Friday, June 10, 2005

More on recitals

There was an unintended disrespect toward Lotte Lehmann in some of the things I wrote about her. She was very significant in her era, and no doubt, when she wrote about how to present a song she was writing about her own approach to the piece. When I said she was someone from the past, I was referring to her style of singing and the fact that she scoops and slides everything about the same amount. In her time this would not have seemed excessive at all. I have never seen a film of her.

The public presentation of classical music used to be more interesting than it is now. In Beethoven's time arias were presented between the movements of a symphony. It was just assumed that the selection of pieces and the way they were given would be intended to keep the audience amused.

A recital in Lotte Lehmann's era was also different from now. We slavishly follow a chronological sequence, for instance. If I am singing five songs by Berg, they will be 5 songs that were composed together. Lehmann would have selected them for themselves alone, because she loved them and wanted to sing them. She might have grouped songs by different composers and even in different languages together, for instance. They would have reflected different levels of seriousness, something that is allowed only in encores now. We are determined to take all the fun out of it.

Grace Bumbry is not arranging the German composers in the right order or performing songs all from the same Opus. She is probably doing them for love alone. I wish this were always the case, but the demands of career generally prevent it.

I would still like to see the video. I can't help thinking that Lotte's influence would be felt there, too. Lehmann was not suggesting anything so elaborate as operatic acting. Everything would have fit into the natural limitations of a recital, but she wouldn't have just stood there and left everything to happen on its own. She would have thought about the presentation of each song. Remember when I said, "the great stars give you a complete performance?" This would refer to recitals, too.

I'm trying to say something serious in a not too serious way. Opera, concerts and recitals are first and foremost show business. Billy Jean King knew that tennis was show business and created in her person the public interest in women's tennis. Music is show business. Perhaps the academic influence is too strong here as well. I want to be entertained, and I want the performers to think about what they are doing from my point of view.

No comments: