As you all know, I have so far decided to stay away from Twitter, mostly on account of already spending enough time online (I’m falling by the wayside, I know, but -). Based on the accounts below, I don’t know that I dare put up with the mental anguish and aesthetic dilemas at stake:
(it’s bachtrack, but they do occasionally give 3 stars and less, don’t they? This describes a performance of Handel’s (virtue-praising borefest) Theodora)
We’re talking about students and young professionals so I’ll be wary about bandying names.
Heavy forshadowing… but starting with the good:
Here instead, in a nod to last weekend’s Glyndebourne Opera Cup and as a means of cutting to the chase, is my roll of honour.
First prize: Polly Leech (mezzo- soprano) a complete artist whose command of style, score, vocal technique and stagecraft was staggering. Her rendition of Irene’s “Bane of virtue” was the first moment at which a singer’s performance met the measure of the work.
Honourable mentions go to soprano Charlotte Bowden, tenor Patrick Kilbride and bass Jolyon Loy.
(Bane of virtue is a really badass title – \m/ at ya, DJ Handel)
So far so polite and appreciative. Now onto the scandalous part:
There were near-misses for a couple of countertenors too, but one shrieked at the top and faded at the bottom while the other, though more technically secure, buried his head so deeply in his score that poor old Didymus remained glued the page.
😀 Sorry, I don’t have the Twitter truth quotes, as this was pointed out to me by Baroque Bird, who likes countertenors a lot, so I have no reason to think her mezzo-biased or malicious. We had a convo over whether it was weird or not to lay it into ’em (whoever ’em happen to be). Well, you know me 😉 You’re on stage, wear your Gorgon shield.
These are comments on the ROH production of Turnage’s opera for children, Coraline, apparently doomed to be his last (opera):
The Observer’s Fiona Maddocks felt it was overlong, but praised the cast and staging, writing. “With some text trims and … judicious use of surtitles, it could triumph.”
The Guardian’s Tim Ashley, in a four-star review, noted that the children in the audience enjoyed it but added: “Turnage has long divided opinion, and not everyone, I suspect, will like it.”
Like, OMG, no platform, the two of you!
Worst of all, the bad boy of English classical music criticism:
Indeed, the Telegraph’s opera critic Rupert Christiansen did not pull his punches. “Turnage’s score is grey, sluggish and lacking in either charm or spookiness,” ran his review.
That’s almost as bad as they cuss up in Tottenham, fam. What what!
Hugh Canning, the Sunday Times’s opera writer – although this was not a production he was reviewing himself in a formal capacity – added in a tweet since deleted that he thought that Christiansen’s comments were “spot on”.
He hastens to add, he was not reviewing it himself. But he did post a thumbs up. What’s the (first) world coming to? Wait, he deleted it 😀 world crisis (almost) averted – you didn’t think this stopped here, did you?
The following day, ahead of his opera’s final performance of this current run, Turnage, who in 2015 was awarded the CBE for services to music, wrote a tweet to Canning and Christiansen which said: “Don’t worry Hugh. There will be no further operas by me that you will ever have to sit through again. I’m done with the genre. Going to leave it [sic] my more talented contemporaries and younger colleagues.”
I’m taking my CBE and I’m going home! You critics can write your own operas now! See if I care.
Canning replied: “I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve been a big fan of your earlier pieces. Can I suggest a few cuts in Act 1 & a sprinkling of fairy-dust on the orchestration?”
lolz. It’s but a step from thumbs up, big dawg to a sprinkling of fairy dust. We all flirt with danger on occasion but soon return to the rivers and the lakes that we’re used to. Or to the bowl of potpurri.
The critic’s response was heavily criticised by opera singers including British tenor Paul Curievici, who was not involved with the production. He wrote: “The shared-space-ness of Twitter is tricky, and this is one incident among several in which the right tone has seemed hard to land on … Opera twitter prompting one of our most garlanded composers into abandoning the art form does not make me feel good about opera twitter.”
double lolz. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The tenor Ben Johnson tweeted: “Where does a critic get off directly (publicly) writing to a composer of this standing in such a way?”
Dunno, dude, I thought you had a really funny sense of humour. A composer of this standing – good thing it’s still ok to say what you have to say about lesser known composers.
