The mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, who sings leading roles at the Met, Covent Garden and major concert halls and festivals, was outraged like many others at the slew of body insults hurled by British critics today at a young singer appearing at Glyndebourne.

On a train to her next engagement, she wrote this open letter for publication on Slippedisc:

Coote-Alice-04

 

We need to talk.
Its gotten really serious now.
We ALL need to talk.
Arts administrators, Directors and Conductors, Audience members, Conservatoires, teachers, Families, Friends, Singers and Press and Critics and Opera Companies… EVERYONE.

All you of you who have known and love Opera..and still do. All of you who know it to be the Art form that is about celebrating the human voice, the human voice at its most Olympian heights of expression. The art form when done right, meaning at its essentials – sung by a truly great singer- takes the breath away, moves the human heart soul and spirit, and creates excitement like no other.

This magic happens when a voice, maybe of recognisable or greatness of tone, that has been trained for decades as an athlete and musician, launches its instrument – part of the human body and identity- upon the greatest and most challenging music that has been written for the human singing voice.

It is not about lights, it is not about costumes, it’s not about sets, it’s not even about sex or stature… It is ALL about the human voice. This is the Olympics of the human larynx attached to a heart and mind that wants to communicate to other hearts and minds. It is something that is done without amplification and without barriers.. It is one human singing to another. LIVE.

All the visual messages that a production and costume brings to an opera does not alter ( even though they can try very hard) the fact that it’s true success in moving and making an audience love the Art form lies in the voice that sails across the pit to the audience and into their ears.
They are not moved by seeing a conventionally beautiful or attractive person walking around in a lovely or impressive costume or lights or environ. This they can get in the theatre (although I doubt that moves them much either) or in film or in daily life. Opera is NOT about that.. It is about and really ONLY about communication through great singing.

If you go back not too far in our operatic times, Pavarotti stood on stages and sang audiences into near hysteria. He became the most famous classical singer of our time.

pavarotti

I attended two performances of Bellini’s Norma at the Metropolitan Opera in New York last season in John Copley and John Conklin’s production. One cast was perhaps perceived in simplistic terms as more conventional looking and in today’s values “starry”. The performance was a success but I didn’t witness any big audience reaction or atmosphere of excitement.

The second performance was by a “second cast” by two of the ” greatest ” younger singers of our day, they perhaps were not physically slight as in a Grazia magazine cover , but boy could they SING. These were great voices that filled the theatre and hit the solar plexus. The audience were immediately gripped by what hit their senses and ears and a huge standing ovation occurred at the end.

I am a singer. And born of painters as parents – I am also hugely visually aware.  The physical shapes that a Fonteyn and a Nureyev whom I saw as a child (and still watch) moved and move me, and excite me beyond description. I have always been fascinated by physical embodiment as a form of communication. But more than two decades as a singer watching other singers and witnessing too many performances to remember.. I know one thing for sure; (to steal Oprah’s catchphrase) OPERA is ALL about the voice.

Many of those who think they know me and may be surprised by this.. But it’s not an opinion, it’s a FACT.

Before it’s too late we need to REMEMBER THIS FACT.  If a voice is right for a role and can sing it better than anyone else.. It’s more important to have that VOICE singing on a stage than any other.. Despite whether you like the way they look or not. We cannot people our operatic stages with singers that above all are believable visually or sexually attractive to our critics… That way lies the death of opera. This is not in any case a BELIEVABLE art form .. WHO are we KIDDING?  But it is one that can move humans in ways that they cannot explain. And in ways that make them fall in love with great voices singing GREAT music. That is Opera in a state of health.

Opera WILL die if audiences have only average looking, average singing humans walking around in interesting ( or average) looking productions.. This will make them wonder ” WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT OPERA?  Do I NEED this?

Our current Culture mistakenly thinks the reverse. They think that if a singer doesn’t look like a model or a “celebrity” then the audience won’t be excited.

Audiences aren’t idiots.. They can sense when they are being duped. They can sense when they are witnessing something OK and when there is something happening that is EXTRAORDINARY.

Singers and teachers know that being underweight is far more damaging to a singer’s wellbeing and performance than being overweight. Similarly I can tell you that if our stomachs are toned anywhere near a six-pack our sound will suffer. The relaxation needed for low breathing is not aided in any sense by an over worked out body.  I know from my own journey that I began to sing with far more physical authority when I got beyond a certain physical weight.. Below that I just wasn’t a strong enough vehicle to launch sound from freely into large theatres and concert halls.

alice coote

If young singers are pressurised into accepting a bigger emphasis on physical shape over sound and this becomes any more pressured onto them than it already is today.. then we are robbing ourselves of the great singers of the future. We are robbing ourselves of the singers that will hit our solar plexus. And we are robbing our entire human culture of the HUMAN VOICE. The Olympic Great Human Voice. And you may as well hammer that nail into the coffin of Opera right now. And not carry on with the sham of loving it.

