Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Met: Opera World

I think the original assertion that a singer cannot be consideredto have a significant career if they have not sung at the Met is -notwithstanding many notable exceptions - so patently obvious as to bealmost axiomatic. Yet a closer examination of the statement suggeststhat simply the fact that it is in general probably true does not makeit axiomatic.If we were to take it from being merely the Met and expand thestatement to include La Scala, Covent Garden and Vienna it would hold agreat deal of truth. If a singer is considered to be 'significant', onewould have to ask why they are not appearing at those houses. Exampleshave been given of singers who choose not to for monetary, family orVisa reasons. I do not know whether Dario Volonte will in the futurebe considered to be a significant singer; if he is, and without everappearing at Covent Garden, that would not, IMO, diminish hissignificance (I do not know whether he has ever sung in Britain orwhether he has any intention to do so; any disinclination would beperfectly understandable). If there were singers considered'significant' I think one would have to ask the question why they hadnot performed at those houses. There may be good reasons.But then we ask the question, what is significant? In regards toretired or deceased singers, I might apply a rule of thumb that I hadheard of them before I started spending half my life on the operainternet. Or I might refine it to say I had heard of them even in myteens. But of course, that is merely a way of dressing up an "In MyOpinion"I would suggest that there are a number of criteria that add up tosignificance. These will include: * name recognition with a wider public (certainly those that regardthemselves as lovers of serious music, if not necessarily those thatmeasure fame by appearance in celebrity magazines!); *recordings - perhaps some matrix that incorporates volumerecorded, numbers sold, critical acclaim - but the likes of AndreaBocelli and Katherine Jenkins suggest that neither volume indicator canbe taken as reliable in itself; *a subset of this is DVDs. If, as I contend, and as many mediasources also argue, that opera will increasingly - away from liveperformances - be regarded as an audio-video rather than merely audioproduct, significance may increasingly be measured by numbers of DVDs,in which a Met career is going to count for less than other, supposedlylesser, Houses; *Popularity with the ticket-buying public must count for something;this will influence the Houses' decisions in booking them. I supposethe greater freedom a singer has to dictate their repertory, perhaps bydigging up obscure operas ("what Placido wants, Placido gets"), mayhave a bearing. Renee Fleming, on fame, said that she likes the levelof fame she enjoys, because it does not intrude on her privacy yet sheis able to work with whom she wants to when she wants to; *Perhaps numbers of different roles performed, but that, I wouldcontend, is a measure to be handled carefully - somebody could sing agreat number of roles, but not especially impress in any of them;conversely, if someone is said to 'own a role' (not a phrase I like),it doesn't matter a great deal if it happens to be the only role theymake a decent fist of. This list is called Opera-L and, thus, naturally, focuses on Opera, butactually a great many singers don't. Nor audience. I suspect I go totwice or three times as many vocal concerts or recitals than I doOpera, and when I'm assessing 'my favourite singers' I don'tnecessarily draw a line between opera on the one hand andoratorio/lieder on the other.I am not sure whether it is more significant that a singer can berelied upon to turn out a satisfactory performance time after time, orwhether they have examples of utter brilliance tempered with eveningswhere they disappoint.I suspect that all locations have their local favourites, who can beguaranteed to sell out in their 'locality' but could not necessarily beguaranteed to do the same elsewhere. Perhaps because of localdifferences in tastes, or because they have assiduously cultivated the audience in that locality but have not (yet) done so elsewhere. I canthink of singers who are adored in London, and the audience keepscoming back to hear them again and again, but these singers barely geta mention, if at all, on this list or on other internet groups. Isuspect that this is the case in many places, and I think the majorityof the audience prefers to trust the evidence of their own ears ratherrely on the volume of fulsome praise by unknown others in assessingvalue.And finally, in determining 'significance' are we looking to thepresent-day assessments, where we are presented with a large number ofsingers who can be categorised into 'has beens'; 'at their prime' and'one for the future' with (IMO) the very best straddling twocategories. But if we are trying to predict what posterity will sayabout our current singers, I suspect that recordings, audio oraudio-visual, combined with documentary evidence of widespread criticaland popular acclaim will be the deciding factors. Geraldine CurtisLondon

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