Friday, August 29, 2014

Relevance

I recommend reading the article that I have provided the link to below.  Its about an opera composer in Russia being physically attacked over the subject matter in one of his operas.

I bring this up because one of the debates going on in this country is the relevance of the arts in today's world.

But often in tough, political climates, the arts are seen as subversive (a sure sign of relevance!!)

Also, when things are going really bad, the arts become something people really relate to.....
As an example, during the German Blitz of London during World War II, the concert halls were full even though people were risking their lives by attending!  Again, relevance is not something that would even be debated with a situation like this.

Here is the article link:

http://www.sptimes.ru/story/40618

Monday, August 25, 2014

A generation of singers.....

Having just seen a very fine production of Masterclass here last week, I was reminded of the important singers we have just lost very recently:

Licia Albanese and Carlo Bergonzi.

I already posted about Licia Albanese, and I took the opportunity to listen this past weekend to recordings by Callas, Albanese, and Bergonzi.

What is fascinating is that these great artists do not have what everyone considers "beautiful sounds", but what they do have is an immediately recognizable sound  - their own sonic signature as it were.

They also all have superb interpretive skills that bear listening to by any serious student of opera.

What I think can be learned by artists like this by today's auditioning singers is that as you hone your craft and art technically and musically, don't hone it so much that the essential you gets honed away.

What makes a beautiful piece of burled wood are the imperfections and patterns that are beautiful to the eye.  An aria sung by a great artist is the aural equivalent to that piece of wood, polished, beautiful - but absolutely unique.




Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Licia Albanese

I can't let the passing of a legendary singer go by unnoticed.  Licia Albanese, a true link to a by gone era of singing has passed away at 105.

She was beloved in the Verdi/Puccini repertoire, and was a favorite of Toscanini.  If my memory serves me correctly, I have in my possession a great old recording of La Boheme with Albanese, conducted by Toscanini.  This live recording is a lot of fun, not only for the great singing by the principals, but also for the slightly under pitch vocal accompaniment in the pit from the Maestro!

I highly recommend checking out some of this great artist's recordings.  While it was not the most opulent sound of singers in her fach, she was a master of style, and from all accounts, a quite affecting actress.


Monday, August 18, 2014

It's that 'tween time!

This is the that interesting time of year - the time when a lot of summer programs are winding down or over, and the seasonal resident artist programs have not started.

So, for some singers, who are involved in both types (that applies to three of our Studio Artists and our Production Stage Manager) it is a bit of a gear shift.

For those singers who are in the process of dipping their toes in the water, it is gearing up time for auditions, etc.

Whatever your particular situation might be, it might be a good time to take a bit of time and be an idealist.  By that I mean, its good to have a time when you remind yourself why you do this art form (yes, it's a business, but for the sake of this "time out" I'm referring to, let's leave the business part on the sidelines.)

I daresay most of us do "this" because we feel the need to express ourselves through the medium of the human voice, whether it be opera, concert, musical theatre, or oratorio.  The somewhat cold reality of auditioning, being rejected, jumping back up and dusting yourself off will be here soon enough - before all of that happens, try to remember why you do it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

So.....here's a question

One of the very old discussions in our business is where the line between musicals and operas exists.
In today's American opera scene the point seems somewhat moot - musicals such as Sound of Music, Carousel, Sweeney Todd, Showboat, and A Little Night Music are popping at companies all over our country (and Europe as well, for that matter).

So, the question is (and I realize that this isn't an either or question probably) - are these works being done because the opera world is finally recognizing that American musicals are a true part of the operatic continuum or is this purely a financial decision to help underwrite the "real" operas?

There is a great deal of new opera being produced today - Silent Night, Dark Sisters, Elmer Gantry, Dead man Walking, Moby Dick, and Our Town, just to name a very few.  All of these pieces owe more to an ongoing classical tradition than they do to American musical theatre.  Further, if a company does one of these works, they are credited with doing "new work".  On the other hand, if that same company produces Light in the Piazza which is a contemporaneous with the above works, that same company would not be credited with doing new work, but would probably said to be chasing dollars.