Critics.. I beg you.
Be kind to young singers -you may change the trajectory of their lives and career if you wound them with your words. Be kind to middle aged singers. Be kind to old singers. Be kind to all singers. But above all.. If you hear a singer with a great voice listen. Look too.. But above all LISTEN.  Without us it’s OVER.

PLEASE SAVE THE HUMAN VOICE

tara erraught3

This open email was written to Norman Lebrecht as a result of personal horror and shared horror in the singing community over reviews of Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndeboune in the British Press.

(c) Alice Coote/www.slippedisc.com

UPDATE: What newspapers should do next. Click here.

I have received the following case history from a British musician who went to work in the sun as principal cellist of the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.

His name is Mark Peters. I can vouch for Mark as an individual – he used to play in the Concentus Musicus Wien with Nikolaus Harnoncourt – though not for the details of his case. It does, however, throw up certain similarities with the long-running Brazil crisis and it may have ramifications beyond the glorious island of Tenerife – not to mention the rolling lawns of Glyndebourne (see earlier instance, here).

Here is Mark playing:
Unknown.jpeg
And here is his letter:

Dear Norman,

 

Some months ago you invited me to share
with you details pertaining to my demise as principal cellist with the Tenerife
Symphony Orchestra (OST). Although I did initiate a letter to you on that
occasion (as a footnote to my ex-colleague, Mr. Gomez Rios winning the Solti
conducting award) I have tended to keep this information to myself as part of
my own personal odyssey.  However, in
the light of the Brasilian orchestral situation and the reactions it is
provoking internationally, I would like to share my case with you and the
orchestral world at large as an example of the successful purging of a
long-standing member of a “European” Orchestra, in a campaign which
employed similar criteria to those applied by the administration of the
Brasilian Orchestra in Rio.

 

In my case the supposed need to subjugate a
principal player to a “quality control” was eclipsed by the highly
vindictive nature of the campaign against me, a campaign aimed principally at
eliminating an uncomfortable voice raised in protest against the hijacking of
the OST by a small group of musicians within the orchestra, in cahoots with an
unconscious management and a misguided and immature conductor, in the face of
an apathetic and intimidated orchestra.

 

The majority of us agreed that – after a
meritorious career spanning almost two decades, in which time the OST rose from
its roots as a semi-professional chamber orchestra composed of music-loving
Tenerifans to a fairly professional symphony orchestra which vied with the best
in Spain – maestro Victor Pablo’s term had reached its logical and natural end.
However, the pathological hatred towards him harboured by key members of the
orchestral committee charged with finding his successor, led to the precipitous
hiring of the first-best candidate, the Chinese conductor, Lü Jia,
circumventing the rational search process which had in fact been initiated by
Mr. Pablo and the serving orchestral manager at that time.

 

Around the same time (2006 or so),  Mr. Paolo Morena, a friend of Mr. Jia’s, was
invested as leader of the OST by way of dubious proceedings resulting in Mr.
Morena’s becoming the first and only member of this orchestra to serve without
having auditioned for his post, that is to say, without members of the
orchestral collective having had any say in his hiring.

 

It was my vocal opposition to these
goings-on which led to my being placed before a jury consisting solely of my
accusers and their cohorts: Mr. Jia, Mr. Morena, the then Manager Mr. Santos
and the two principal members of the orchestral commitee, Mr. Kirby and Mr.
Jones, principal clarinette and bass, respectively.

The Spanish cellist, Asier Polo was
apparently invited to sit on this tribunal but, much to his credit, did not
show up on the day. I was found to be wanting in my performance, a decision I
would not necessarily contest on and of its own merit, as the futility of the
exercise was apparent from the very start. I had recently come off sick-leave
for an arthritic elbow and severe depression having for months suffered
exaggerated intimidation and persecution under Mr. Jia’s heavy stick and by no
means was I in conditions to confront such a test of nerves. The psycho-terror
had included such measures as Mr. Jia programming the Wilhelm Tell Overture as
the opening number of his inauguration as music director in an open-air concert
with tens of thousands in the audience, with him doing his utmost to make my
life as soloist as difficult as possible.

