Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not exactly opera

It is possible over time to lose enthusiasm, to stop finding pleasure in an art form. I have wondered about this in recent months. Am I burning out? Or is it just that what's being presented is lacking artistic taste?

During the past ten days I covered two events and in both cases I learned that I'm not burning out. The first event was a Memorial Service for Edgar Vincent. One of the partcipants was Joan Morris. She sang a witty song, "Black Max". It's a marvelous song, but what made this experience so special was the delivery- no costume, no fancy lighting, no excess staging, just one artist singing with total attention to words, detail, the music. The audience was rapt. So simple. So perfect.
The second event was the Martina Arroyo Fundation Gala evening. One of the participants was Paquito D'Rivera, renown jazz artist and composer. Again there were no trimmings, almost no light, no scenery, no excess, one artist playing for the audience, gripping, exciting, brilliant.

Both events brought total joy. And neither cost millions of dollars to produce. The artists knew what they were doing and required no "crutches". What was presented brought smiles and cheers from the audience. There's an important lesson: know what you're doing if you're a performer, and for producers, less is more.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An Opera Family

During the years that I documented the New York City Opera, 1966- 1981, it was a musical family. There was a core of singers who did a variety of roles. They knew their parts as well as their colleagues' parts. New productions got full dress rehearsals. Important complex revivals got full dress rehearsals. Everything else did not. There was no prompter's box. That meant the singers had to know what they were doing or they didn't survive. It was wonderful watching singers do a variety of roles,- comic, tragic and everything in between, all languages. There was a sense of artistic security. Sets were simple. Many costumes were one-outfit-fits-all, hemlines up and down, waist lines in and out. That's the way it was and it was musically wonderful.

I don't mean to insult the many fine performers who were there all the time, the core company. For this blog I can use Muriel Costa Greenspon as an example, because the images have already been scanned. She did a wide spectrum of roles over the years. I include appearances in Mikado, Bomarzo (if only we could again hear the Ginastera operas!), Cavalleria, Faust, Albert Herring, Pelleas, HMS Pinafore, Street Scene and Tabarro. She was one of the first opera singers to catch my attention because no matter what she was doing she was always in character.

No singer can always be assigned to do everything he or she wants to do. There is more talent than available assignments, but when you have a musical family the art of opera is well served. Without question the audience enjoyed and showed their appreciation.

I wonder now if we have lost the ability to sit, listen and understand without having every nuance visually forced. In the past the audiences were able to bring their own feelings into the experience. The New York City Opera family gave to those audiences and they reciprocated. They were a supportive, enthusiastic audience,- family performers, family audience.