Speight Jenkins, the former Seattle Opera director, is worried that the most experienced character actors in opera are being replaced by cheaper, younger substitutes. He has written a thoughtful, detailed essay on the risks:
The other day one of the excellent character artists in opera wrote me that he was going into another business: he likes to perform in the United States, but many companies, both large and small, have stopped engaging mature performers and were using young artists instead. This could be much more a disaster to opera than it might seem.
[..] Some character roles demand mature voices and could easily harm young and still settling voices. Take the five Jews in Salome, four of whom are tenors. Strauss created some of the most difficult small roles in opera for only a few minutes for each because he believed opera would always take place in repertory opera companies where there were plenty of singers who could ideally fill the roles during an eleven-month season. That was the case, certainly in Europe, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Our current American system in which everyone in the cast is assembled from scratch in almost all of our opera houses never occurred to him. The fact remains: if any one of the Jews can’t handle the difficult vocal line, it harms the whole, and these are parts that should not be sung by developing voices.
Read Speight’s full article here and share your thoughts below.