 

The decision of the jury was contested by
the public workers syndicate I belong to and in a laughably open-and-shut case
was struck down by a first-circuit judge here in Tenerife. The government –
sole patron of the OST – appealed and won reversal of the sentence – no
surprise given the notoriously partisan composition of local superior court. At
our appeal to the national supreme court in Madrid it was stated that we would
have had to have presented a precedential case identical in all details to
mine. No luck there. So it was that I was afforded a small severance – 39.000€
after some 16 years of faithful service in which I appeared repeatedly as
soloist with the OST, years in which I also made other significant contributions
to the musical life on this island, conducting a local youth orchestra during
two seasons of highly successful concerts (which were then inexplicably
discontinued) and teaching at the conservatory. Left to my own devises I now
struggle to make ends meet and feed my four children on an island where the
existential possibilities for a classical musician are severely limited to say
the least.

 

As for the OST: a little over a year ago
the orchestra voted 54 to 7 against the renewal of Mr. Jia’s contract, having
apparently tired of his tyrannical and despotic tactics of intimidation and
belittlement and disappointed at having gone nowhere with him (except for a
single concert in Bejing) after having heard great promises about receiving
international exposure. Although he remains as “principal guest
conductor” he no longer figures as music director, much to relief also of
the administration who had soon tired of his capricious modus operandi – a
litany of unanswered emails, cancellations, dodgy programming, etc.

 

He leaves behind an orchestra trained like
a show horse whose robot-like, soulless playing is a shadow of what it was once
capable of in its hey-day. His arrogance and favouritism have worn thin in the
eyes of the public (many of whose number no longer attend concerts) and
orchestra alike – the childish posturing of his cronies, including but not
limited to on-stage intimidation and the taunting of colleagues not of the
inner circle (a speciality of Mr. Gomez Rios) have left an indelible mark. Needless
to say, I am very grateful not to have suffered through this chapter in the
history of the OST, a chapter which should serve as a great lesson – for those
who care to analyse – about the squandering of the moral and ethical authority
which in the best of situations should reside within the institution of the
symphony orchestra, an institution which should be setting an example for
harmonious coexistence among fellows. How very sad indeed!

 

Thank you Norman, for your untiring
championing of the better side of human nature in the professional musical
world and best wishes for all orchestral colleagues the world around.

 

Best regards,

 

Mark Peters

 

 

 

Glyndebourne opens May 21 with its first-ever realisation of the founder’s dream – a full Meistersinger with a crack team. Move over, Bryn Terfel. My money’s on the Canadian Sachs.




Creative
team:

Conductor
Vladimir
Jurowski


Director
David McVicar

Designer
Vicki
Mortimer

Lighting
Designer
Paule
Constable

Movement
Director
Andrew
George

Fight
Director
Nicholas
Hall

Cast:

Hans
Sachs
Gerald
Finley

Walther
von Stolzing
Marco
Jentzsch

David
Topi
Lehtipuu

Sixtus
Beckmesser
Johannes
Martin Kränzle

Eva
Anna
Gabler

Magdalene
Michaela
Selinger

Veit
Pogner
Alastair
Miles

Fritz
Kothner
Henry
Waddington

Kunz
Vogelgesang
Colin Judson

Konrad
Nachtigall
Andrew Slater

Balthasar
Zorn
Alasdair
Elliott

Ulrich
Eisslinger
Adrian
Thompson

Augustin
Moser
Daniel Norman

Hermann
Ortel
Robert
Poulton

Hans
Schwarz
Maxim
Mikhailov

Hans
Foltz
Graeme
Broadbent

A
Nightwatchman
Mats Almgren

 

London Philharmonic
Orchestra

The
Glyndebourne Chorus

I am posting, without comment, two case histories of musicians who have been hustled out of their jobs by forces beyond their control – which usually means conductor intervention.

The first concerns the orchestra of Glyndebourne on Tour, a freelance ensemble that does outstanding work through the English autumn and winter. Its chief conductor is the promising young Czech, Jakob Hrusa. It should be emphasized that Glyndebourne are following proper procedure and all due forms of consultation. It is a far cry from the Brazil furore.

What follows is a petition that is being circulated among the orchest
ra:

Dear player from last Autumn’s GoT orchestra,

Many of you may have
heard already that George (surname withheld) received a letter in February telling him that he will
no longer be leading the orchestra.

I heard the news on the grapevine
last week, and was concerned that some players might not know and wouldn’t have
a chance to voice any concerns they might have about the handling of the matter.
I am sending this email to as many players as I can just to make sure that
everyone at least has the chance to find out about what has happened.

