Opera acting finale

OK -- my last post for now (most likely) on opera acting.First, I come to this subject with some experience. I've sung major opera roles, directed opera, conducted opera, and had productions of operas that I've written. Plus I've written incidental music for theater productions, and worked closely with stage actors. One of my operas was premiered with stage actors in all the roles. All this happened in the '60s, '70s and '80s, but still -- I did all these things. Stage acting varies. It's taught in different ways, and how it's done and … [Read more...]


I'm grateful for the pushback I've gotten in comments here, about my post on opera acting. It helps me clarify my ideas and my presentation of them, and also clarifies some points about the future of classical music.One thing to note: when my wife, Anne Midgette, talked about problems with opera acting in the piece of hers I linked to, she wasn't just stating her own critique of how opera singers act (which I share). She was quoting opera singers who'd had a chance to act in films or on Broadway, learned some very basic things about acting … [Read more...]

Not acting

"Or [as my wife Anne Midgette wrote in her blog] yet another episode in my ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the lamentable fact t'hat opera is generally held to a lower dramatic standard than other forms of acting." She was talking about a piece she'd written in her capacity as classical music critic for the Washington Post, about a film in which an opera singer was cast in a starring acting role (with no singing involved). What emerged, as she talked to this singer (and to other opera singers who've found themselves acting outside … [Read more...]

The art of not listening

Yesterday I sat for a while watching the Met Opera DVD of Rossini's Armida, starring Renee Fleming (who mugs and gesticulates far more than she should, but I digress) This, I thought, was a perfect example of a piece written for -- and suited for -- a time when most of the audience didn't listen attentively. Or at least not to most of the performance. Please don't get me wrong -- I love Rossini. But this isn't top-drawer Rossini, or at least most of the first act isn't. (And the first act was the part I watched. I'm perfectly open to watch … [Read more...]

Detroit priorities

I haven't said anything here about the Detroit Symphony mess, even though it's the leading conversation topic these days among people involved with orchestras. Or at least it is in my experience. It's the one topic someone's sure to bring up.What's happening is a mess, of course, because it might finish the orchestra. The institution was reeling, financially, which i'm sure shouldn't be a surprise, because it's in Detroit, a city that's in such ghastly trouble that nearly one-third of it has been abandoned. Hard to write those words and … [Read more...]

Written in fire

Over the years, I've heard prominent people in classical music talk privately about the trouble classical music is in. I've sometimes heard things that go beyond -- even far beyond -- what these people would say in public. But now I've seen something presented in public that matches things I've heard privately. It's a blog post that Tony Woodcock wrote last week. Tony used to run the Minnesota Orchestra, and now runs the New England Conservatory. So his credentials -- and his inside knowledge of the classical music field -- are … [Read more...]

Rigorous and noble soul

All of us, if we're lucky, will sometimes meet people who shine with everything we most deeply care about. For me, one of those people was Blanche Honneger Moyse, who just died at the age of 101. I heard her conduct three times, always a Bach passion, once in New York at Symphony Space, and twice at the New England Bach Festival, which she founded and led in Brattleboro, VT. I reviewed her twice, in my critic days. You can find the reviews here and here. But what I remember most was a Vermont performance of the St. Matthew Passion … [Read more...]

1920s footnotes

Forgot to say, in yesterday's post about the Met in the 1920s, that they did more than 40 operas every year. In 1924-25, they did 44 operas (plus Petrushka, as a ballet) in 24 weeks. Some weeks had eight performances, other weeks had nine. All of which might help to explain why the quality wasn't very high. And when I said that Mozart wasn't a large part of the repertoire, I should have been more specific. Three 1929 performances of Don Giovanni were the first since 1908. (But then, thanks to Ezio Pinza in the title role, it was done every … [Read more...]

Long, long ago

A week or so ago, I posted a New York Times story from 1922, about Geraldine Farrar's farewell performance at the Metropolitan Opera, complete with screaming teens and a parade through the streets. But this wasn't the only thing at the Met in the 1920s that we wouldn't find today. Because in those long-gone days...The company made a profit. Purely on ticket sales. Each year, it took in more money than it spent. So it functioned as a commercial operation. The wealthy people we might think of as patrons bought subscriptions -- tickets, more or … [Read more...]

Very nonclassical (or just plain fun)

A brief excerpt from the recording I talked about in my last post. Here's Giuseppe Valdengo, sounding relaxed and collooquial -- nonoperatic, in fact -- in a short excerpt from his big aria in The Barber of Seville, "Largo al factotum." From a live performance at the Met in 1950.To listen, just click. (For a short time, he's hard to hear. This was a live performance; he must have faced away from whatever mics they were using.)And I must say...listening to Valdengo again makes me think better of him than I did when I wrote my last post. Likewise … [Read more...]

Non-classical Barber…

...of Seville, I mean. A Met Opera performance broadcast in December of 1950, and newly released (or soon to be released) on Sony Classical.  I was interested initially for opera geek reasons. The cast included Lily Pons (the Met's leading coloratura of those days) as Rosina, and Giuseppe Di Stefano as the Count. Pons has always struck me on commercial recordings as rather feeble, and while I've known that Di Stefano began his career singing light, lyric tenor roles, I'd never heard him in anything this light. Instead I've known him from … [Read more...]

Screaming for other divas

A worthy question -- did Geraldine Farrar have screaming girl fans only because of her opera success, or because she was also a silent movie star? I don't have any information that would help me answer that. But other divas had followings of excited women -- for instance, Amelita Galli-Curci, the early 20th century coloratura, and (according to a 1940s piece in Time magazine) also Lily Pons, the glamorous coloratura of the mid-20th century. (See my sidebar on the age of the audience for documentation.)Pons made films, too, in the 1930s, … [Read more...]