Who’s that girl?

ffwThis is a rant against the Fach and/or Gender Police. There’s no way to rant other than in a shrill tone… so here are some disclaimers to help you adjust to the higher pitch:

1) Alcina is one of my favourite operas (as the amount of random and related posts shows)

2) the show at the Barbican was my most expected this year

3) 3 mezzos

Based on these disclaimers I grant you that I’m always full of enthusiasm when it comes to the subject. There might be worthier operas out there but I like Alcina and with as many mezzos as possible, regardless if they look “too manly” when singing a woman or “too womanly” when singing a man1. According to some, apparently last month’s concert performance managed the curious feat of failing on both accounts. There’s no winning for them mezzos, eh. Stick to Carmen and Rosina, girls (unless sopranos appropriate those roles, in which case suck it up until you’re old enough for Azucena or Ulrica; you might still end up too manly for the first two and too girly for the latter).

Really, though, why rant? I share the opinion that everyone is entitled to their view, that we can’t all like the same things etc. This doesn’t preclude me from finding certain views either silly or suspect. Take this rant as an elaborate “oh, come on!” My biggest eye-roll inducer is people getting hung-up on non-issues.

But onto the hang-ups at hand:

(All quotes come from this review of the Barbican show. I have no qualms with the reviewer’s take on anything else beside the fach and gender business.)

1) Alcina sung by a mezzo

Hi, Fach Police, how are you? Who gives a shit if the person singing a role is usually labeled something else? It’s hardly a new practice and frankly, what is so unnatural about transgressing an illusory line such as a vocal label? They are there to help the singer out rather than box them in.

So if the singer can cope with the role’s tessitura, why the hell not? Which segues right into:

2) Singers either not of the “correct” gender or eschewing gender espectations altogether

Gender Police, is that you? Haven’t seen you in a while. Let me reiterate:

If the singer can cope with the role’s tessitura, why the hell not?

It’s theatre, right? For hundreds of years theatre has played with gender either out of necessity or purely theatrically. Why do we care about theatre in the first place? To discover stuff about ourselves we might have not considered; to turn our expectations on their head; to “virtually” try out different things. I hardly think it’s strange to imagine that in 2014 this should be one of the least common hang-ups. But apparently it is quite common.

“Did they really have lesbian affairs shown on stage in Handel’s time?”

They most certainly showed people faced with the possibility of same sex attraction, what with all this disguise business (which was a very common plot device up to the first quarter of the 19th century – lots of it even in Meyerbeer’s Italian operas). That people didn’t think about gay sex the same way we do today is a different thing and hardly important in this context.

The real point is, what about showing lesbian affairs on stage? Is it harder to accept this possibility rather than Alcina’s being a sorceress? It’s theatre; Alcina, Ruggiero et all can be whatever as long as the story holds. There’s nothing in the story that can’t be viewed from a gay angle.

While we’re at it, were the characters sung by castrati supposed to be gay because they sounded effeminate? No? Right. But they could be perceived as such by 21st century ears. Is that a problem?

“He was utterly dumbstruck when I told him that Ruggiero is supposed to be a man, and Bradamante a woman, since he’d decided – perfectly reasonably on the available visual evidence – that it was the other way round. And he isn’t stupid, just unfamiliar with this neck of the repertory:”

Don’t people read the bloody synopsis? They might not have shown lesbian “relationships” on stage in 1735, but in 2014 we’ve mass literacy and Wikipedia. If not stupid then surely ignorant and bigoted.

“I wonder how many of those present actually knew who was who, or more pertinently, what, given the appearance of it all?”

That’s not patronising at all… I’d like to hope quite a few present had brains and imagination enough to work with what they were presented. Aside from actually knowing beforehand what the bloody opera was about… Some of us can even negotiate regie productions. Weird, I know. They didn’t have those in Handel’s time. Except they kind of did (hint: they painted saints/biblical stories in contemporary clothing/settings).

“(certainly not the woman in front, who laughed like a drain from first to last, as if somebody had told her Handel could be funny, whereupon she’d decided it was a flat-out farce, all three hours’ worth of it)”

I laughed too, I thought it was a funnier than usual take on Alcina and I’ve heard/seen a few (specifically, the surtitles were a hoot and the Morgana-Bradamante interplay hilarious, but that one is more or less meant to be; yes, Handel is funny sometimes). I don’t normally think of Alcina as particularly funny but I don’t mind being convinced otherwise. Different takes on the same subject – funny concept, I know. Funny like not sticking to one Fach or to one gender.

But, you know (in regards to JDD’s coiff):

“from the neck up she looked like a male rocker from the cast of Grease”

Buddy, if you think JDD ever looks anything like a man – short hair, long hair, sideburns, whathaveyou, she’s sported them all on stage – I might have to introduce you to a couple of blokes. Or blokes who are a couple. Or to the 21st century.