 I
don’t know all the details of how this has come about. However, it seems to me
that a colleague has been treated badly, and when we are working for such a
prestigious company as Glyndebourne, we should not be so scared of losing our
well-paid work that we are totally unable even to ask polite questions of the
company.

The orchestra committee were approached by some members of last
year’s orchestra in the hope that they might be able to represent the
orchestra’s point of view in a letter to the management at Glyndebourne.
However, having heard differing ideas on how best to present the orchestra’s
opinions, the committee members felt that the reactions of so many disparate
freelance players who aren’t currently working together can’t really be
expressed in a single letter.

Although the letter to George stated that
GoT would be seeking a new leader for the 2011 tour, a member of the committee
told me that assurances have been made that no new leader will be engaged until
George has met with the head of human resources at Glyndebourne. This meeting is
to take place in early April with Steven Naylor and Julia Murray-Logue. I think
it is important that anyone who has anxieties about the situation voices them
before this meeting.

Some years ago, Glyndebourne on Tour introduced
official procedures for dealing with problems within the orchestra, and these
were set out in the orchestra’s booklet, explaining what a player could expect
to happen if his or her playing or behaviour was giving cause for concern.

These steps included initial warnings, meetings with section leaders, a
chance for the player to rectify the problem, a review meeting, and careful
guidelines about what would happen if the problem was unresolved. These
procedures are no longer printed in the tour booklet. Since the guidelines were
introduced, several players have lost their positions in the orchestra after
years of service without these procedures having been followed. George has been
leading the orchestra for twenty years, and has received this letter out of the
blue.

Glyndebourne on Tour receives Arts Council funding, and this use of
taxpayers’ money carries with it high expectations of a company being well
run.

I am not suggesting any kind of rabble-rousing or militant action,
but if you feel strongly about what has happened, please write a letter or email
to one of the following:
–  George, who must be going through a terrible
time, and would value any support. He can also pass on your views at the meeting
in April, if you wish. 
– Someone at Glyndebourne – Gus Christie is the
Executive Chairman, David Pickard is the General Director, Steven Naylor (who
wrote to George) is the Director of Artistic Administration, and Julia
Murray-Logue is head of human resources. The address: Glyndebourne, Near
Ringmer, Lewes, East Sussex. BN8 5UU
– Jakub Hrusa, the Music Director of
GoT.

Your letter can be anonymous, if you prefer, and any correspondence
could be copied to another of these names if appropriate. I understand that
freelance musicians value highly a patch of work such as this tour, and that the
fear of not being asked to play with the orchestra again might make a player
hesitant to speak his or her mind. However, I hope that we might be able to pull
together to persuade the company to treat its orchestral musicians in a more
reasonable way.

     (ends)

Word has just been released of the death of Yakov Kreizberg after a long illness.

He was chief conductor of the Netherlands Philharmonic and the chamber orchestra. He last conducted them in Amsterdam on February 14.
I knew him at Glyndebourne and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, fill of vim and ambition, brilliant in Russian and Czech repertory. A courteous man with the sweetest smile, he came from a turbulent background and was on difficult terms with some family members, including his brother Semyon Bychkov. Their rivalry was a byword in the music business. Kreizberg took his mother’s surname to avoid confusion. I hope they settled their differences in time.
Yakov was married to the conductor Amy Andersson; they had two sons.
Here’s a tribute from his agent, Linda Marks.
And here’s Yakov’s website: http://www.yakovkreizberg.com/

The head of Chicago Opera Theater, formerly of Glyndebourne, will return to Britain at the end of the 2012 season. Dickie, who will be 71, will have completed half a century in music management. He has been a powerhouse in Chicago, very hard to replace.

Among the major singers he has introduced is Danielle de Niese, now chatelaine at Glyndebourne. 

Here’s the press statement, from his site.
And here’s Andrew Patner’s take.
My Photo

Dickie, at leisure

Hugues Cuénod, who sang professionally for 66 years, had died in Switzerland, aged 108. He was part of the original 1951 cast of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and was a perennial at Glyndebourne for many years. He will probably remain unbeaten as the oldest tenor ever to make a Metropolitan Opera debut, appearing there as the Emperor in Puccini’s Turandot at 84.

I once took a long ride with him on the London Underground in which he tried, for no obvious reason that I can recall, to persuade me of his robust heterosexuality (perhaps he thought 1980s London more repressive that it really was). It came as no great surprise to learn, four years ago, that he had entered a civil partnership with his long-term companion, Alfred Augustin.

