Following my riposte yesterday to a chauvinist critic who attacked her French diction, the international mezzo soprano Rinat Shaham has sent me her reaction to my piece, which I publish below:
If there was ever a time to STOP criticizing *international* *opera* *singers* for their ACCENT, it is now. We travel around the world and “dare” to sing in languages that our not “our own”. Some of us are fluent in many , some of us are less so, but we still conquer the difficulties of the language with many other skills, in addition to a correct pronunciation (if not with a 100% “native” sound).
Almost no opera singer can be praised for singing a foreign language with absolutely no accent. Not in a big role where you are on stage 2.5 hours out of 3, in my case. In the old days, opera singers sang in their own language,in many cases singing a translation of their role into their own mother tongue. This is no longer the case of course, and more over- today you can not only hear the singer’s words but also read them and their translation in the super titles projected above.
Some of my colleagues also noted another interesting point on other similar threads, quote: “There has always been a double standard. American singers go to great pain (and expense!) to coach their roles with good diction coaches in order to sound as “natural” as they can in the multiple languages we need today in order to perform. I hear many non-english language singers butcher our language when they are asked to sing an opera in English and are not corrected in any fashion. Every singer has a natural accent when they are singing in a foreign language. To criticize it is amateurish on the part of a critic and should be ignored. I have always trusted my diction coaches to point out where I can improve my diction, not my accent. And the good ones don’t attempt to do that.”
The fact is, I speak French, I studied the language in high school and since then have been performing in many French language productions (as Melisande, Blanch, Charlotte, Carmen, to name a few) and I have been coaching throughout the years with some of the best French coaches available. For this current production, I have, months in advance, worked with a French coach in New York, and after arriving in Brussels, with a wonderful Parisian language coach, and with a team-full of Francophone colleagues. I have adjusted my R to the spoken one by the request of both Laurent Pelly, the director, and Alain Altinoglu the conductor.
I find it easy to speak with it, since it is similar to my Hebrew R, but for singing I have worked to adjust it to be to everybody’s satisfaction. My French if I may say so is not perfect by any means, but it is understood by all and was corrected if ever was anything not clear or in error….I don’t know if this was really a “racist” comment in the review or just a nationalistic one, but in my opinion, in OUR time, there is no place for it anymore, again- we ALL have some kind of an accent. To call on a single foreigner and accuse them of it, is just simply.. well.. you decide.