Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I've been thinking: the metamorphosis of operatic-grandiosity

Radvanovsky as Floria Tosca at the Met
I'm trying to remain calm. I really am...

Published in today's New York Times is an article about a soprano who's voice I have recently come to truly enjoy. Sondra Radvanovsky, or as the Times calls her - the Met's "Soprano Ascendant", opens up about everything from talking to the spirit of her deceased father (for which she'll receive no judgment from me - considering I have been known to do the same) to her 2002 vocal surgery to remove a polyp from one of her vocal cords.

I know - I feel the same way: any time the words "surgery" and "vocal cords" are put together in the same sentence I feel uneasy, too ... for obvious reasons. However, Radvanovsky's situation is not one of overuse or misuse - infact, one of her cords was nicked when a breathing tube was inserted during a childhood bout with pneumonia. This nick is what ultimately created the polyp.

Pushing past that, though - we are brought to what I find disappointing and sad about this article. It's a subject that I am not afraid to talk about - in fact, I've been talking about it since I started this blog back in September of 2008.

I will try as hard as I can to discuss this in a calm manner - I promise. [breathing deeply]

The New York Times article referenced above, says in part:
[Radvanovsky] has been trying to lose weight for Il Trovatore, which will be broadcast in the Met’s Live in HD series on April 30. “No one is putting pressure on me,” she hastened to say, “but I don’t want to look like a big, fat cow on the movie screen! And it’s sad that I’m saying that, but it’s the truth.

There is an inevitable tension among singers, she said, who are conscious that a camera will be monitoring their every facial tic. “If you get a bad angle, they’re looking up your nostrils,” she said. “We’re singers and we make funny faces, and this is broadcast around the world. I think a lot of my colleagues have done various things to make themselves look better on camera.
UGH! Really? A "big, fat cow"? Does anyone else feel the tinge of sadness and disappointment here?

Listen ... ultimately, it appears that the fundamentals of the opera world are changing. Opera is a big art form which requires big voices, big gestures and big personalities. It has always been centered around the voice and around making a sound big enough to cut over the orchestra and to fill a house without amplification. Anyone who has done it knows that this is a tall order that, generally speaking, comes easiest to a person of a more substantial build. Like it or not, there is truth to it.

Indeed, opera now seems to be metamorphosing to fit a small, very confining screen. Let's be honest, even a movie theater screen is a small screen compared to the grandiosity of opera. (And yes, I just used the word 'grandiosity'!) Is the metamorphosis from operatic-grandiosity to Hollywood-fabulosity permanent? Or, do you think this is just about what's on trend at the moment?

As I have asked before: are the days numbered for opera singers who sing and act the hell out of a role, but don’t have the Hollywood looks or size? Are we going to turn our backs on the future Caballe, Sutherland, Horne, Norman, London or even Pavarotti because they don't fit the new “mold”?

More to come...


Lori said...

James! Well said! I want everyone to read this article.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Opera is no longer in the lead and setting the mainstream trends. With the "Met in HD" series, the general public is expecting performance-based movies to look like other big-screen hits, including the physicality of the performers. Let's not forget that some of the fittest singers are our most dynamic and unforgettable. Natalie Dessay, Jerome Hines, and Roberta Peters to name a few. Being an “Opera Singer” only gave leeway for poor physical fitness due to an accepted social stereotype, and has been a boon to our industry for years. I say it’s time for “La Traviata” to stop looking like a Denny’s with ball gowns and tuxedos.

Lori said...

While Natalie Dessay is lovely to look at and does wonders in recordings, I saw her do Traviata live and could hardly hear her sing. That's just the fact.

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