I’ve always enjoyed life in Wales since moving here a few years ago. Cardiff has a nice mixture of urban stuff in town with proximity to lots of natural beauty. However, my wife worries that one aspect of Welsh life poses as significant threat to my long-term health.
This is the way I tend to turn redfaced and start ranting incoherently when, it seems like daily, someone on the news refers to the latest antics or good deeds of one of the two famous young, female “opera singers” from Wales.
“But she’s never sung in an opera, she’s never won and audition, she’s never coached a role….” I start to stutter at the mention of the girl with the “voice of an angel” or classical Barbie (some prefer “warbling Barbie)….
How happy was I today to read this quote from Kate Royal in BBC Music Magazine?
”Opera is a tag people latch onto without seeing the whole picture. Some people think it means singing loudly with a wobbly voice. But I can’t believe in an ‘opera’ singer who doesn’t sing opera on the stage. A three-minute aria is not opera. Many of these so-called opera stars cannot sing without a microphone. I was gobsmacked the first time I saw Die Walkure: how did those singers project over a huge orchestra and fill an opera house? If you are involved in opera you have to relish the challenge of taking on a role, forming relationships with the cast and entering into the drama- you forget there’s no amplification!”
Of course, Kate’s just suffering sour grapes because she doesn’t have the glamour and good looks of today’s favourite ‘opera’ girls…..
opera singer- Kate Royal
‘opera’ singer- KJ
or, ah, maybe not…..
In any case, it’s the SINGING that counts! Trust me, you’d never listen to someone singing sharp and warbly for an enitre Wagner opera and think- “well, at least she’s hot,” and a great singing actress can convince an audience of her overwhelming sex appeal (if the role calse for it) regardless of her shape or age.
The stereotype of the nitwit singer is a bit like the stereotype of the egomaniac incompetent conductor. Actual sightings are rare, but the stereotype is so ingrained that all verified sightings of nitwit singers are reported to the world.
Like many conductors, I have built a list of singers I know and trust. When I moved from Cincinnati, a singing mecca, to Oregon, it took me a few years to rebuild that list from scratch, but now I have a network of people whose singing I love and whose opinions I trust. We just had a late cancellation of a soloist for Mahler 4 at the Oregon East Symphony. In such a situation, you can be assured I do not start calling agents and conductors- I call singers in my network. They’re the ones who know voices, attitudes and skill sets, and they know that our working relationship is founded on mutual trust and respect, so they’d never steer me wrong. Within 72 hours, the problem was solved. No small feat when I’m 5000 miles away and can’t audition anyone.
One thing you’re not likely to hear me say often is “wow, the Vaughan Williams was amazing!” It’s not that I dislike his music, but I often feel there’s not enough structure, rigor and purpose to sustain his musical thoughts in long forms in spite of his incredible ear for color. I’m sure I’ll get it some day. However, a few days ago, I came out of a concert saying just that after hearing James Gilchrist sing “On Wenlock Edge” with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Afterwards Tadaaki Otaka (who was conducting) and I were chatting about it and it was the first thing he said to me-“wasn’t the Vaughan Williams wonderful? First time for me, but such a beautiful piece.” Both he and I were stunned at Gilchrist’s singing- so musical, so intelligent and so natural. He’s apparently got a new recording of the piece out which is doing very well- no. 20 on the classical charts (Classical Barbie is no. 3, however). I don’t see how a recording could begin to do justice to that kind of communicative immediacy, flexibility and command, but you may want to check it out anyway. It’s Vaughan Williams French-iest piece. Fanstastic stuff. There’s always been a slightly snooty tone associated with the phase “English tenor,” but having heard Gilchrist and Mark Padmore both this month sounding amazing, I think we can put that old prejudice to rest.
However, we can’t hide from stereotypes, and I have to say that this post from Michael Hovnanian made me laugh out loud. I know we’ll miss Pavorotti, and the guy could flat-out sing even if he didn’t read music (and he was an opera singer, not an ‘opera’ singer, no question), but a bit of perspective might not be such a bad thing admidst all the hyperbole about the “greatest tenor of the last fifty years.” Wasn’t there some other guy who sang, like, a thousand roles in eightly languages from memory named Flamingo? King-Kong versus Godzilla. You gotta love it…..