The Voice Must Be Heard

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lennygoran
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The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by lennygoran » Thu Sep 28, 2017 5:23 pm

I'm not sure I fully buy this. Regards, Len

The Met Has the Voices. But Will It Need More to Survive?

By ZACHARY WOOLFE SEPT. 28, 2017


“I am very aware of all the elements in opera,” the playwright Albert Innaurato, who died this week, once wrote in The New York Times, “but I love voices.”

The Metropolitan Opera is listening to him.

The past year has brought a subtle yet significant shift in the Met’s strategy. Taking as its motto “The Voice Must Be Heard,” the company is tacitly admitting that concentrating its marketing energies on its productions — the focus under Peter Gelb, its general manager since 2006 — hasn’t solved its persistent problem of getting people in the seats.

Singers, not directors, sell tickets, the Met is rediscovering, and in the absence of bankable stars its model is doomed. This is especially true since the company’s repertory is so stagnant: All five of the operas featured in its first month of performances, which began on Monday with Bellini’s “Norma” and continued with Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” on Tuesday and Wednesday, have been heard here in the last five years.

The last five years have also brought 19 of the 24 operas on offer this season, even accounting for Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel,” which has its American premiere on Oct. 26. Indeed, this is repertory-wise one of the dullest

The only thing (if anything) distinguishing one “Turandot” revival from the following year’s is the singers. So while I kept my eyes open this week during “Norma,” “Hoffmann” and “Flute,” I tried extra hard to focus solely on what the Met has been demanding of me in subway posters all over the city: Hear the voice.


The results were impressive; the company seems to be taking to heart its own marketing copy. This was proved above all by the opening-night “Norma,” whose urgency emerged far more from the exciting singing than the dimly lit production. (The voice must be heard, and nothing must be seen?)

Sondra Radvanovsky returned to the title role, which she played here four years ago; her pungent, chicory-flecked voice was more settled now, less blazing and more calmly confident. And while she is still not a detailed actress — Norma’s final act of self-sacrifice seemed just as unmotivated as the last time she did it — the vocal fireworks and sudden high, soft notes came across less as showy effects this time around.

As for her co-stars, there’s always something affecting in Joseph Calleja’s plangent, slightly nasal tenor, always a sense of tears being held back. Joyce DiDonato may push sharp and grow edgy as her voice gets to its highest reaches, but lower down the sound is cashmere.

As Offenbach’s Hoffmann, Vittorio Grigolo simply flings his tenor out. Sometimes he can push too hard: In his telling of the legend of Kleinzach the dwarf, when it seemed as if he was trying to sneer, he merely shouted. But when he lets up on the pressure, the sound is sweet and bright, and he gives, and gives, and gives — there are few Met artists these days who offer more bang for your buck.


Erin Morley poised herself between silky sensuality and the stratosphere as Olympia, the robot he falls for. (Between her and Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute,” it was a golden week for notes way, way above the musical staff.) Anita Hartig sang with controlled, concentrated richness as Antonia, one of Hoffmann’s other loves; Laurent Naouri sounded wry and roomy as the four villains who plague him. Tara Erraught, making her Met debut as Nicklausse and Hoffmann’s muse, seemed most comfortable as her lines rose; billed as a mezzo-soprano, her tone paled down in traditional mezzo territory.

Another debut artist, the soprano Golda Schultz, was the true star of “Flute” as Pamina, her voice buoyant yet substantial, creamy but never heavy. Greeting Tamino (the robust Charles Castronovo) before they embarked on their trials, she floated a line as plainly beautiful as anything I heard in these three evenings.

The conducting all week was superb, beginning with Carlo Rizzi’s vibrant yet unpressured “Norma.” Johannes Debus, in “Hoffmann,” kept textures light and agile, but didn’t stint on grandeur, and while James Levine’s pacing of the “Flute” overture was breakneck, the rest was forward-moving but sensitive.

