La Commedia è Finita

Ridi Pagliaccio!

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As Canio hurls out the last notes of his “Vesti la giubba” he effects one of the most poignant and vividly human moments in all of opera. Similarly, Tosca’s “Muore! Muore,” meant to invoke Scarpia’s imminent death, stretches the dramatic platform to unparalleled heights.  These are seminal moments of realism, of veritas, of existential fate, realized in aesthetic perfection .  But what happens when these moments fail to affect us as they once did?  This couldn’t be possible now…could it?

And then, there is the singing.  What of the singing?  What of the real meaning behind Bel Canto (yes, it is actually a technique) and the use of legato….do we even know what legato is?  Is it simply singing nicely from note to note, or is there something more to it.  And, by the way, who developed this technique?  Why the heck should we follow it?  It’s so “old-school,” right?  Well, since the 1970s the art-philosophical movement that called itself “modernism” and later evolved into “post-modernism” seems to have thrust itself against Old-Man Opera and toppled him over.  He’s still there, but a little roughed up.  And what’s more, the representation of language, the foremost part of the operatic vehicle, got knocked over with him. Well, ok, let’s be rash here.  Essentially, opera is an anachronistic art form, right?  That means it’s something from the past that is being brought into the present, so should we bring it into the 21st century as it was or should we shake things up?   Should we give in to the so-called, “new school” and abandon traditional values and everything that defines the art-form simply because we can?

In the mid-1860s a group of artists in Italy joined forces to evoke a change in their artistic climate.  Perhaps we should do the same because opera today has become “una vera commedia,” a real comedy.  Monteverdi wrote “Prima le parole e dopo la musica” (First come the words, then comes music) but what happens when both the words and the music lose face because singers have begun to sing in whatever way they want, because conductors are not getting paid enough to inspire the musicians in the orchestra to create a palate of unending colour, because it seems more important to have a waif like figure and a beautiful face at the behest of a voice that rips our souls out, makes us lustful and passionate, invokes our tears, and yet remains true to the aesthetic that opera demands.

Today the overall understanding of the operatic art has shifted from its original intention into a FARCE!!!!!  And, I will not apologize for my candor. LA COMMEDIA DEVE FINIRE!!!  Who said it was alright to abandon the need for aesthetic singing, that style that singers of old worked so diligently to effect, and simply focus on how pretty we are or how great we look on stage.  It doesn’t matter if we appear like a gaggle of movie stars with half-cocked voices. A singing teacher once said to me, “Well, at least if you sound like a cow you won’t look like one.”   NO MORE; at least, not here.  I scream in defense of the art we hold dear.  I raise my hand defiantly in the face of the so-called “new school.”  And who died and created this new school anyway!?

Opera is a combinatory art, an art that is absolutely anachronistic, but bringing something of the past into the present does not mean that it’s an open invitation to outwardly ignore aesthetic practices.  This blog is a place for those who believe as such to gather and defend the art as it was intended to be, and by that I don’t mean we don’t like “modern” productions or interpretations.  I’m talking about the nitty-gritty, down and dirty components that make opera, opera.

This is not to say that everything today sucks.  Obviously it doesn’t, and the fact that we are still presenting opera after five centuries is a coup in and of itself.  There are many artists who retain their devotion to the art, who make it their business to learn, who wish to bring the art as it was intended to be presented, and who remain devoted to artistic truths.  Since opera is now being brought to a larger audience via HD broadcast, perhaps we need to look at what we’re doing and ask ourselves if this art belongs on the big screen, the same big screen that shows us films like “Brüno”, or if it should remain as it was intended: a live art without amplification, larger than life and presented by individuals like you and me, but with bestowed gifts from the stratosphere?  I’m not at all against reaching out to larger audiences but the content in the performances is up for discussion in my opinion.

In this blog, I’ll present historical materials, articles, and videos/music clips that might remind us, singers, students, historians, fans, and afficionados, what opera was and what it fails to be.  I encourage you to comment as you wish, toopen your minds, hearts, and ears to what those composers to whom we pay the greatest debt wrote:  Monteverdi, Gluck, Haydn, Handel, Mozart, Meyerbeer, Donizetti, Rossini, Bellini, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, and let’s not forget the usually forgotten Boito, to whom I have a special connection.

Raise our voices in unison, in harmony, or in thunderous raucous defiance and stand up for the art that has fallen into the hands of those who have no right to call poignant operas like “La Sonnambula” a “silly little tale,” or others who profess that “Verismo means truth.”  It does not.

Reality does not require truth in order to be reality, but opera….OPERA REQUIRES TRUTH.

Callas as Tosca

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Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 3:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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