Thursday, March 28, 2013

Can one really love opera?

Things got bass akward, the review is above. In looking around the opera 'net I am always shocked by how little the contributors know about music in general, how little they love music. On Opera-L for example there are few comments about the musical content of even the most familiar operas; and very few comments about the musical challenges singers must face even in the most beloved roles. How someone phrases, how they feel and use rhythm, how accurate they are in rendering what the composer wrote never seems to matter -- usually at all. Whether Milanov, for example, is really up to the grand phrases that are part of the middle Verdi style, phrases that start or end low in the voice and ascend to or descend from the heights do not figure in discussions of her -- according to them -- transcendent treatment of Leonora in Trovatore or Amelia in Ballo or Leonora in Forza. Of course perhaps it oughtn't to matter that her Italian is gobbledygook or that she is often very sharp. There is the same absence of understanding of whether Leontyne Price or Monserrat Caballe, heard most often by these people on glamorized studio recordings, can realize this musical rhetoric. Of course the use of dissonance as a device by singers to impart tension to the vocal line is never discussed. It is a commonplace that Maria Callas was "the greatest musician ever" so one after another of these people avers. But they are entirely ignorant or her compromises, they have no understanding of the musical challenges faced and solved by a truly remarkable musician-singer such as Jan De Gaetani, who often had to modify or invent a vocal technique to realize the immensely demanding new music she sang, or how Arleen Auger, delicately and sweetly, served the musical as well as the vocal demands of more conventional fare. One realizes that these 'opera experts' actually don't know anything. Their fetishes and fancies are triggered by non musical things from a timbre to received opinions by their equally ignorant friends to simple philistinism. Does Verdi have a chance against such insensitivity? No wonder he was regarded simply as an organ grinder composer. I've never seen anyone on these groups talk about how someone like Riccardo Muti shapes phrases into units of great beauty and tremendous effectiveness, even without star singers, and how the operas still work. Few of the tiny number of 'professional reviewers' still left are any better. I had a lot of training as a musician; that doesn't mean I was or am talented but at least I can hear. I understand how difficult it is to get it right, to really express powerfully within the music without the cheap tricks from omitted and simplified phrases but immense unwritten high notes to barking and screaming, always described as 'dramatic', though the faking singers have less good ideas expressively than the composer. I also like a lot of non vocal music; sometimes I find even chamber music more moving and involving than opera. I love the relief from words, stupid words often enough and silly carrying on. It was fun recently to write about music I love that had no voices, that needed close attention to work (the highlight LP was something that sooner or later reared its head when what seemed a small army of opera -- queens? -- volunteered the records they loved. The pop selections mattered to them; often the least interesting music in an opera. This is a review of an HM CD devoted to the violin/piano music of Janacek, Szymanowski and Lutoslawski.

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