Thursday, March 11, 2010

Free Opera Singers!

I spend many hours every week online reading a lot of things including many conversations among classical music and opera fans. And one of the trends I notice is how many fans are impressed by a young performer who match their 'ideal' singing and/or acting style. Then as the young performer grows artistically and starts to incorporate new flavors into her performance; new vocal coloration or more expressive use of rubato or develops a liking for devices like the portamento (a controlled swoop, if you will, to a high note) a la Edita Gruberova or the swell hit (my own term for when she hits the high note softly before swelling into full voice) a la Astrid Varnay, etc, the fans begin to gripe about 'mannerism' and 'lack of discipline'. Worse, some will even go further and accuse an artist who dares to put personal stamp on his/her performance of egoism and lack of respect toward the composer.

And, to cap it all off, once the artist is retired from singing (and or dead), many of these same fans would reverse themselves and sanctify the very things that they found objectionable about the singer's performances anyway. It makes me scratch my head and wonder why they hadn't found it in themselves to support the singer as s/he grew artistically in the course of his/her career rather than to keep wishing for him/her to revert back to a certain time in that career that s/he had obviously grown out of. Why are listeners allowed to mature and change with time while the opera singers are not?

What rather tickles me, though, is the fact that most of these performers actually do music for a living and have studied the score and performance tradition a lot more extensively than their audiences do. And yet, while these audiences are prudent enough to not question a surgeon's method of a surgical procedure or a mechanic's way of refitting the timing belt on their car, they won't even hesitate to assert superior musicological competency to those whose livelihood depends on it. I'm not asserting that the musicians/singers are ALWAYS right in their choices, of course, but I do assert that they tend to be more right and know more about what they are doing than most of their audiences do. And more than that. I do assert that they deserve the right to artistically grow and explore new things just as others do in their own endeavor.

Anyhow... I was just indulging myself again on an aircheck audio recording of the 1 June 1998 performance of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi at Semperoper Dresden (it is a highly addictive recording that tends to monopolize my stereo for weeks at a time). You see, Vesselina Kasarova, the Romeo in this show is scheduled to reprise the role for the first time in a decade at the Bavarian State Opera in 2011. It is hard to imagine how any performance of this role can compare to the one captured in the recording...

But then, why should I compare this special treat of musical memory competitively with anything else at all? Her voice has changed since then... It is odder, but in all sorts of fascinating manners. Its additional weight and range render it even greater artistic potential than it had back in 1998, and the artist herself now has a lot more life experiences to color her Romeo with. One of the most attractive things about Kasarova as an artist is how she never bores you by keep doing the same thing the same way over and over again. Some may want their favorite artists to behave like a moving CD player. I don't. I get giddy whenever I score another recording of her singing even when she sings all the same arias in different performances. It amazes me how many different ways she can enliven the same pieces of music and make it work.

Acoustically, there is a downside that her very glowy and full voice is now rather hard to capture cleanly with a recording microphone, but that wouldn't matter if one is lucky enough to be able to catch a performance or two in person now, would it? :oD

I'm telling ya', I'm rushing the gate the moment tickets for the Bavarian State Opera's 2011 run of I Capuleti e i Montecchi become available online.


André said...

Great post, Smorgy! I agree about maturing artists. Wouldn't it be boring if a singer at 25 sounds the same as at 50? I think so. Good analysis.

Smorg said...

Thanks, Andre! :oD Indeed. It would be something tragic if someone can sing for 25 years and not find anything new to say about the music.

Thanks a bunch for stopping by. Hope your weekend has started well! :oD

Steven said...

Lovely! I love it when she dips down into those fruity chest tones. The scoops actually give personality to her singing. Even more enjoyable is the montage of her Romeo that followed. Some may complain that she does not sing like a robot, they will also be likely to complain that she sings without soul if she does so. What can you do?