Met singer: I would stand there in my street clothes

From Slipped Disc reader comments on Peter Gelb’s demolition of the wigs and makeup department:

… The old Zeffirelli production of La Traviata is in a dumpster somewhere, and the new one is a sea of cheap polyester black suits from the men’s warehouse (for the women too!). The ballet doesn’t exist anymore. The new productions are a snooze fest. toward the end of my career there I would stand onstage in my street clothes costume, usually with no staging except the direction ‘stand there til the curtain comes in’, and watch the audience sleep in the first 10-15 rows.

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  • To beat a dead horse:

    Wigs and makeup are the least of it. It isn’t Gelb’s fault that charismatic and important artists and voices ***with something charismatic and important to communicate through their voices and singing*** have disappeared from the scene. As I have written before, it’s ***the elephant in the room*** no one wants to acknowledge. Little to nothing Gelb can do to contain the aforementioned artistic crisis or sit enough butts to witness worse than mediocre singing night after night. Add to this crisis the other crisis of worthy new repertoire and/or worthy productions and, well, we have a perfect storm.

  • Many perceptive comments posted yesterday about singing standards, causes of decline , production values around this story. I would humbly add on a general basis:

    With regard to standards of voice teaching and thence of current singers. The move towards a more scientifically and physiologically aware approach in teaching has not necessarily been the cause of any perceived vocal decline. It all depends how the information is applied by the teacher .
    As one commentator suggested it has been a tradition for the last generation’s foremost singers to take the top conservatory jobs. Some of them have much to give in that context , but also, coming out of their own careers, they can take time to develop a ‘philosophy’ of teaching ( if they are not attached to a specific ‘ method’ already that is) and during all that time they may have responsibility for young voices. Things can be hit and miss.
    I am in favour of anyone taking on a conservatory vocal faculty singing teacher role committing to a period of in house teacher training / mentoring prior to starting. This would be designed to reflect on current teaching ideas and act as a preparation for those crucial first terms / semesters . This could also help to preempt any potential difficulties with singers who are keen to take teaching roles, but not really ready yet to commit to a regular teaching timetable because of performing commitments. It is essential that young singers receive regular tuition.
    After all, vocal studies are an expensive investment and young singers / voices are vulnerable so the utmost care and respect is necessary.

    I am not convinced that every operatic performance was golden in the past and there were always notable singers who got into difficulty or declined quickly . There is no doubt that in the case of some theatres , not all, there has been a culture of casting more on looks than vocal suitability for a while now. This has led to singers tackling roles which push them to the limits at a young ‘ vocal’ age ( singers do mature vocally at different rates.)
    Perhaps it is not so much that ‘ there are no voices any longer’ but rather that we are not hearing mature , well formed voices . These singers are making their first operatic steps ( and sometimes mistakes) in big theatres with large orchestras and physically demanding productions publicly. Initially natural vocal endowment , musicality and physical presence may see them through. The great singers of the past had time to perfect their craft and mature their voices to be able to fulfil the demands of the repertoire . I do believe that audiences can feel the diminishing vocal returns of a formerly exciting, still young singer . Might this be the reason for the frequently disappointed comments about ‘ voices today?’
    There are of course some young singers who manage to balance the current demands placed on them and time for study , sensible role progression. Also opera houses with vocally aware casting directors.

    With regard to production values. As budget gets tighter and tighter it must be tempting to plan seasons with one multi purpose, recyclable set and costumes or fewer frills. I once worked in a theatre where 7 out of the 8 productions of that particular season were performed in a standard black decor with the same black costumes. Occasional props provided a touch of colour. Some of the performances given transcended these limitations and there was certainly a focus on music , drama and text. However, season ticket holders / subscribers must have tired at the curtain rising on the same basic or slightly modified decor, even if much can be done with lighting effects. Not the best way to ensure stable revenues for the following seasons perhaps?

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