May 13, 2012

A farewell to suspension of disbelief...

living in an unheated Paris apartment

who ignites the lust of every man in sight

This is not about making fun of people's appearance.  Eating can be as much of an addiction as smoking.  And the melancholy facts of biology, amplified by a few decades of gravity acting on the human body, will eventually make all of us look like a piece of luggage that's been through too many airports.

Opera singers are not immune to such realities of life.  If anything, they are further disadvantaged by certain necessities peculiar to their profession.  One is that a voice capable of soaring effortlessly and musically above the surging fortes of a full-sized orchestra requires years of singing less demanding roles before it settles into a refined and long-lasting instrument.  Which means that by the time opera singers become really good at what they do, their rosy-cheeked and milky-skinned youth is well behind them.  Another is that very powerful voices tend to come with refrigerator-sized chest cavities enclosed in bodies ample of hip and generous of bosom.

May 5, 2012

Great music, bad operas...

Watching an opera whose plot does not involve sex or murder (preferably both, in either order) is like attending a Hollywood party whose favors do not include cocaine:  there are vastly more rewarding ways to spend one's time.  Despite the nearly tautological certainty of this wisdom,  there is a small but distinguished group of composers whose neglect of the dramatic requirements of opera as an art form seems to border on the delusional.  From Beethoven's Fidelio to Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Janacek's House of the Dead, and Dallapiccola's Il Prigionero, these are operas in which the characters do little more than deliver impassioned pronouncements on lofty topics, as if the principal business of opera is to serve as a musically enhanced vehicle for grandiose messages on timeless metaphysical, theological, or socio-political issues.  To paraphrase one of Samuel Goldwyn's immortal quips:  Messages are for Western Union.  Operas are for entertainment.