Saturday, January 14, 2006

Two Schools of Thought

I am searching for an understanding, and this is what I have concluded: there are two schools of thought about what opera should be. One is religiously maintained by the Metropolitan Opera and I have to assume other companies, but I imagine none so much as the Met. In this school we set standards and we maintain them. We never do silly productions no matter how provoked. In this rule they may be the only ones maintaining it. Voices must be of the best quality. Their arms would open wide for Leontyne Price, a singer with a large beautiful voice, wonderful technique and phrasing, but not one single clue about acting. They would adore Roberta Peters with her strong voice and fabulous technique while snubbing the far more interesting Beverly Sills. Vocal and technical quality are their criteria. These are not inherently bad criteria, but there are other possible approaches. 

The other perspective is the one that says opera is show business, that what is wanted is interesting all-around performances, fascinating theater. This is the perspective of most of the rest of the opera world. I'm starting to sound like an apologist for Lotfi Mansouri. Kurt Herbert Adler kept his feet firmly in both camps, searching for the best of both worlds. 

My idols are Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Cecilia Bartoli, so you should not have to puzzle long over which side of the argument I am on. There are many paths to art. To those with the great voice and technique I say that you should not consider your work done. Continue to seek the complete performance. Continue to seek the greater truth behind each role. To the lesser talents I say not to abandon hope, but you will have to invent yourself with a lot more creativity than the natural talents. Cecilia is going to be 40 soon, and still she has only sung three times at the Met and those in performances of roles not her standard repertoire. They wanted her for her fame but do not believe that she meets their standards. They snubbed Elisabeth in the same way. In 1962 she was 46, and still it was two years before she made her Met debut. Beverly Sills is the third person to be treated in this way, but she was only just across the patio at City Opera.

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