Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Acting vs. Voice

That Opera (a theatrical work born of, and/or bound by, music) is a theatrical art form is surely not debatable. This means that the opera is usually going to be a story, delivered by human beings, who will communicate vocally by singing and animation, instead of the usual employment of speech and animation. I am always amused by this debate, because nobody ever says "I went to the ballet last night, lousy acting, but boy could they dance." Legitimate theatre (as it is called) is no more real than is the ballet or the opera, Sarah Bernhardt did not leap from the Castel Sant'Angelo to her death, any more than Zinka Milanov did, but then again, neither did she sing Visi D'Arte as Madame Milanov certainly did, but she did manage (mystery to me) to captivate the whole of Europe and America with her (so called) magnificent acting. The ability to sell a song is not exclusive to opera singers, just listen some time to Eartha Kitt or Frank Sinatra, or Burl Ives, and if you want to be torn into tiny shreds of weeping emotional pulp, then listen to the most magnificent of all voices that ever cried out with feeling; listen to Mahalia Jackson. Listen some time to Paul Robeson's Carnegie hall recital, he was 60 (or more) years old, and his voice had not been heard in concert halls around the US for some time, due to a flaw in the democratic machinery of the time, and emotion was high in the old house. He sings (at one point) "I am climbing Jacob's ladder," when he gets to the verse "We are climbing higher and higher," he invites the audience to join in the singing, his great voice breaks from song for just a second or so, and in what sounds little more than a whisper, yet shakes the heart of a stone, he utters two words, "Join Me" at that precise moment, the whole of Carnegie Hall sings out, Paul Robeson's great "deep bells" ringing with them, "WE are Climbing Higher and Higher, we're soldiers in this fight." Drama is, singing is, acting is?????? As the Hindus feel about life, so one must understand theatre and drama, acting, singing, music and dance. It is an illusion, a moment frozen in time and captured inside your brain for the rest of your life. How many times have you heard the expression "I guess you had to be there."

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