Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Live in the moment

My friend Sarah passed this along: "Heppner, Levine, Pape, Scotto and Voigt Win 2006 Opera News Awards."

Awards are always silly (Michael Cunningham once said it's like a bunch of people getting together and deciding that the bell pepper is the best vegetable), but people in opera don't have many chances to be recognized, so this is sort of nice. It's interesting that three of the four singers are best known for their Wagner. Rene Pape is one of my very favorite singers. Voigt's Salome is big news this year--I'm so curius about how that will turn out.

Renee Fleming, as the most famous opera singer working today, is such an obvious choice for this award that they'll probably wait a decade to give it to her. Domingo is the only other singer as famous, and he got it last year, because he's old.

This reminds me of something. There was a point, around 2000, when Kiri Te Kanawa, the most famous and popular soprano for a couple decades, became a legend. The opera queens stopped bashing her and began praising her Strauss and Mozart. She entered the pantheon of immortal legends.

Many years from now, it will be really interesting to see how this plays out with Fleming. When she's absent from the spotlight, people will start to remember what got her there in the first place.

Do a lot of people take our best singers for granted? Yes, and they're really missing out. People need to get off their couches and go to live performances. Opera wasn't meant for little computer screens and iPods. Those are good for archives, but don't sell yourself short.

Well, I take that back. I'm all for choice. Do as you please. If listening to scratchy old bootlegs of a dead singer gives you hours of orgasmic pleasure, then by all means. But there are great singers today, and we need to go out and hear them and support them--while they're singing, and singing well, not when they're mute or deceased "legends."


Amusingly, in reviewing performances of Te Kanawa qua legend, critics pointed out the simple elegance of her delivery, and contrasted this style with the "mannered" singing of Renee Fleming. In her prime, Te Kanawa's "simple elegance" was written off as bland and uninvolved singing. Will the expressiveness of Fleming's singing be one day recognized as a virtue?

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