I understand why the Met’s attention is ever more squarely on its singers. But if it wants to thrive, rather than merely survive, it must also look to the future of the art form: the relevance of its theatricality, the rejuvenation of its repertory, the cultivation of new work.

It is strange that in a season that brings such an anticipated Adès premiere, the company’s promotional materials crow that “no other art form so unabashedly celebrates the power of the human voice. But opera is also a vehicle for creative expression for conductors, orchestra musicians, directors, designers and choreographers.”

Composers are left off the list, depressingly. The voice must be heard, sure, but what are they singing?




https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/28/arts ... views&_r=0

jbuck919
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Sep 28, 2017 9:40 pm

I do wonder if folks are overlooking that the main problem might be that opera is like serious church services, becoming increasingly and irretrievably lost on the young who have to be the replacements for the audience, increasingly an antiquarian interest. The pop music scene since at least the British Invasion has proved to be a cultural disaster, with all respect to Chalkie, if he is reading this, who played an important part in it.

BTW Hoffman is one of the few opers I have heard at the Met, back in college, with Joan Sutherland in all three roles. It is something of a guilty pleasure. The article speaks of composers, but something by Offenbach should not be so fine as to survive in the common repertory. It just does, I guess, and I'd listen to it again if someone dragged me to it. There is a story that Artur Rubenstein was a guest of Edward and Mrs. Simpson, and they asked him if he would play something. He responded that he supposed he could play the Barcarolle (meaning Chopin), but when he started the couple decided that it was not the one they knew (from Hoffman) and walked out.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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John F
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by John F » Thu Sep 28, 2017 10:08 pm

Zachary Woolfe wrote:Singers, not directors, sell tickets, the Met is rediscovering, and in the absence of bankable stars its model is doomed.
Model, shmodel. The key word is "stars." Many fine singers with familiar names will appear at the Met this season but stars they are not. When the season was announced last February, there was at most one real star in the Met roster, Anna Netrebko. The Met mounted a new production of "Norma" for her, which she then cancelled and instead will be singing a few Toscas at the tail end of the season. Another star soprano, Renée Fleming, has now retired from singing staged opera. Jonas Kaufmann, probably today's most "bankable" tenor, canceled all his appearances here, leaving the Met without a single star tenor, just a Grigolo. Twenty seasons ago, in 1997-8, Luciano Pavarotti sang four operas at the Met and Plácido Domingo, then a tenor, sang six. Sic transit.

It would be wrong to blame the Met for failing to present stars when there are hardly any out there. Under the circumstances, Peter Gelb's emphasis on new productions makes a kind of financial sense. In a Wall Street Journal article recently, it's said that attendance at a new production, no matter how bad, is 10% higher than at an old production, no matter how good. One obvious reason for this is the novelty. Another is that the top singers prefer to sing in new productions with a major conductor and stage director in charge, than in a revival rehearsed by a house director and conducted by whoever.

No amount of marketing can make a star of a singer. The public does that or it doesn't, and votes at the box office before the performance and the stage door after it.
John Francis

barney
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by barney » Fri Sep 29, 2017 4:51 am

I was about to rebuke JohnF for setting the bar too high, then I went and looked at the forthcoming season, and I have to say you are right. The absolute star quality is deficient. Still a great season, and I wish I were there, but...

lennygoran
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by lennygoran » Fri Sep 29, 2017 4:57 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Thu Sep 28, 2017 9:40 pm
opera is like serious church services, becoming increasingly and irretrievably lost on the young who have to be the replacements for the audience, increasingly an antiquarian interest.
You may have something here. :( Love Tales of Hoffman. Regards, Len

lennygoran
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by lennygoran » Fri Sep 29, 2017 5:07 am

