Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Blame Game: Who's Responsible for Vocal Abuse?

So, by now you've probably heard all about Antonio Pappano complaining about singers who cancel. He seems to blame younger singers for not really caring enough. Over at Slipped Disc there are actually two discussions going on. It seems maybe we misinterpreted what he said, but maybe not. Known and unknown singers (and non-singing, but in-the-industry folks, fans and other interested parties) have chimed in on the subject. And much of the discussion is centering around singers taking on roles for which they are not vocally prepared. Christine Goerke and Susan Graham are among the professional singers who have weighed in. While some blame the system, others feel it's the responsibility of the singer. Rosalind Plowright stated:

Luciano Pavarotti taught me one golden rule. Know when to say, “No!” Conductors can exact huge pressure e.g. Herbert von Karajan asked me to sing Tosca and cover Turandot in my first professional year. Everyone advised me to say No so I did. It cost me any chance of ever working with that great conductor but I am still singing today 35 years later.
Her comments made me think of Fiamma Izzo d'Amico (who? exactly!), who sang for Karajan back in the 1980s in roles that seemed a bit beyond her vocally, (though she did sing beautifully in Don Carlo) and way beyond her dramatically (she was about as expressive as a mailbox.)

Norman Lebrecht posted again on this topic, when principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, Fabio Luisi sent him a response to Maestro Pappano's concern:
Most singers, especially the young ones, are simply too young, not prepared enough, with technical problems and they get the wrong roles. Take e.g. a good, young soprano who makes a successful debut with, let’s say, Micaela or Liu’. Some agent will eventually ask her if she could take over Violetta, then Leonora (Trovatore), at the end probably Butterfly or Tosca.

Meanwhile, with lots of backing and forthing among many respondents, there's been some great reading; much of it is about young singers, the opportunities they have (or don't have), and the care and feeding of the young voice. And then there's one of my favorite conversations: all these competitions and opportunities that are only open to "young artists." These imply that if you've not made it by the age of 30, it's time to consider a career in the exciting world of fast food. 

If you've not done so already, I highly recommend reading these posts and the comments that follow. The discussion is thoughtful, learned, and (mostly) quite civil. I knew it could be done! :-)


  1. I don't envy young opera singers as far as career pressure goes - say no and perhaps miss a big break; say yes and perhaps damage your voice and long-term prospects. Yikes. (Give me academia any day. The stakes are petty, the rewards limited - but fuckups have less drastic consequences, and almost never occur in front of several thousand people.)


    1. You mean you don't want to broadcast your lectures live in theatres across the USA?

      I agree. I think it must be tough to have to stake your claim as a performer while still in your 20s. Watching that Met winners broadcast was interesting; the voices still sounded so unsettled. Yet the Met adjudicators feel they have potential.

      This whole performance thing is why (besides massive bouts of indecision) I majored in composition, rather than performance in voice, organ, cello, or piano (I don't think we had a conducting major back then).

    2. And with the composition major, you get to learn all the music theory - this is one of the areas that I really wish I knew more about. (Or maybe performance majors have to learn that too? I really don't know.)

      Also: the fact that you had the option to choose between voice, organ, cello and piano: I am impressed! I barely learned how to play ONE instrument :)

    3. Theoretically (no pun intended) performance majors have to take all the theory stuff too. I have to admit, majoring in cello would have been a stretch. I am by no means a cellist, though I do play the cello. :)


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