living in an unheated Paris apartment
|who ignites the lust of every man in sight|
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.
Until the arrival of opera on DVD the singer's physical appearance, even if grotesquely unsuitable for the role, has never posed a problem that could not be solved by the combination of an inch-thick layer of makeup, concealing costume, merciful lighting, and at least 15 -20 feet of distance to the nearest viewers. But when trying to suspend disbelief while watching live video recordings of operas on DVD, I have to struggle against frequent, lingering, high definition wide-screen close-up shots of the singers' faces and bodies.
I lose this struggle every time. And how could I not if instead of Puccini's starving poet and Strauss' teenage princes the video screen shows me (respectively) a glistening fat fuck and a once very busy but now long retired Las Vegas whore? Even when an excellent singer's appearance happens to be perfect for the role (e.g., Laura Aikin in the magnificent production of Lulu from Zurich), the sadistic timing of close-ups during vocally demanding parts does its best to focus my attention on torrential downpours of sweat, bulging eyes, popping veins, straining neck muscles, contorted faces - in short, on all the things you'd expect to see in a patient undergoing colonoscopy without anesthesia.
As far as I can tell, it takes a hopeless retard in charge of filming a live opera performance to embrace indiscriminate application of cinematic close-ups to a genre which thrives on highly exaggerated makeup, gestures, and diction required for projecting emotions and meanings in theaters with a seating capacity in the thousands. Aside from having permanently humiliated some dedicated and talented singers challenged by their weight or age, this "cinematization" of opera has also led to the increasingly frequent casting of singers based on their appearance instead of their singing abilities and musical talents. I certainly can't argue against the visual thrill of Salome portrayed by a slim, sexy nymphet in a skimpy nighty, who rubs her cheek against the thigh - and barely an inch away from the penis - of a muscled and fully naked slave holding the bloodied head of Jokanaan in his hand. But every time the nymphet opens her mouth to execute one of those wide-leaping intervals, I wish that the slave's penis were shoved deep down her throat to keep her from screeching and squealing through her vocal part at 1/4 to 1/2 tone below true pitch on many high notes.
With the recent flurry of newspaper "pieces" debating the rise of live opera videocasting in movie theaters, I thought the above issues would be at the top of the list of topics for serious discussion. Alas, so far this toothless "debate" seems to have all the markings of an implicit PR campaign aimed at promoting the business of filmed opera...