It's possible I've talked about this before.
[Oh hi. I'm back for a holiday posting, for sentimental reasons. It isn't much of a posting but it was an old tradition I liked so me voila, seule dans la Thanksgiving.]
I was watching the video above and trying to remember whether I liked Ildebrando d'Arcangelo much, which honestly I can't tell from the champagne aria. It's an ordeal, not an aria. I'm almost sure I heard him live at the 'politan and thought: I'm putting this guy off my list of people I'll sit through another [whatever opera] for, because I don't like his voice that much.
In this clip, I want to marry him.
Earlier, I was reading about Magda Olivero, which made me think of The Last Prima Donna, which I can't even remember if she's in it but my chains of association, well, if I'm still on your rss feed at this point, you are familiar with their less than compact nature. The Last Prima Donna, if you've never leafed through it, is basically a collection of people whingeing about why opera sucks now and is only getting worse. It's like the internet.
Its imaginary subtitle is Who Killed Opera? And they all come to pretty much the same conclusion. It was not the butler. It was not Mrs. Peacock. It was directors! Bad, bad directors!
This argument makes no sense, and is taken apart better than I can by La Cieca and her associates. But there's a particular part of it that's bugging me as I watch Don Giovanni and think about all those slightly pre-dead divas whingeing to Lanfranco Rasponi. And this is that their complaint is always that a focus on the visual has meant nobody does that thing anymore where...what was I reading lately where a singer said Caballe would come onto the stage and just stand there and sing and everyone bought it even though it was dramatically inert?
I think the regiphobes are making a false dichotomy. Because directors don't choose singers is the thing. Get mad at people in administration that make those choices, perhaps, but I am fairly certain Bartlett Sher wasn't like "get me Peter Mattei! He's really tall!" and even if he had been, everyone else wouldn't have been all "nuh-huh!" (Except that Peter Mattei is also the best baritone in the biz, so bad example.)
What I'm attempting to say is: you can have it all. So if you want everything to be stultifyingly traditional, be honest, say that, and attack every production that doesn't involve petticoats. But don't act like the fact that Mary Zimmerman still doesn't entirely get opera (and this many productions in, I will acknowledge, she should probably go back to other things) is responsible for the lack of great vocal artistry some perceive in our age.
Callas would have been Callas even if she'd been stuck in last season's absurd, inept Attila. (Not that she sang Odabella. I'm full of bad examples. I'm trying to write something else in another window.) Contrariwise, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, if I'm remembering beyond the asthma-inducing champagne aria, is a little dull in traditional productions, maybe still a little dull (vocally) in light regie, but at least there's theater going on.
I mean, watch that clip. I'm not reacting groinally. Neither singer is my type. But they're actually interacting like two people, not like singing scenery. They're doing something surprising and convincing and, goddamn it, kind of interesting. There is motivation there beyond, as Terrence McNally would have it, "I'm going to sing a cabaletta!" This is not what made bad singing go away, if bad singing has indeed gone away.
I haven't gone to much this season by the way. Though I'm not sure I would have written about it if I had. I mean probably not, in fact.
(Don't google Robin Byrd if you are not from New York, by the way, and don't know who the hell she is. Not Safe For Work Or Much Of Anything Else is likely to pop up.)