One further point to bring up - even contemporary composers make the argument blurry.

Take Bernstein for example:

Three works - West Side Story, Candide, Trouble in Tahiti

The first is considered a musical, the second a hybrid, and the third an opera.  And, all have been performed by opera companies, while only the first two have been performed by theatre companies.

Stephen Schwartz - very well known composer of such musicals as Godspell and Wicked, but decided to write an opera - Seance on a Wet Afternoon.  It would seem in this composer's mind, there is a difference, though I do not know this for a fact.

In any case, I know I don't have an answer for this, but I certainly would like to know what others think.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Opera in the 21st centrury - is it worth the trouble?

I have touched on this before, particularly as it affects those of you who are the age where you are auditioning for school, young artist programs, or principal singer positions.

Over the past several years, some companies have folded, others have had crises, and at the moment, this country's largest performing arts institution, the Met, is having very public labor negotiations.  Because we live in the age of social media, these negotiations are being dissected to an extent that past negotiations were not.

The "residue" of all of this is a nationwide (and beyond) existential discussion,  Is our art form fiscally viable?

There are a lot of answers to this question, but the easiest is: No - at least not in any traditional for profit business model.

Think for a moment - we're in a business that at any given time is somewhere between a 25 to 35% earned income enterprise.  Put simply, if you buy a ticket for $10, that opera company has to come up with another $20 through contributed sources to keep going......Meanwhile, all of the people that work for said opera company want to make a decent living, and get paychecks that keep up with the cost of living.

When you hear the term "new business model" bandied about, what is being described is the attempt to shrink the gap between expenses and income.  But, no matter how well that challenge is met, the opera company is going to have to raise funds to remain viable.  Those funds can come from roughly the following types of sources:

a. individuals
b. government
c. foundations
d. corporations

Today, more and more of the burden for contributions is coming from individuals, as other types of support dwindle.  As a result, showing the value of our art form (and indeed, all of the arts) has never been more important.

So, is all of this a reason to be despondent, or to say that our art form is dead or dying?  Or for you as a singer to say, this isn't worth pursuing as a career?

I say a resounding No!!!  But.......we have to play an active, engaged, and enthusiastic part in our own salvation.

Thoughts about how we do that will be the subject of upcoming posts.





Thursday, July 31, 2014

Opera vs. The Opera Business

With well documented crises happening with some opera companies both here and abroad, some in the press and on social media have sounded the death knell for opera - yet again.

A few things......

Opera has been around since 1600, and there has never been a more fertile period of new opera (particularly North American) being written.

Many American companies and others (particularly Covent Garden) are reporting robust sales and interest in opera.

There are no shortage of young singers who are fiercely committed to this art form (and despite what is announced every thirty years or so, the age of great singers is not dead)

And lastly, (and this is my biggest pet peeve) - our audiences skew older that is true (though we are seeing record numbers of young people coming).  BUT, this has always been the case.  When I first got started in this business in the eighties, everyone was bemoaning the graying audience.  To listen to people talk, you would think we're complaining about the same group of people that were older in the eighties.  While longevity has improved, it hasn't improved that much!!  Opera still remains, because of the cost, something, that people often come to later.

As long as I'm on this point, why do we have such contempt for older audiences today?  At least here at the Florentine, they are sometimes the most open minded and the most adventurous folks we have!!  In addition, they are the people most able to contribute beyond the price of a ticket - and in a world that is, at best, a 30% earned income business, that is not insignificant.

In any case, back to the title of this post.  Yes, there are financial challenges confronting our business, and yes, retaining and building audiences is a challenge.  However, the art form itself, has never been more alive, and is certainly not showing its age at 400.

I think all the discussions that we have will be more productive if we stay focused on addressing the business models that support a very robust art form.