  1. I go to the opera for singers’ voices first and foremost. Eyecandy, whilst highly appreciated, is a bonus. Which is why this blog isn’t called mezzohunks/babes ;-) 

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on November 2, 2014, in acting in opera, baroque, freeform weekend, mezzos & contraltos, rants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. I love it when you’re angry.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We have so much in common Dr. T !


  3. If Fach & footwear is an issue, he missed Teseo in spikes this past summer at Tanglewood. Though maybe Theseus gets a pass because he’s a soprano…

    But his review does raise some interesting questions about audience expectations and the parameters of a concert performance.


    • He’s definitely not seen the latest Clemenza from Munich either, with Sesto in heels AND mustache. And quite probably not Purcarete’s Artaserse with CTs in all the roles.

      — But his review does raise some interesting questions about audience expectations and the parameters of a concert performance. —

      It made me wonder about certain people’s reasons for going to shows, that’s for sure. There was a bunch of old ladies behind me at the concert who commented on how JDD “is taking good care of herself by going to the gym all the time”. I was thinking, “is that all you’ve got to say about this performance?!” At least they didn’t think she looked manly…


      • but i have! heels + mustache! and hiding under the soprano’s umbrella-dress! i really like the staging actually, had a nice discussion with a German woman next to me (we were all in standing spots) about how much we like it vs how much the “reviewers” hated it. Interestingly neither of us had any issue with heels / mustache, in fact i just took it as is and proceeded with the music and voice 🙂 (and i do have a lot to say about sesto’s voice (and everyone else’s) in that production! the duet between Sesto + clarinet in “Parto” was particularly interesting in that production)

        my hausmate came home from a nice performance of Orfeo ed Eurydice (which i missed due to deadlines grr) and asked why Orfeo was sung by a woman. Come to think of it actually, whenever i show a clip of some music to friends here (who are not die-hard fans like me/us) the first word out of their mouth tends to be how beautiful/attractive such and such looks or how unfit they were.. what surprises me more is when i said: can you focus on the voice/music? what do you think? and many times i got a blank or “what u talking about?” look back. perhaps we can use it as a filter for “die-hard” vs “casual/un-real” fans? 😀


        • I love that production too! Sesto under the umbrella dress makes me laugh out loud! Just thinking about it makes me giggle. I’m going to watch it when I get home.

          The reviewers hated it? I thought it was a welcome fresh take on Tito. It doesn’t have to be gloomy. You can say all you want about Tara’s voice! I was very pleased with it.

          I don’t get these casual fans. It has always been about the voice for me, even in the early days. I scoured youtube until I found “the right” voices for this or that aria, that’s how I “got to know” the singers I like today.


          • German woman told me the german press blasted it to the ground, i can’t say coz i was very unaware of the production.. just happened to be in Munich and thought i couldn’t pass up a chance to hear it live. and i have nothing but positive for Tara’s voice! and more importantly her expressiveness/musical phrasings. only voice’s texture i had some problem digesting was Vitelia’s which i attributed to matter of taste. i didn’t see the broadcast so cant tell re. zooming but in theater you get to see the whole big picture and it worked out very nice and fitting.
            On a side note, i really like Tara’s acting too, very intuitive in both this one and Der R ( i had problem digesting her Romeo though :D)


            • To be fair she was younger for Romeo. And given the situation I would have had a tooth against her had I had tickets for that production 😉 Plus belcanto is a bit different. But if she can do Rossini right she’ll be hilarious in his comedies. I think she still needs to get a bit more nuanced in her interpretation but she’s going places. She was lovely in DR regardless of what the press said.

              I was very pleasantly surprised by Opolais’ Vitellia. What can I say, I liked most of them, except Publio, I thought the guy fudged up Tardi s’avvede.


      • Yeah, that Clemenza was all about the concept of the trouser role and audience reception, and personally I’m not sure my response isn’t a one-finger salute — my jury is still out on that one — but the singing was fine by me.


      • I might consider it if someone made a convincing case for the whole thing being less stalinist on the issue of gender presentation than I presently think it is 🙂


    • and now it’s 4am here and i totally lost too!


      • why aren’t you in bed? I at least had a 2 hour nap. Must go to bed as I have Idomeneo at 6:30pm 😀 😀 by I’m trawling your blog instead, eh heh. I don’t want to fall asleep during Idomeneo, though.


    • The transformation of the costuming from beginning to end, coupled with the Personenregie, seems to me to make a pretty clear statement…although it’s interestingly complicated by that last exchange between Sesto and Tito, so maybe not so clear. I’m willing to entertain other opinions, so I’m afraid you all will have to watch it again 🙂


  4. Can’t wait for the launch of “Fach and Footwear” – the magasine for .. ?


  5. well how on earth did i miss all this going on, sheesh really need to get my blog reading schedule sorted out…. reminds me of reading Anik’s blog “back in the olden times”… (oh and Eyes…. demure? snort ;))


  6. Well this still packs a punch nearly three years later. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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