On the back page of the March Opera News is an essay titled “The Jury is Out” in which the author, Brian Kellow, explains why he no longer wants to serve as a judge for singing competitions. He cites in particular an unnamed fellow judge who once criticized Renée Fleming’s Italian R. Renée is now referred to as “Your Miss Fleming” by the other judges.
I am taking this personally. It seems an essay about bitter, disappointed old women, something I sometimes wonder I might be. I definitely think it is what Cecilia decided I was. When I criticized Bryn, his partisans quickly leaped to that conclusion. [I was criticizing his career plans, not his voice or performance standards.] There can be no disputing the old part or the woman part.
It's true I criticize people and suggest they should do various things. My intentions are that they should improve and do better. If Renée Fleming's Italian R stank, I would probably suggest she acquire one, exactly like the bitter old woman in the essay. The intent would be that she then acquired a proper Italian R and was the better for it (I note on YouTube that Renée's Italian R is fine now). The intention would not be that she should then feel humiliated and cry. If you feel intensely humiliated any time anyone criticizes you--as I myself often did--you are probably not cut out for the tough world of the opera. My first bit of advice would be to get tougher.
After a great deal of miserable, hateful, deeply loathed auditioning, I came to resent the fact that no one told me the truth. A lot of time was wasted trying to do something for which I was not suited. No one told me this. If your Italian R stinks, why isn't it better to know? If your voice is too light for opera, why isn't it better to know?
I am probably much more guilty of the things he criticizes than the woman he is attacking. After all, I wrote an entire 300 page book criticizing the worshiped and adored Italian singer. When I look back at my technique book, I don't see bitterness or even arrogance. I was genuinely surprised by how much I knew about singing. The pages just flowed out. My intentions were honorable, though in certain respects misguided. Or possibly insane. Humiliation was not the goal. In fact it was the very real possibility of humiliation that made me return it to its box in the closet. In the end I didn't publish it, and she didn't read it. It was pointless.
As one grows older, possibilities begin to close. Choices that were made earlier are called into question. If one regrets ones choices, bitterness can be the result. I blog because there is a lot of information in my head about music, information I would like to put to use. Music is what I was trained to do. I had virtually no training at all for systems analysis.
I always look back to see how much I might have been helped by honesty. If people love you, they don't hesitate to tell you. If they think you lack certain essential gifts, they gossip about it amongst themselves while smiling woodenly at you. Yes, I probably would have cried.
I advised Yvonne Kenny to pitch her pop songs higher. I advised Thomas Glenn to work on his coloratura technique. I advised Cecilia Bartoli to practice the messa di voce. I advised Measha Brueggergosman to look for the passion in French as she so easily found it in English. I advised Tracie Luck to "Reach into my heart and give it a little squeeze." I advised Rolando Villazon that he was a lyric tenor. I hope I didn't send any of them into a crying jag. I worry that I might advise someone to do something they actually shouldn't do.
I honestly don't know if I am a bitter, disappointed old woman. I hope not.
A Kelley Sheehan moment
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