Friday, February 4, 2011

The Diva's Future.

Zachary Woolfe has written an eye-opening article for the New York Observer on mezzo soprano Susan Graham. It begins:
Susan Graham doesn't want to be your friend.

"Everyone asks me, 'Are you on Facebook? Do you have a thousand friends?'" the eminent mezzo-soprano said recently in her apartment near Lincoln Center. "I do not. I'm not interested in being friends with people I don't know in real life. I've gotten criticism for it. I got a comment on my Web site, someone saying, 'You're so ungrateful.' But I'm not your friend; I'm an artist. I'm grateful for your support, but just because you came to see me sing does not give you a window into my private life." ...

... She is precisely the kind of warm, engaging, mom-next-door presence that opera loves these days, but she doesn't always follow the script. Ms. Graham doesn't write a blog, and while her publicists set her up on Twitter, she often forgets she has it. This is, needless to say, far from the party line circa 2011 in the opera world, which tends to pin its hopes for continued relevance on the obsessive adoption of social media.
Ah, yes. The obsessive adoption of social media. You're either on board the Social Media Express -- or: I'm sorry, what was your name again?

Woolfe continues to dive deeper:
She rose in a generation filled with mezzos-from Anne Sofie von Otter to Cecilia Bartoli to the late, great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson-but there seemed to be room for everyone.

It was in certain ways, despite the competition, an easier time. Appearance is far more important now, as Ms. Graham, who has starred in and regularly hosts the Met's HD broadcasts, knows as well as anyone.

"This generation of singers coming up is being groomed for the television cameras," she said. "We weren't. We are now. Look at Renée [Fleming]. She's undergone a physical transformation over the past 10 years. I lost 30 pounds last year. But still, you're not 25, and the camera's in your face and it's in HD. It's turning our audiences into people who become more obsessed with the literal. They're less likely to suspend their disbelief, to accept someone who doesn't look like the part. I mean, witness the whole Debbie Voigt thing a couple of years ago. When Ariadne has to fit the dress, what is that?"
As you already know, Chickpeas - I tend to agree. How long will it be before there's a conversation in some office at the Met like the one that follows (if it hasn't happened already)?
L.B. Mayer: Joan, my Joan, you're in a position to do me a favor that will be as big a favor for you as it is for me.

Joan Crawford: You don't have to ask! You only have to tell me.

L.B. Mayer: Good. I want you to leave Metro.

Joan Crawford: Leave Metro? Leave Metro?

L.B. Mayer: Your pictures one after another are losing money. Theater owners voted you "box office poison". Still for years I've paid no attention. You know me, Joan. I don't give up so easily. We'll pay you off on your contract. But you can't afford to make three or four more losers for us.

Joan Crawford: It's the scripts, L.B. Bad pictures, bad directors...

L.B. Mayer: Bad with you, good with others.

Joan Crawford: No, listen to me L.B., I have been BEGGING YOU... begging you for a good script. Now you've always given me my share of bad movies because you knew I'd make them work. Well I can't keep doing it, L.B.!

L.B. Mayer: Listen with your ears and not with your pride. With me, feeling is more important than money. You're a great star! You're Hollywood royalty! But styles change. You'll leave. We have 'creative differences'. Other studios will think they're smarter than L.B., they'll try to finesse me. You'll be offered two, three, four films. You may even get a hit!

Joan Crawford: Will you be sorry then?

L.B. Mayer: I'm sorry now. But here there's no feeling, no hope. New faces, new voices, breath of fresh air, who knows. Don't do this to yourself.

Joan Crawford: I'll have my maid and studio people clear out my bungalow. I've got a lot of years to collect.

L.B. Mayer: It's done, Joan. They've packed your things, they're loading your car.

Joan Crawford: You mean everybody already knows?

L.B. Mayer: That we parted friends because we didn't agree.

Joan Crawford: Will you walk me to my car? [L.B. doesn't answer]

Joan Crawford: "Hollywood royalty". [walks out alone]
Now, before you all flip your lids about this - I'm not comparing Susan Graham to Joan Crawford. I mean - come on...

I am saying that as opera continues to become more visual with focus placed on how someone looks rather than the sound of their voice ... never mind ... I'll leave the rest up to you to figure out.

As for Ms. Graham's future?
"I'm terrified," she said, tearing up as she spoke about her future, a vintage Chérubin poster hanging above the dining table. "I'm scared to death about what's going to happen when I don't have singing anymore. I'm not scared about how I'll survive; I'm just scared of where my head will be because I love what I do so much."
There's more Susan Graham where this came from - hop on over to the New York Observer and check it out.

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