My biases have been confirmed on YouTube via The “This is Opera” page.
Being a life-long opera lover, I’ve found myself at odds with former colleagues and friends over the state of the art. On one hand, I fell in love with opera through old recordings and old live performances. On the other hand, I’ve had a problem liking new singers today and caring about anything in the present-day opera world. My former colleagues almost without exception forbade me to express my leeriness of the current opera world – often belittling my love of certain singers of the past. I believed the problem was always my fault and that my dislike of modern singers was due to my lack of sophistication. But recently, I’ve come across the page “This is Opera” on youtube, and for once I’ve had someone confirm a nagging suspicion I’ve had for 40 years – the opera world today isn’t what it used to be, productions are terrible, stage-directors really hate opera and many of today’s top opera singers aren’t that good.
I believe the ailment with today’s singers isn’t just bad technique, but a systematic dismantling of the older traditions and the modern-day corporatization of the arts where all singers are treated as little more than “replaceable” cogs in the art-making assembly line. There is a reason why so many of the singers are steered away from “bold” presentations and from developing a “unique” sound based on traditions of the past. This is to make sure singers today create a “safe” and “reliable” product that can be inserted into productions on a moment’s notice without any revenue loss to opera companies, and are guaranteed to sound the same. This corporate mindset is enforced by a small inner-circle of music directors, high-profile coaches and stage directing “hacks” who will destroy a singer’s career if they do not perform according to the “esthetics” of today’s vocal scene.
Look up the press interview Callas gave in Dallas in 1958 on the night she received a telegram saying she was “fired” from the Metropolitan Opera by the General Director Rudolf Bing. She had a few choice words about Bing and the “anti-artistic” state of the Met by saying the productions were old and lousy, the repertoire was routine and that being paired up with multiple tenors/baritones (i.e. cogs in the machine) during the run of a production wasn’t art. 60 years ago, she nailed today’s corporatized art problem on the head. Opera companies don’t want uniqueness, unless it can be bottled, marketed, and safely put out for consumption. That’s why Bing had to get rid of Callas. Unfortunately this was only the beginning of what was to come in the corporatization of the art. Mr. Bing’s “bold” move of firing Callas scored a big victory for the corporatizing of the art world by putting all singers on notice as to who was (and still is) running the show.
(By the way, an “edgy” production of Tosca with “modern scenery” and having the end of Act II include the so-called “critical edition” where Scarpia and Tosca roll around on the floor for “8 deleted bars of music”, isn’t what Callas meant. She meant doing operas like Cherubini’s Medea – and other opera’s outside of the of the “tried and true” revenue making chestnuts.)
Here is the same scene again. . . No gimmicks, no chainsaw massacre, just the end of the second act of Tosca performed by two legends, Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi.
Give the singers a chance to create art – and the audiences will follow.