This performance of The Maid of Orleans is an excellent example of the diva phenomenon. Suppose I cast this opera for verisimilitude, as is often suggested by people who don't really like opera. Suppose I found me a cute young woman who might pass for a teenager and cast her as Joan instead of the mature Dolora Zajick. What would I have? The answer is nothing. Opera is about singing. Dolora Zajick carried the opera, and she carried it to magnificence.
The diva is the reason we are there. I sat with friends and watched again the incredible video from the Bel Canto Society of Semiramide with Marilyn Horne and Montserrat Caballe. The excitement of this type of singing when done with this quality cannot be equalled.
In those days composers knew their place and composed for specific singers to show off their voices. They knew that to triumph in the medium of opera the singer must also triumph. If the singing is boring, the opera is also boring. There exist exceptions, but they are very rare.
It is nice when a singer comes along who can be everything. This is why people love Anna Netrebko--she is wonderful to hear and also to see. But the essential piece of the puzzle is singing.
No one is taking up the mantle of Horne and Caballe, and it is a terrible loss to opera, for bel canto is the peak experience.