Odds and Ends…or more like Oddities!

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2014 has begun afresh with new and exciting announcements about upcoming opera seasons, live broadcasts, unanticipated debuts, masterclasses, and birthdays (Happy Birthday Marilyn Horne!) In only the 3 short weeks, so much has gone on and I’ve sort of sat back and watched things unfold in a kind of voyeur type fashion (although I’m not talking about spying on intimate encounters).  Even if one is working in the operatic field every day, it’s sometimes more telling to stand back and observe what is going on around you so that you can fully understand it.

Adriana Chuchman

From the Met’s celebratory and opulent Die Fledermaus  making its première on New Years Eve, the season has continued with the great Falstaff,  L’Elisir D’Amore, and now La Bohème, three Italian masterpieces to be sure.  There have been several debuts, and cancellations such as Ms. Netrebko’s cancellation last week (due to illness) and the surprise debut of Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman.  Ms. Chuchman’s debut was well received, and she represented her country well.  Of many singers I’ve heard as of late, I felt that Ms. Chuchman had a lovely tone and good control over her instrument.  At times it seemed a bit light for possible heavier roles, like Mimi, but for Adina, she seemed well-suited.  For those who had gone to hear the lush voluptuousness of Ms. Netrebko, they wouldn’t be receiving the same type of Adina for sure, but one that was her own valid representation.

anna_netrebko sexy

Instead, last week on Wednesday night, Ms. Netrebko showed off her more intimate self at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, where she sang a number of Russian songs and brought several colleagues to perform with her.  The more intimate setting with just piano brought an operatic voice into the mainstream and hopefully won over some of the non-opera going public to get their butts in the seats at the opera house.  I think this idea of having singers sing in more colloquial atmospheres is intimate enough that the audience member gets to feel them up close and personal, just enough to urge them to purchase a ticket to the opera (at least I hope this is the case and that we aren’t forcing voices meant for the stage into night clubs just because). Then they can really hear the grandeur of the voice in the venue for which it was meant to be presented.

Le poisson rouge

NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge

Click here to read Zachary Woolfe’s Review of Netrebko’s performance at Le Poisson Rouge



The Bohème from earlier in the week was decent but over the radio it is never easy to tell what a voice sounds like in the theatre and the long and short of it is that I was a bit disappointed in the musical presentation.  I’m not sure what’s going on but Verismo and the Puccinian Palate is being presented in a very stilted manner these days.  It’s Puccini, people!!! It’s about lust, passion, love (the kind that hurts), and suffering…for Puccini above all, suffering. This Bohème seemed sanitized to me. Unfortunately, I really didn’t feel the explosive passion of this couple as they meet and their entire world explodes with longing and desire. Sure, the idea is to sing through the lines and to connect phrases but with portamento that is “inherent in Italian speech.” When the normal pattern of speech and language is disturbed to keep the lines very straight, like reading a Bach prelude and fugue, this is NOT Puccinian style.  The performance had very little give and take between the singers and conductor. The Butterfly on Tuesday was a bit freer, to be sure, but not enough to promote true Puccinian cantilena.  Don’t know what that is, Puccini-ites? Read Mosco Carner on Puccini.  Povera faccia melody did not exist in these to productions and it’s a shame. The Met has the tools, the singers, and the conductors to present this style as it should and used to be presented, but like vocal technique has changed (for some) so has the transmission of Puccinian style, and true Verismo style. I hate to pick on one issue, but it is an important one and up and coming singers ought to understand what that is and they’re not going to learn it by listening to today’s Met broadcasts (sorry).  Maybe opera is becoming more modern but Maestro Puccini isn’t!

Puccini caricature

Mosco Carner

Puccinian Authority, Mosco Carner

“Si Canta Come Si Parla”, is the first rule of Italian singing but there is not much “talking” going on this year…very little in fact, and I don’t just mean at the Met.  The Met tries its best to promote the art form in whatever way it can get people in the seats, but I think this very small little rule that produces such a huge result is important and useful.  Operas were the only type of dramatic/musical entertainment when the genre was first developed and into the early 1900s.  Musical theatre was not yet created, and there certainly were no Cineplex Odeon VIP theatres to go watch films in while being served beer and chips in your seat.  The teatro dell’opera was where you went to socialize, to hear singers (who were equated to the level of movie stars and sports stars today) and you heard (guess what?) A STORY!!!  Today, the story gets lost because teachers are too focused on sound and that, my friends, is what we’re getting…sound and not words, not vowels, lots of trilling and fluttering that sounds pretty, but we lose the actual language.  If I’m Italian and I go see an opera and I can’t understand the opera and it’s in Italian…what does it mean?

Mafalda Favero  Tito Schipa

                                                Tito Schipa

Awhile back I was helping my mom and dad move and I had my I-Pod fixated in my ear. I was at the time studying Suzel in L’Amico Fritz and Mimì and I came across the wonderful Italian singer, Mafalda Favero.  Many don’t know who she is but I want you to go and youtube this voice.  I had no score in front of me and I understood her words perfectly.  Her vowels were central, the line was beautiful, the tone was beautiful and she and Tito Schipa expressed the most beautiful Cherry Duet I’ve ever heard.  I began listening to everything she sang, from Suzel to Desdemona to Margherita in Mefistofele and it was all clear as a bell and with line enough that Puccini would’ve been thrilled.  Something that is a bit lost today is that old recordings promote this type of singing but the quality isn’t as great. What you hear is mostly squillo because the recording tools were not capable of fully capturing the tone of the singer and so the majority of what we hear is the word but the voice’s cut, which is why so many singers don’t listen to the older recordings.  Well, let me tell you, they are a treasure trove.  For example, a few singer colleagues of mine subscribe to Met on Demand (a very useful tool) but they are finding only two recordings of “Rigoletto” for example, and one of them is the most recent production.  The Met has one of the largest archives in the world and yet we are offering only two examples of Rigoletto when hundreds were performed and recorded earlier.  A case in point.

Rosa Ponselle

So, what is the point of all of this? Can the tide be changed and can we start a revolution in singing that promotes “la parola?” I’m not sure, but this singer is certainly taking the voices of the past more into consideration than anything else.  Listen to a Bohème with Tebaldi and Di Stefano, or with Albanese and Pierce and listen to the difference, crappy recording quality or not.  Last night I listened to Rosa Ponselle sing Traviata and I was in my glory.  Sure the quality is horrible, but man is it rewarding to hear the language of  the Patria sung clear as a bell and with expression enough to make a grown man weep.  Oh how I long for those days, even if they were before my time…it doesn’t mean I can’t still belong to them, and so can you.  Singer friends, take note.

Happy Sunday everyone!

Stay tuned for upcoming blog entries from The Last Verista coming to you from Italy from Feb 1-15.