Hugues Cuénod, who sang professionally for 66 years, had died in Switzerland, aged 108. He was part of the original 1951 cast of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and was a perennial at Glyndebourne for many years. He will probably remain unbeaten as the oldest tenor ever to make a Metropolitan Opera debut, appearing there as the Emperor in Puccini’s Turandot at 84.

I once took a long ride with him on the London Underground in which he tried, for no obvious reason that I can recall, to persuade me of his robust heterosexuality (perhaps he thought 1980s London more repressive that it really was). It came as no great surprise to learn, four years ago, that he had entered a civil partnership with his long-term companion, Alfred Augustin.

At the closing performance of the Glyndebourne season, chairman Gus Christie announced that Vladimir Jurowski was leaving in three years (as tweeted by Jessica Duchen). By then he will have put in 13 happy years and kept Glyndebourne fresh and challenging throughout, deepening the Wagner content, introducting Russian operas and generally being there through each summer as a hands-on musical leader. The ever-rising Juro will be just 41 when he moves on.

That year, 2013, will also be Antonio Pappano’s last at Covent Garden. There will be plenty of press chatter in the years ahead about likely contenders and I don’t intend to waste this space on idle speculation. That said, you’d have to be a slow-witted Martian with mobility problems not to spot that the timing of the two departures looks just perfect for the Metropolitan Opera.

The Met will need strong candidates to be free when it has to get to grips with James Levine’s health problems and its artistic future. Those issues cannot be dodged much longer. It helps that there are now two hats in the ring, each with an outstanding international record.

   

At the closing performance of the Glyndebourne season, chairman Gus Christie announced that Vladimir Jurowski was leaving in three years (as tweeted by Jessica Duchen). By then he will have put in 13 happy years and kept Glyndebourne fresh and challenging throughout, deepening the Wagner content, introducting Russian operas and generally being there through each summer as a hands-on musical leader. The ever-rising Juro will be just 41 when he moves on.

That year, 2013, will also be Antonio Pappano’s last at Covent Garden. There will be plenty of press chatter in the years ahead about likely contenders and I don’t intend to waste this space on idle speculation. That said, you’d have to be a slow-witted Martian with mobility problems not to spot that the timing of the two departures looks just perfect for the Metropolitan Opera.

The Met will need strong candidates to be free when it has to get to grips with James Levine’s health problems and its artistic future. Those issues cannot be dodged much longer. It helps that there are now two hats in the ring, each with an outstanding international record.

   

The BBC will dedicate a Proms concert in his memory. Glyndebourne, where he conducted Cosi fan tutte only last month, will commemorate him tonight. Sir George Christie, past director of Glyndebourne, said: ‘The passion he brought to his performances – which he tempered with scholarly research – combined with his devotion to and belief in the composers whose works were entrusted to him and his baton set him apart from the others. He never imposed himself between the audience and the composer and this in turn commanded total devotion to and belief in him. He embraced a huge spectrum of the repertory, but it was his performances of Handel, Mozart and Janá?ek which stick most adhesively in my memory….and he was an enchanting man.’

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic recalls his ‘outstanding interpretations’ on record of the nine Beethoven symphonies, while the Scottish Chamber Orchestra remembered a relationship of 20 years in which he showed ‘almost unparallelled mastery of music across a huge range of styles and periods.’

Tony Faulkner, record producer, pays tribute here to his ‘inexhautible energy’ and to the amount that everyone who worked with Charles Mackerras learned from this delightful artist and man.

The BBC will dedicate a Proms concert in his memory. Glyndebourne, where he conducted Cosi fan tutte only last month, will commemorate him tonight. Sir George Christie, past director of Glyndebourne, said: ‘The passion he brought to his performances – which he tempered with scholarly research – combined with his devotion to and belief in the composers whose works were entrusted to him and his baton set him apart from the others. He never imposed himself between the audience and the composer and this in turn commanded total devotion to and belief in him. He embraced a huge spectrum of the repertory, but it was his performances of Handel, Mozart and Janá?ek which stick most adhesively in my memory….and he was an enchanting man.’

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic recalls his ‘outstanding interpretations’ on record of the nine Beethoven symphonies, while the Scottish Chamber Orchestra remembered a relationship of 20 years in which he showed ‘almost unparallelled mastery of music across a huge range of styles and periods.’

Tony Faulkner, record producer, pays tribute here to his ‘inexhautible energy’ and to the amount that everyone who worked with Charles Mackerras learned from this delightful artist and man.