And what a big but!) There is also a common complaint among opera fans and opera singers as well, that singers are no longer allowed much artistic input in most productions. The common agreement seems to be that opera has suffered for this. In light of that, one would assume that Ms. Dessay's taking charge would be welcomed, even if the results weren't perfect.

What bothers me, therefore, is the reaction to Dessay's input. The general response has been, if one puts it succinctly, "shut up and sing." Cognitive dissonance, anyone? If opera has suffered from singers being told to "shut up and sing" by companies and directors, this (over)reaction is doing nothing to encourage other directors/companies to involve their singers in the artistic process.

As a singer, we have little enough control over many aspects of our performance. We control the voice, the words, the person -- but we rarely control the costumes (often unflattering and hindering), the staging (frequently unhelpful for either good acting or good singing), and so on.

So I have to ask: what is it fans really want? More artistic freedom, and possibly (probably) more things one may find objectionable, as well as more things one finds enjoyable -- or back to the "shut up and sing" and the same-old same old?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

O fortune, like the moon, you are changeable...

Today, on a whim, I popped in a recording of the Carmina Burana, and was reminded of how wonderful (some) of the music is.

Back when I was just a baby cow, a calf even, in my days as a professional chorister with a fairly well-known symphony, this was one of the first major works I ever sang, and I recall just how much fun singing it was. (Granted, there were movements that I disliked even then and still do, but the majority of the piece was amazing.)

The huge BOOM that starts the piece, getting to wail your lungs out, railing against fate, then later, singing the beauty of love -- there's very little music in the world that is just so satisfying to perform.

And, I must admit, it reminds of the days when singing was just pure joy. No stress about who is in the audience, no worrying about this high note, or that pitch...just singing innocently for sheer joy and love. I love what I do, truly, but sometimes, like today, I remember how wonderful and unencumbered singing was back then, and I wish I could get that back.