Tuesday, 13 December 2016

A Quiet Opera

A Quiet Opera

Opera singing was born of an era where large spaces needed filling by large voices, so opera singing training focussed on generating  the huge voice; singers with naturally huge voices are prized and all training is geared to how to produce a powerful yet pure voice. In order to encourage 'real' performances from opera singers, Opera directors often find themselves in conflict with the musical purists - the physical demands  on the singer's body of producing a resonant  and musically true voice are at odds with the directors' demand for a believable true performance. the conventions of opera are from another age. This is why modern opera can be a particularly cringeworthy and pointless spectacle -  it is an archaic artform,  from another age. No architect would design a gothic cathedral now We can still appreciate the beauty, incredible skill  and painstaking labour  that went into its making.  So why is designing a new gothic cathedral or Palace of Versailles now unthinkable and laughable yet composers still believe they can make a new opera from outdated tools? To continue the parallel with architecture (you could do it with any art or practice from painting to commerce, even warfare), the modern architect uses all means at their disposal- materials and technology to design their buildings, yet the opera composer is still working trying to produce something 'contemporary' with archaic practices.  it maybe why much opera seems ridiculous and has become an acquired taste. Opera lovers will defend their beloved artform - Whether you love the intimacy of Baroque opera or the grand transcendence of Wagner, and regard any criticism as sacrilegious, what is  defensible? it could be a) the beauty of the music b) the uniqueness of opera performance. Its  harder to justify the new classical opera either from the point of view ofeither its musical language or performance.

OK, the transformation of drama, plot and raw feeling into live music with high production values and the big set and nice frocks, I can go with that but, just as a contemporary architect makes use of technology to design buildings for now, so the opera composer can use technology. It is not necessary now to blast the audience and fill huge spaces  with artificially huge voices and bad acting. Very few opera singers, are good actors. With the best will in the world its impossible to act truthfully and project your voice to fill a large theatre. We have other options. A whispered opera could be better acted, offer intimate scenes better.  I have to be careful  here- I know the thrill of hearing a really powerful voice fill a large space, yet in terms of  spectacle there is no way that  opera or theatre or any live performance can compete with  the bigness of film, but for honesty rawness intimacy live performance, live events will always has the potential to win out, so why  not make an opera where the singers whisper their words or sing quietly, intimately and then, through film, video and audio technology, the experience can be blown up for its audience and just as exquisite, heart rending and massive as any pompous mega opera.

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