John F wrote:
Thu Sep 28, 2017 10:08 pm

Under the circumstances, Peter Gelb's emphasis on new productions makes a kind of financial sense. In a Wall Street Journal article recently, it's said that attendance at a new production, no matter how bad, is 10% higher than at an old production, no matter how good. One obvious reason for this is the novelty.
My feeling is that we need operas that have long been neglected but done in a traditional manner and not more common operas produced by maniacs like Calixto Bieito. Glimmerglass and Bard gave us Dimitri and Siege of Calais-wonderful ideas--too bad the productions left so much to be desired. :( That Met Prince Igor with all the poppies was imo awful. The political Pearl Fishers-phooey! The Met has excellent singers imo and many of them know how to act as well. Regards, Len

lennygoran
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by lennygoran » Fri Sep 29, 2017 5:11 am

barney wrote:
Fri Sep 29, 2017 4:51 am
The absolute star quality is deficient. Still a great season, and I wish I were there, but...
Barney I'm not gonna let the absence of Netrebko and Kaufman make me give up opera. Regards, Len

barney
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by barney » Fri Sep 29, 2017 5:30 am

Heaven forfend, Len. I would never suggest it.
The Metis simply uncovering the next generation, of whom we will one day say the same things... :)

John F
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by John F » Fri Sep 29, 2017 6:35 am

lennygoran wrote:
Fri Sep 29, 2017 5:07 am
My feeling is that we need operas that have long been neglected but done in a traditional manner and not more common operas produced by maniacs like Calixto Bieito. Glimmerglass and Bard gave us Dimitri and Siege of Calais-wonderful ideas
Unfortunately, most operas that have long been neglected would be failures if given the full Met treatment of an expensive stage production and a run of six or more performances. They're usually neglected for good reason. If a genuine, "bankable" star wants one of these corpses resurrected, the management often complies, assuming that the star's fans will turn out in numbers to hear her or him no matter what. It was Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, not Bellini and Donizetti, who fueled the bel canto revival of the 1950s and '60s. But it doesn't always work, cf. "Sly" and 'Cyrano de Bergerac." Even Placido Domingo couldn't make those turkeys fly.
John Francis

lennygoran
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by lennygoran » Fri Sep 29, 2017 7:10 am

John F wrote:
Fri Sep 29, 2017 6:35 am
'Cyrano de Bergerac." Even Placido Domingo couldn't make those turkeys fly.
Cyrano a turkey-come on! Domingo and Radvanovsky had me in tears. And if Met audiences can't appreciate a Dvorak gem Dimitri done in the grand opera style then shame on them. Regards, Len :(

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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by maestrob » Fri Sep 29, 2017 1:43 pm

The sad fact is that the public makes stars happen, and the greatest star of them all, James Levine, is only vaguely associated with the MET nowadays, for very sad reasons. We are in a period with many great singers in the world, but many prefer not to appear at the MET, because they don't get to work with a star conductor who can bring out the best in them.

The other reason audiences are down is lack of interest in opera in general, and the bizarre and often confusing productions in modern dress that the MET is mounting turn off people of our generation who are the MET's main audience. I agree with Len that, as wonderful as the singing was in Pearlfishers, the sets and costumes were, to put it mildly, just plain odd. The recent Tosca fiasco is another offensive example.

Lastly, opera and classical music in general are no longer at the center of our culture. Toscanini was a cultural hero when I was a young lad: his name was on everyone's lips. Can the same be said of Levine? Jimmy who? As great a musician as Levine is, school kids are not taught to revere musicians the way my generation was. In fact, music is mostly ignored in schools, where parents have to pay extra for their offspring to participate in musical activities, if they exist at all.

Thus, the MET's dropping ticket sales.

Opera will be saved by endowments and contributions from the wealthy, but the giant audiences that could fill a 4000+ seat house are a thing of the past, just as Pavarotti, Sills and Levine are echoes of a lost era.

lennygoran
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Re: The Voice Must Be Heard

Post by lennygoran » Fri Sep 29, 2017 7:45 pm

Brian thanks so much-I'm afraid you've got it very right. Regards, Len :(

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