Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Color Red

A little gore makes me chuckle. The digital tool certainly handles the details nicely. CSI Opera, wonderful wounds. This entry is not about the performers. It is about blood and gore.
Entered: Cyrano, Parsifal, Don Giovanni, First Emperor, Mazeppa, Salome

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Semi- ignorance is Bliss

1966: It takes hefty photo gear to do justice to opera documentation. In the beginning we all used film and I certainly didn't start with the most powerful lenses. They came later. Imagine being asked to photograph a really hot new production- ELEKTRA- with Nilsson, Rysanek and Resnik. I love demented characters and I adore the Strauss operas, so when the request came in I yelled, "YES!" In retrospect, I didn't have the gear to cope with this huge dark production, gear to crawl into the beast of the Elektra, but now the images are a sweet memory. Back then, semi-ignorance was total bliss. I had tons to learn.
To cope with this type of presentation it's necessary to go for the faces. Nothing else was lit, so there was no point in worrying about it. The other hard part was separating feelings from professional coverage. The photographer can't go beserk along with Elektra. I have a hard time with that. In time I learned to play with the feelings (see Behrens image). This opera never fails to wipe me out....... all straight from the music and performers who can crawl into the skin of the characters.

Monday, August 25, 2008

SALOME Memories

I have been asked if I'm going to write about current opera. No. This blog is purely Memory Lane. I might pull a current image if I'm writing about blood and gore, because the digital tool captures blood very well, but this blog is not a PR tool, nor is there a critical agenda.

There was a photo researcher who called for images for a text book a while ago. After the editorial decisions were made she called back for captions. The first image was from the middle of MEISTERSINGER, Act I. The caption had to include every character's name- operatic and human, spelled correctly for the researcher. That took half-an-hour. The second image was ROSENKAVALIER, Act II right after Baron Ochs is "stabbed". Once again, every character, operatic and human, all spelled out. Another half-an-hour. The final image was easier, the end of SALOME. By then I knew the routine, "The performer is Salome (spelled that), and the singer is ....... (spelled that too.)" Silence. Then the researcher asked, "Who's the head?"

How do you answer that?! Baritone of the week?! Just think of the casting logistics. I tried to explain about John the Baptist. I'm not sure what that researcher thought.

In the beginning of my opera education I went to every performance of SALOME. It was a mighty "musical meal" to digest. I remember one Salome who didn't shave under her arms. Her "Dance of the Seven Veils" mesmerized the audience. Nobody was watching her legs.

And there was Birgit Nilsson, a vocal force that would bring the house down. She could have just stood there and sung it and the audience would have been riveted. In fact, she did precisely that at the close of the Bing Gala.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Correction

In the Toscanini Estate blog I mis-identified one person, an important person. The gentleman was Wilfred Pelletier, Rose Bampton's husband, not Giuseppe Bambochek. Back in 1964 I didn't always know what I was doing. Now I can set this record straight.

Opera HMO - Doctors

This topic will be a long-range project. Opera is sick. Most of what's sick is a lot of fun. But just because a person has "Doctor" as part of a name doesn't mean they're medical Doctors. I've got to dig through the files. I've got to dig out the actively medical Doctors doing medicinal things.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sweet Memory

The photographer's place in the theater environment is to not intrude, not tell anyone how to do a job, never call attention to oneself. Document and mind your own business. That's the work ethic. Accepting that, you'll understand this sweet memory.

It was 1969, my first full ROSENKAVALIER coverage at the Met. I was working on the left aisle, a very comfortable spot for documenting this production. Before Act III began, Sir Rudolf Bing, the then General Manager, came over and said, "The police Commissioner will not be in costume". I was stunned, not because of the costume alert, but because Sir Rudolf himself delivered this information. Normally a press officer would deliver the information. Besides, no photographer with any brain will photograph someone obviously out of costume during a final dress. The act came and went. As I was packing up Sir Rudolf reappeared and asked, "Was everything okay?" I know I answered, "Yes, thank you", but what I was feeling was that this was exceptional. What a gentleman! He didn't have to speak to me. He didn't have to care. I'm sure he never even knew my name though our paths crossed many times after that. It was a human nicety that I have never forgotten.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Opera HMO- Defects

Opera is sick. The literature is filled with the ill, the insane, the wounded, poisoned, stabbed, neurologically impaired. Throw in a few Doctors and it makes for a fine mix. This will be a long-term photo project, finding the sickest of the sick, the most insane, etc. The criteria will be, "Did the composer intend this?"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

In the Blink of an Eye

There are times when I fear for the well-being of opera as a serious art form, but I've noticed that a lot of opera lovers are ardently listening to subscription radio transmissions of opera treasures. This warms my heart. I also stand true to opera as a glorious art form as intended by the composers.

That said, it doesn't mean that opera can't be approached occasionally with a sense of humor. It's fine to "cross the line" image-wise as long as the required documentary reponsibilities are met. Without the ability to laugh I would have burned out years ago.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Every photographer has extensive files. It isn't routine to dig through the older pictures on a regular basis. Buried in my archives are lots of goodies, often forgotten. The composers were uncovered for this entry, composers involved in various activities, unearthed for the fun of it.

The Ginastera study was done in-camera back in 1967 using a Mamiya RB67. Only the Phillip Glass image was shot digitally and tweeked to reflect his opera, "The Voyage".

Included: Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, Douglas Moore, Alberto Ginastera, Gian Carlo Menotti, Virgil Thomson, Carlisle Floyd and Phillip Glass.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Opera is live and because it's live anything can happen. That's half the fun of any live performance. If a production is too elaborate, too detailed, too busy, there's no way to discern what's planned and what's funny. Excess leaves no room for the audience to bring its own feelings into the experience.

There have been singers who have died on stage. There have been performers who have gotten sick or been injured on stage. It is a live art form with real people and anything is possible.

Personally, I want to watch real people on the stage. Opera requires singers with stamina. It is a very physical art form. I want to see and hear powerhouse performers. There's a sense of security. Full-bodied performers suit me fine. Opera singers should not be straws.

With live theater there will be bloopers, fabulous bloopers. The who, what or where doesn't matter. Bloopers stand on their own merit. They need no captions, only an understanding of the opera. Good bloopers don't happen often, maybe once every three years. They may be part of a planned staging or they may be a glitch, but there's no way around it, a blooper is one of the joys of opera.