How to enunciate 'r's in French opera – and how to be onemain
Some weeks ago, the mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham had a dilemma. Rinat is the world’s Carmen of choice and a director asked her to change the way she pronounced her ‘r’ for a Belgian audience at La Monnaie. He wanted it gutturalised rather than rolled.
Have you any idea how difficult it is to sing guttural and sound beautiful? It’s no coincidence that radio people prefer to roll their ‘r’s, as do most opera singers.
Rinat, being a willing trooper, tried the guttural track in rehearsal and brought it off tremendously on stage, saving her rolled ‘r’s for the high-lying passages where she could feel comfortable and no-one else would notice. We exchanged a few letters about it, and I was really pleased for her.
This morning, after another production – Massenet’s Cendrillon – some half-arsed reviewer on an internet site has attacked her for singing ‘approximate French’. Just the one comment, nothing penetrative about her performance. One cheap shot.
If I hadn’t known that Rinat worked so hard on her French diction, I might have overlooked that as another bit of internet bile, unworthy of attention. But the comment was xenophobic, possibly racist and intended to hurt. It’s bad reviewing, unamplified and without context.
Opera singers have a right to be respected for the heroic efforts they make to sound credible in several languages. Opera houses should not give tickets to critics who display an anti-foreign bias. If Forum Opera wants to be considered a respectable review site, it needs to remove that remark – and its author. Right now.