Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let's take a look: the rich heritage of magnificence...

This week, we've celebrated National Opera Week by discussing some past moments in time, the NEA Opera Honors, a spectacular MET inspired VOGUE photo shoot and even watched some true divas having a little fun.

Now, let's take a look at the future of opera. The melding of the past and present with new innovations and ideas.

This morning, I had a ton of catching up to do. Catching up? Yes, indeed. The last two days have kept the fingers that I try to have on the pulse of all things artistic, busy with other, more mundane (yet financially necessary) activities.

In other words, my day job got in the way.

As I was looking at all of the blogs, websites and news sources that I try to skim daily, I read about Aprile Millo's NY Recital Debut - which, is amusingly written about over at our dearest La Cieca's place, I also looked at some of the video tributes and interviews of those honored at the NEA Opera Honors over the weekend.

Then, it occurred to me that these people in particular -Millo, Horne, Mansouri, Rudel etc.- all represent the generation of greatness that came before us. They represent the people from whom we should gain as much knowledge as possible as they are the operatic elders that come from a time when artistic greatness was paramount. Period. They are our connection to the "old school" traditions.

I am a firm believer that we have to have a clear understanding of where we've come from, before we can get a grasp on where we are going. Opera is a genre that is firmly based on tradition - more so than other genres, I believe. When you ignore that tradition and simply trudge forward without regard for the people and talents that have come before you, it is as though you are ignoring their achievements, talent, hard work, perseverance and dedication to the music and craft that we love so much.

They say the only thing constant is change. And, let's be honest, we would be fooling ourselves to think that opera was immune to change. With the advent of the HD MET Broadcasts - we've already seen the "look" of opera evolve into something a little more "hollywood".

As opera continues to grow and evolve, we will see brand new productions of new operas and will also see some of the old warhorses discarded to make way for new productions of standard repertory.

Some new productions will be successful and will please the public - such as the MET's production of Janacek’s From the House of the Dead. Yet, some of the productions that are being made-over will insight fury and contempt - such as the MET's Luc Bondy version of Tosca.

Here's an interesting thought: audiences will allow their minds to be stretched when it comes to new operas - however, they are not so willing when the traditional warhorses that seem more like a security blanket than an opera production, are made new. Why? Because an audience that allows their mind to expand, also likes to cuddle up with a Tosca security blanket - as it represents tradition. The old warhorses represent what has come before ... the performers that have come before.

When we watch Tosca put the candles next to Scarpia's lifeless body, which is a direction actually noted in the score, we can't help but be reminded of when Callas did it, or when Caballe did it, or when Price did it. Many of us have seen these performers through their legacies now available on DVD, while the numbers of people who actually saw them perform live begin to dwindle. It is up to us, the new generation, to take the traditions onward. It is up to us to carry the greatness that encompassed these productions and performers forward with pride and in allegiance to the genius possessed and hard work with which they molded their craft.

As we witness the perpetual ebb and flow of the "state of opera", we must remember that we are walking a tight robe. We must serve the music, the intentions behind the story and the tradition that has carried both the music and story through hundreds of years, while getting and keeping butts in the seats with new innovations and ideas.

Let's not forget that if we want to challenge our audiences, we must also reward them with the warm and cuddly blanket of traditional productions - productions that not only carry tradition forward, but also make the audience feel like they've been a part of the rich heritage of magnificence that has come before.

[Photos - T.R.: Montserrat Caballe, Luciano Pavarotti in the MET's Tosca. By Beatriz Schiller for LIFE. M.L.: Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi in Tosca. B.R.: Leontyne Price as Tosca.]

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