Prima la gioia e poi la voce...

Date:  5/2/99

On Sunday, April 11, I attended the Metropolitan Opera Council Finals audition, expected to be blown away by the singers of the future.  I was instead disappointed by all but three of the singers, for only these three (sopranos Kelly Kaduce and Meagan Miller and tenor Daniel Weeks) showed any joy and emotional connection with the pieces they were singing.  These three fit into the chain of singing with feeling:  Kaduce offered a moving "Song to the Moon" and a very nuanced "Dieux! que de bijoux...Ah, je ris de me voir," while Miller used the German language to full advantage in "Marten aller arten."  Weeks sang a very charming "Ah mes amis," with his huge smile more than making up for his pinched high C's.  The rest, though, just stood there and sang.  I understand that singing on the Met stage for the first time is a daunting task, but singing with zero connection to the text and zero feeling for the emotions of the character is positively depressing.

So my spirits were lifted when I sang in my voice teacher's recital on Saturday, May 1.  My teacher, Patricia Martinez, specializes in training professional actors to sing, and thus the performances were of a completely different kind than those offered at the Met Council Finals.  Sure, the singing was hardly in the same class, but the acting, commitment, and joy more than made up for it.  Very charming, moving accounts of "Caro nome," "The trees on the mountain," "Bella siccome un'angelo," "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix," and the Barcarolle were given.  I was told that my three selections (Stradella's "Pieta, Signore," Mozart's "Bei mannern," and Schumann's "Die beiden grenadiere") fit into this category as well:  decent singing with the emotional commitment, textual care, and joy to create a more-than-adequate performance.

To me, this idea is the crux of great singing.  As much as I do enjoy certain chirping canaries, my idea of a truly marvelous operatic performance is one in which each performer lives for the moment and sings her heart out.  The portrayals which immediately come to mind when I think of this kind of art include Carol Vaness' searing Elettra, Domingo's smoldering Ghermann, and Malfitano's ballsy Mahagonny Jenny.  Those ladies can wobble and that tenor can transpose: I don't care.  They put their hearts into their music and move mine in so doing.

Leaving out the feeling is more of a crime to me than singing poorly.  June Anderson's Norma was wretched, yes, but her vocalism wasn't that poor.  Instead, it was her complete lack of interpretation which ruined an evening in the theatre with one of my favorite operas.  Frankly, I enjoyed Sylvia McNair's charming, if strangely sung, Cleopatra more:  Anderson stood there and sang poorly; McNair at least looked as if she were enjoying herself.

To add to Mozart and Salieri's debate over whether text or music takes top prize, I'd have to say that it is joy which wins in my book.  Ladies who enjoy their craft and present every nuance--Callas, Scotto, Rysanek--are the ones I truly connect with, as much as I love voices like Price, Caballé, and Fleming (who herself can turn in some very moving performances:  I defy anyone who saw her Susannah with an open mind to say her acting was anything short of wonderful).

Singers of the world, here is my challenge: sing the music as well as you can, but do it with passion, interpretational depth, and JOY!! No short order, I'm well aware, but necessary if opera will remain insightful and important.  Hop to it, singers!

Doug, La Gioconda

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