MinterTom  Nov.28.2010 0 Comments

…the smirks that come out, when someone speaks of opera, are often automatic and based on the image of the ample soprano, mouthing mulch in excessively broad mastication, showing decorative strain of the eyebrow, and a quaking bit of flesh at the back of the throat. Hands are either clasped in an aching clutch of penance, or make serious and abrupt movements detailing ‘anger’, ‘hope’, ‘despair’, ‘love’, in such stylistic synch, moment to movement, that the heyday of silent films is evoked, regardless of how modern the music or production. ..and then there are the tenors.. –Well, actually, nowadays the image of a tenor has been ‘rehabilitated’; they’re lithe, or viral; shaggy dark, or Daniel Craig blonde. More often than not, they aspire to prove some moments of having been in a method acting class, or, at least offer some familiarity with ‘moodiness’ and Brando. The histrionics still tinge the high C’s, the step towards the lip of the stage, or the lachrymose gesticulation; but by and large [though, these days, not so very large], tenors are coming as a crop of film idols. It’s still fairly easy to generalize the condition of “opera singer”; unfortunate, but a by-product of the larger-than-life aspect of performance.. ..overlooked, if not ignored, in the dismissive mass of musing, is the intimate and articulate communication of the recitalist; singers who perform in small halls, annexes or living rooms; salon specialists, who move their audience through the widest range of emotion and connection, song to song, seduction to abduction, sorrow to ecstasy, death to light. Singers who perform opera, might also perform in the realm of the ‘art song’; singers, who are devout in intimate communication and specialize in lieder, or salon pieces, whether Bellini or Rorem, do not always aspire to march across the Met stage, able as they are to simply reach out and embrace the near crowd who attends their performances, listening, rapt.

Art songs are not just the domain of the lieder singer; consider such talents as Mabel Mercer, Eartha Kitt, Bobby Short; remember their shows at the Carlyle, or Joe’s Pub.

The intimacy of the show is part of the art; the volume of singing has nothing to do with the accuracy of connection –it’s all in the words; it’s in the tight space between singer, accompanist, and audience. It is being able to see the very glint of revenge, in the eye of someone singing about stolen love, over having to strain ears and eyes to discern what some spec is specifying so far down, away onstage… Intimacy; chamber works; a piano and singer: expression, by the delicacy of communication. Lets be honest: the cavern of a great stage forces on any singer some desperation of gesticulation, as grand passions of music wash characters left and right, back and forth –in and out of arms, loves, homes, lives and families! …however, some opera composers contended with the circumstances of depicting great grand drama, and the intimate dynamic of emotion; Verdi comes to my mind first. In Aida, great moments are built on the foundation of intimate details; Radames isolated first expression of desire for Aida (Celeste Aida) stands out all the more for being followed by an assembling crowd of Priests, People and King, demanding war on an invading force; thereby facilitating the warrior’s ambition, knowing that to lead the army to victory will give him his heart’s desire, and the gratitude of his King.

These two scenes move from one into the next –intimacy of the ambitious heart, channeled through opportunity of war and destruction.

In this example, “grand” can hold beside the tiny details of the human condition; opera, at its best –in spite of artifice and the aspic of time- can communicate one soul’s trials, and present it, in painful highlight, against a canvas of inestimable power, genocide, and betrayal. …and yet, despite a singer's great talent, should the gestures be too forced and the attitude too comic, it all comes undone.. -The genius of a composer is subsumed by this. Really; do you think Verdi thought of mannerisms- or the plight?

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