All I can say is, a friend of a friend who’s into Neil Gaiman (as well as opera) went and enjoyed it.
Ok, there’s something else I wanted to say:
Or get over it, brov! Don’t let that unfaithful woman get you down.
Tenors get no(t enough) love around here 😉 Contrary to how it might appear, I like some of them quite a bit. Handel wrote some neat stuff for the voice in 1735:
I like how tight, clean and elastic this rendition is. (Honorary mezzo) Croft always has emotion in his voice, he doesn’t need to force the issue (the emotion bit is hinted at in the interview at the bottom). It helps that his tone is noble and has just the right amount of cojones so one doesn’t feel like his characters can be knocked down with a feather. Here’s a tenor I wish I’d seen live, because he’s doing well here too, at a tempo not many could cope with:
In this interview he says something rather interesting about how Minkowski helped him get back his confidence with (Baroque) coloratura and how you need to try it before you can figure out how you’re going to approach it; also about the challenge of composers who write “mathematically”:
It always surprises me when a naturally gifted singer comes from a not particularly musical family (in his case, it was both him and his brother, but apparently no one else).
R. Strauss is very exciting and “PoMo” (for his time) but there’s a
hell of a lot to absorb when you (by which I mean someone without musical education) first start listening to his music; especially if you’re coming from the very clear and neatly structured Baroque end of the music spectrum. His music is like a wall of sound crashing down on you from all sides, many layers of intricate lines now converging, now juxtaposed, styles put in a blender set on high. You feel alone at sea (un mar turbato, of course), there are 3 hours until the happy ending and your brain is already that little boat smashing against the rocks of too-clever musical writing with which you have no hope of keeping up1.
Clueless (but sincere and eager) novice opera lover: I think I like it but hell if I could say why or indeed if I like it at all… but it’s kinda cool…
It’s very useful to develop a well rounded idea about his music and the libretti he used if you want to – eventually – get the most out of it. Unless you’re one of those
strange people who goes with their gut instead of over analysing everything (but then why are you reading blogs? 😉 ) before deciding if they like something.
This is the reason why though I like virtually all the R. Strauss stuff I’ve heard, I very rarely write anything about it. I have learned enough to appreciate most of his wit and in-jokes but I may never be comfortable enough to express myself intelligently about it all. The first paragraph of this post is the result of a few years’ listening with an open mind and much reading, because there are others who are knowledgeable enough to ‘splain it to all of us alarmed helmsmen and helmswomen2 😉
The Italian Singer
So, the Italian Singer, right – from Der Rosenkavalier. Imagine the Clueless novice opera lover first coming across this one’s sole aria.
Clueless novice (now very serious, because s/he wants to grasp as much as s/he can): So I’m listening to Post-Romantic opera from the 20th century which is set in the 1740s’ Vienna and is based on Mozart/DaPonte/Beaumarchais’ Le nozze di Figaro from the 1780s – did I get my references right? – when all of a sudden, among orphans and dog trainers – don’t ask, I’ve yet to digest those details -, this opera singer within the opera shows up and starts belting out… right? Right.
He sounds sort of belcanto but the lyrics are all about fighting love which is kinda Baroque – am I still on, reference-wise? – but what’s the point of it all because he’s, well, awful…? Am I allowed to say that? Lack of musical education and all – but that’s kinda how I hear it. No, don’t ask me to tell you what’s wrong, I just know something’s wrong .” (the little boat smashes against another jutting rock)
This is the point where Clueless novice needs to be referred to two – yes, not just one, two – further readings. One is about the Baroque Singer in All His/Her Glory and the other is about another R. Strauss opera – remember his PoMo-ness? Self referencing is so on – which, though written later, explains so much about the in-jokes in this one.
- In layman’s terms, the Baroque Singer in Excelsis is a bit ridiculous and thus easy to make fun of. He both genuinely loves to sing – loves music – and is in love with his own singing/high notes.
- From getting acquainted with Ariadne auf Naxos, Clueless novice learns that R. Strauss and buddy Hofmannsthal were fond of making fun of the music profession.
These are the kind of people who can distance themselves from it all and have a good laugh about it (though I don’t think it’s a mean laugh, but a laugh nonetheless) – unlike the Italian Singer (but he has a plight and they do support it a few years later when they revisit and expand on the subject).
