We received this letter overnight from Fabio Luisi, principal conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, in response to his Covent Garden colleague’s assault on singer cancellations:
I think nobody, not even Tony, came to the core of the problem, and we, as conductors, have to pronounce a very clear “mea culpa” in this.
Most singers, especially the young ones, are simply too young, not prepared enough, with technical problems and they get the wrong roles.
Take e.g. a good, young soprano who makes a successful debut with, let’s say, Micaela or Liu’.
Some agent will eventually ask her if she could take over Violetta, then Leonora (Trovatore), at the end probably Butterfly or Tosca. “You know, darling, they are looking for a new, young and pretty Tosca in that international Opera House, director and conductor would love to have a new voice, they would love to discover a new star. That’s you!”
It can work maybe a couple of times, if the orchestras are not too loud, if the director is understanding, if the conductor helpful (not looking for Magda Oliviero’s sounds). Of course, we do need Butterflies and Toscas, but are they the right roles for a young soprano? Definitely not. You can sing them of course, with a fresh voice, but not for long. So they start to cancel – and then they disappear.
Gruberova (above) never accepted such roles (she sung even Violetta not very often) – and she still sings. If I read that the Nemorino-tenors are approaching Des Grieux (Puccini) or Cavaradossi, of course I am curious, but I already can see… it won’t last long. How many singers, Norman, have we seen “bruciati” by famous conductors? Freni and Butterfly? she was smart enough to do it only once (and, as soon as I know, never on stage), but she had a 40 years long career. Gruberova ditto.
Best regards to all
We are holding space for Antonio Pappano to reply. Meantime,
You are absolutely right for blaming agents and conductors for putting undue pressure on singers, but that’s nothing new. Look how many sopranos were ruined by Herbert von Karajan’s premature expectations… What is new, it seems to me, is the power of directors to demand young, slim singers and the enthusiastic approval of their demands by authoritarian opera house and festival directors. What can a maestro do when faced with an unholy trinity of agent, director and the man who signs his own contract? N’est-ce pas?
all best wishes