Blog post submitted by Carol Maxym
I interviewed a young singer a couple months ago. Teppei Kono was in Honolulu to sing Morales in the Honolulu Opera Theater production of Carmen in early 2009 (You can find my interview with Teppei in the Features section coming up, and he’s definitely worth reading about. You can find his songs in TOI-Tracks and he’s definitely worth hearing).
One thing Teppei said really stuck. Actually it’s stunningly intelligent and perceptive. He said that the young singers who make it big quickly tend to be the ones with “generic voices.” Now that’s not meant in any way to disparage the young singers who are making great careers—not at all. But it is a very accurate statement about one thing that has happened to opera in the last couple of decades. Vanilla.
Bland vanilla. Lots of hoopla about new and extravagant productions. Lots of gutsy, cutting edge stage direction, but the music—the singing—no more rocky road or double-chocolate-peppermint-swirl. It’s vanilla.
My love for opera came from a different time. A time when one could easily tell a voice because what was “great” was the very particular character of each and every voice. Maria Callas. Leontyne Price, even Joan Sutherland (whose voice I personally never really enjoyed) could never, ever be mistaken for anyone else’s.
It rained yesterday in Honolulu. It rained a lot. So I considered going to the Met Simulcast of Madame Butterfly. But after I had so much trouble finding out (well, I never really did find out) if there were still tickets and saw the reviews online (not very positive), I decided to stay home to read about Behavioral Economics (quite interesting). When it was time to go out to do errands, I flipped on the radio in the car, only to find the last few minutes of Butterfly being broadcast. And it was fine. But as I listened to Butterfly’s final words, I thought of Leontyne Price and the recording I had some 40 years ago. And it wasn’t there. The pathos born of betrayal, not yet really believed, that wrung my heart every time I heard it—wrings my heart now as I write about it.
And there it was: generic emotion, generic singing. Not what I want when I go to the opera. I want to feel so much emotion, I want to be overwhelmed and arrested when I go to the opera. (Incidentally I was very pleased to discover that 13-year old Madeleine Rassaby of Montana shared my opinion after she went to the cinema broadcast of the same production. She will be featured in our "Spotlight Series" soon, too!)
I’ve always thought that you can tell when a performance was as perfect as possible when, after the last note, there is a moment of quiet before the audience can react, begins to applaud and cheer.
At the end of this Butterfly, even before the orchestra had quite closed, the applause had begun.
You can’t be arrested generically.
9 hours ago