Clueless novice also learns that Ariadne auf Naxos, like Le nozze di Figaro, was inspired by a French play3, though this one’s libretto does not follow the play per se. Instead it picks up a secondary thread and runs with it in a very original manner. But all that the Clueless novice wanting to understand the reason why R. Strauss gave us the Italian Singer needs to know is that the main characters in Ariadne auf Naxos are the equivalent of the Italian Singer. Yes, he and Hofmannsthal referenced a play then referenced themselves referencing Beaumarchais et all as well…
Maybe – but this is pure theory now – Strauss and Hofmannsthal were also hinting at the general reception and function of art in society, and this view is more depressing. – Lankin <- click me! The Italian Singer needs your attention
I fully subscribe to that theory! Following up Der Rosenkavalier with Ariadne confirms this. Anybody who’s been involved in the arts – especially the more commercial side of it – knows things haven’t changed much. Which is why Ariadne (and the Komponist) has a very special place in my heart.
So if you’re still with me after all this rambling I really did not realise I had in me 😉 I point you to above quoted Lankin’s brilliantly clear and detailed dissection of the Italian Singer via his very aria. You (the now much wiser
Clueless novice opera lover) will love R. Strauss that much more for his attention to detail.
- And some people still wonder if ha-ha-ha coloratura is ever warranted! Hells yea, when your character is inhaling mouthfuls of algae-infested seawater! ↩
- That’s my translation of a favourite Baroque image: ‘l nocchiero spaventato (from Griselda‘s Agitata da due venti or Tossed around by two twenties 😉 ). Strauss is clearly parodying this type of typical (Italian) Baroque aria, where love’s sudden and disturbing effect on one’s emotions is compared to a storm at sea. ↩
- Truly a great play, Le bourgeois gentilhomme. ↩
As I said on other occasions, my current opera knowledge pertains to the past 15-20 years. Every once in a while I make time to get further acquainted with the past in order to enrich my understanding of the art. Sometimes the best part is the risible fussiness, spice of the comment section.
The other day (by which I mean last July) I was reading what I thought was a very intelligent and relaxed interview with the great Romanian lyric soprano Virginia Zeani. Later I scrolled down to the comments to find a longwinded, passive-aggressive hissy fit from someone who accused the interviewer of “gross lack of respect” for Zeani because he didn’t blindly worship every note that has ever come out of her mouth (surprising reaction considering the interview was a very down to earth conversation with Zeani; all I can suppose is the poster didn’t like to hear an old school diva talk like a very together and often humorous human being).
I’ve read a lot of bollocks online from opera fans but this one took a certain cake. It illustrates a way of writing about opera that has always irked me. Terms such a assoluta, perfection, magnificent, stratospheric, voice of the century are thrown about with wild abandon and make up the heart and soul of such posts.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful to feel you have witnessed a special moment; there’s nothing quite like when you get exactly what the singer expressed through singing, to the point where an interview on the subject is superfluous. It’s even great reading about others’ similar experiences, when the writing is so vivid it’s almost as if you feel the same thing they did.
What I am objecting to is posts/comments that consist of little beyond continous fawning over human beings as if they never burp or fart. You’re not talking about something threedimensional anymore; you’re not telling me anything, either about the interpretation or about what it made you feel. It’s a diarrhea of superlatives.
The amusing part of the comment came when the poster chided the interviewer for sloppiness in regards to the exact number of times Zeani had sung Violetta – this in the context where Zeani herself said she wasn’t sure! Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.
I admit I like a bit of cheap drama, so 9 times out of 10 (and sometimes 10 out of 10) I venture in the comment section. I’ve never believed that comments should be disallowed on youtube or anywhere else. Moderation at the discretion of the poster is ok. Anyway, I was re-listening to Choir Accentus’ (and all) beautiful rendition of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor reccommended by Rob and checked to see what others thought.
Well, a random conversation sparked up on the subject of clapping after a Mass, especially if a Mass is sung in church, such as was the case here. I tells ya, some people have a talent for zero-ing in on the important stuff. My take is it’s not religious worship, it’s a concert, so clap away. But what do I know, I got shushed whilst visiting a cathedral just the other day. If people want perfect quiet they can pray at home not in a public place. The rest of us are alive. Also, god does not actually reside in “the house of god”.