Thursday, March 21, 2013

Opera and me.


The Metropolitan Opera . New York.
For the last almost 30 years , I  have had the privilege to attend performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. My friend Jerry and I have a subscription to the Saturday afternoon performances for the last 25 years and we have heard some magnificent music and singers.

Royal Opera House - London
When I studied in London in the early 70's I went to Covent Garden regularly and was introduced to the top opera singers of that time .It was the time of Sutherland, Pavarotti, Price ,Bumbry, Domingo, Caballe, Nilsson, Rysanek, Krause, Freni, Carreras, Scotto, Verret, Jones  and many singers that the Royal Opera House invited to sing there. As it was the first time that I heard international opera stars of that caliber sing .It was a time of discovery for me .I remember sitting there and being transported to another level of consciousness .A lot of it had to do with youth -as well as experiencing something for the first time. It was very, very exciting .I also had the opportunity to hear older opera stars like  Maria Callas and Giuseppi di Stefano as well as Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli in concert.

La Scala -Milan
During the same period I went to performances at the Rome Opera ,the Baths of Caracalla , as well as the Arena in Verona. When I lived in Milan I also attended performances at  La Scala and travelled with my friend Neil, to Vienna where we visited the Vienna State Opera. This gave me the opportunity to hear the best singers in some of the top opera houses of Europe.

Vienna State Opera - Vienna
When I returned to South Africa for nine years I kept listening to opera recordings and attended some opera performances in South Africa .Montserrat Caballe, Fiorenza Cosotto ,Renato  Bruson and Victoria de los Angeles were among some world class singers that visited South Africa and performed during that time .
In 1983 I immigrated to the USA and from then on the Metropolitan Opera House has become my hometown opera company, and what a joy it has been.
During the nine years that I was living  in South Africa a whole new crop of singers took over. If an artist did not record, we were not aware of them in Africa. Being in New York I also got to know more about American singers that rarely sang in Europe and had careers in America and specifically at the Metropolitan Opera and the new York City Opera . Singers like Beverly Sills, Eileen Farrell Norman Treigle and  Regina Resnik to name a few.
By this time Price , Caballe, Sutherland , Freni, Scotto, Bumbry were winding down and their performances became less and less.The men like Pavarotti and Domingo lasted a bit longer but all of a sudden there were new names to hear and watch.
 American singers like Thomas Hampson, Jesse Norman ,Renee Fleming, Susan Graham .Ruth-Anne Swenson, Leona Mitchel, Samuel Ramey,Neil Schicof ,Deborah Voigt, Kathleen Battle. Florence Quivar, Maria Ewing  Richard Leech and Catharina Malfitano.
From Europe there were Eva Marton. Hildegarde Behrens, Kiri te Kanawa, Karita Matilla and Natalie Dessay. South African singers like Marita Napier, Elizabeth Connell, Deon van der Walt and Johan Botha started to perform at the Met as well, and that made is specially thrilling for me as I became friends with them and started to learn more about the glamorous opera world -that turned out not to be as glamorous as I thought.
Soon after came singers like Rolando Villazon, Poitr Bezsala, Anna Netrebko ,Elina Garanca ,Diana Damrau who has became stars is their own right. Today we have new singers making their debut at the Met every season, and it is difficult to keep up with all of them. Some come once and we never hear from them again but soon the good ones start returning and before we know it another opera star is born. There is no overnight stardom in opera.... It is a hard and tough road for every singer.
When I got to America in 1983 I was disillusioned with the performances, as I was comparing them to the performances I saw 10 years before. I forgot that I was younger and that everything was so new and exciting to me. For a while I missed the highs I  felt at every performance during my student years. After I stopped comparing the previous performances with the new ones it opened up a whole new way for me to listen to opera and keep an open mind.
I was so used to recordings that it was difficult to get use to hear the real voice in the opera house. Some voices are better on recordings that live and vice versa. I also became much more involved with the orchestra ,choir and conductor of the piece. I use to only listen to the female voices where I  now experience the opera as a whole. It has become such a richer experience for me.
Jerry has a very good ear but he also listened symphonic music much more that I did. If the human voice was not in the composition I would  have a tough time listening to it. We discuss the music and singer during interval and are sometime joined by other Met opera lovers that we got to know.
One thing that irritates me to no end is when a opera lover says-
 "Oh well she is no Sutherland "or "Did you ever hear Callas in this role?" 
Both Callas and Sutherland -who were outstanding artists- are not with us anymore and Callas sang her last live performance more than 50 years ago! You are not opening yourself up to a new experience and you are wasting your time sitting in the live performance.  If you want to hear Callas stay home and listen to her on records. Be in the moment and listen to what you hear NOW. Forget about older -or other artists. This is not their performance. Give the singers of the day your attention and ear. The music does not change but with each new singer you hear in the role, you will find something new in their interpretation. Callas use to say "Everything is in the music- listen....!"
By keeping an open mind opera still stays modern. To hear younger singers perform classical music gives it new life. The music never changes but the singers do .Don't get stuck in yesterday -if you do you will miss out on a wonderful experience.Not every singer will catch your attention, but when it happens- it is a very moving experience. Be open to it or else you will throw out the baby with the bath water.

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