A Big Feat…A Devoted heart….A Long Time Coming.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have noticed that as of late, posts have been few and far between.  The reason has nothing to do with a lack of interest lately, but more to do with a profound experience that has been the culmination of a very long journey for me.  On May 4th, 2010, I successfully defended my Ph.D dissertation, “Italian Opera from Verdi to Verismo: Boito and “La Scapigliatura.” For the last 13 years of my life, I have devoted myself to the letters, works, and operas of several important composers, namely Giuseppe Verdi, Arrigo Boito, and Giacomo Puccini, and although I have been researching and writing for approximately five years, I had not anticipated that defending my work would be so emotional.  As I spoke about my 600 + page manuscript, at one moment I could strangely hear myself talking and wondering, “Who is talking? Is this me?”  The voice was filled with passion and fire and vibrancy.  At that moment, I felt that I might have converted any non-opera loving person to the other side, just by the sheer determination in my voice.  And, all for the love of opera.

Verdi and Boito

I recalled that the first post on this blog displayed a picture of Indiana Jones.  In effect, the research I conducted was not much different than that presented in the third movie of that series, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” where Indiana takes on his father’s passionate search for the Holy Grail by using a diary filled with clues that required decoding.  Who would have thought that Italian Opera would present a similar situation?  The point I wish to make is that the study of music history, although some might think it to be tedious or even boring, is just as exciting as any action movie.  It is also what leads us to maintain an authentic, appropriate, and most of all, a respectful manner of performance practice that is based on the wishes and direction of the composers whose works we are so compelled to sing, perform, or conduct. It is my hope that young music students continue to study history and use it as a foundation for whatever musical discipline they are devoted to. As musicians the path to a fundamental happiness and success can only be achieved by hard work and devotion, but let us not forget that love for music and art play a significant role.  For those of us who remain devoted…a world of wonder awaits.

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 5:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Ode Saffica” for the 21st century


As of late, I have been immersed in my writing and continue to ponder my mentor, the philosopher/poet/composer and most controversial “scapigliato”, Arrigo Boito.  In 1863, Boito wrote a Sapphic Ode to art in which he addressed the state of opera post Risorgimento.  He often wrote emotionally about art, and perhaps we don’t do this enough.  When one is engulfed in the trials and tribulations of academic research and writing, it is usually unnecessary to write emotionally, but factually.  Perhaps I’ve reached my boiling point and need to be emotional about my art and I chose to do it here.  Maybe I’ve been influenced by Boito…or maybe I have come to understand him so much so that I’ve chosen to adopt his “disheveled attitude.”

Art and the properties that define it swing on a constantly shifting pendulum.  But, what it is that controls the motion of that pendulum, where it stops and where it ends, where it pauses, and how quickly it shifts from side to side?  From the onset of this all-encompassing art, the shifting has been unavoidable, sometimes welcome, sometimes dreaded, but always, always a constant.  The one thing you can be sure of in art is that things are in constant flux.

Many nights I lay down my heavy mind, filled with continuous thought, and ponder this art and my place within it.  I suppose we all question our places within any grand structure to which we play part.  Simply, without it I would not want to live.  There is nothing to hear if music not be present; if the human voice were to end its plentiful expression, as it were, what else would there be for me?  To some, maybe this is too serious a proclamation.  To them, I say, “art is life.”  To them I say in the words of Adorno, “We do not speak to music, music speaks to us.  And, when we think ourselves closest to it, it lingers and waits sad eyed for us to answer.”

Have you ever stood next to a human being whose body vibrates with the splendid energy that the singing voice exudes?  A metaphysical entity if ever there was one, it is from this world and yet from another.  Consequently, I have had this opportunity to stand next to voices that bleed golden shimmer from within their fiery souls.  It is in those moments that I am humbled and awestruck to serve this art that is often surrounded by media and popular culture.  Art is not autonomous and yet it could exist as such.  For me, this is religion.  This is sacred for me.  Somedays I feel completely unworthy; others, ready to fight for the truth that art retains within its deepest self.  And how, you might ask, do we find that truth? Open yourself and expose yourself in the most vulnerable of ways, sing from your soul without shame, care not what others say or what critics think is right or wrong, maintain the values of those whose art you perform, and always, always with the most fragile and courageous love.

When someone you love is gone, and you hear music….does your heart not cry the most painful of melodies? When you fall in love and you hear music, does not every song you hear remind you of that person? How music plays in the soundtrack of our lives….and how often are we oblivious to it?

When the violin weeps its last, when the piano’s soundboard resonates for the last time, when the tubas growl no more, when the timpani are silent, and when the voice has exhaled its last vibrant exaltation, what remains….is love.  O’ gentle and destructive art, wise are you to select your warriors.  I, for one, kneel in humble respect of you that overwhelms me every day of my life.  Your devoted servant……

Published in: on October 24, 2009 at 1:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Saturday Afternoon at the Opera with Bill Richardson, featuring Mary-Lou Vetere


Boito and Verdi

Boito, Verdi, and the music in my heart…..

Click here to listen to the interview.

October 17, 2009

Opera:  Simon Boccanegra from the Vienna Staatsoper

Mary-Lou will be featured on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera with Bill Richardson on October 17th.


On October 17th, 2009 CBC Radio II will be hosting Saturday Afternoon at the Opera (hosted by Bill Richardson).  Mary-Lou Vetere will be a guest on the Broadcast of Verdi’s opera, “Simon Boccanegra” with libretto by Arrigo Boito.  She will be discussing opera, her research, and accordions.  Tune in to 94.1 or get the widget for CBC RADIO at http://www.widgetbox.com/widget/podcasts-cbc-radio and listen live.

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera

La Commedia è Finita

Ridi Pagliaccio!

Happy Face

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

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