The biggest part of the problem is the Great Man myth that still permeates classical music and which has also found its way into the new music claiming its lineage from that tradition. Until we rid ourselves of the notion that the best music of all time was created by a handful of men who lived an ocean away from us and who all died more than a century before any of us were born, we will never have programming that truly reflects the vast array of musical creativity all around us. It’s the same myth that locks American repertoire out of most programming at opera houses and symphony orchestras as well as music by anyone from anywhere who is currently alive. When a work by someone who is alive, American, or female (or a combination of those attributes) is played, it’s inevitably a single work wedged in between the obligatory performances of works by Great Men. Heaven forbid a major opera company or symphony orchestra would most [sic] a season that included a broad range of works that were not penned by Great Men!If "the biggest part of the problem" is truly the Great Man Myth (and we don't for an instant imagine that it truly is) which has it that "the best music of all time was created by a handful of men who lived an ocean away from us and who all died more than a century before any of us were born," then we've news for Mr. Oteri: the "problem" is indissoluble and will remain so for even the most remotely foreseeable future. For the "Great Man Myth" as above defined (except for the "more than a century" part which more accurately should have read "more than a half-century or so") is in large part no myth but a demonstrable truth that no amount of wishful, PC, or delusional thinking can make disappear or cease to exist. It's time living composers (and incidentally, their champions and cheerleaders as well) accepted and got over that demonstrable truth and their destructive "anxiety of influence" response to it, to borrow Harold Bloom's neatly and aptly named formulation, and instead got on with the business of composing new music as best their native gift will allow without the need to attempt to demythologize or pooh-pooh a purported myth that's no myth at all and never was. Yes, we understand your pain. But instead of railing at us for the above as you may be wont to do, you would do better to consider it our sincere if modest contribution to the furtherance of new music worldwide.
December the second was the 90th birthday of poor Maria Callas. The encomiums of hysterics appear on the opera lists. Isn’t that a bore? Let’s forget that most of the people on those lists are idiots; let’s also forget that most of our American Musical Journalists are idiots too. Even when one trips in the dark that is arts commentary in Fecund America Today (as Emerson put it) and finds somebody with half a brain, it’s still a bore. Like the elderly tenorino, Placido Domingo, who lately cracked on a high note while trying to sing the Verdi baritone role of The Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, Callas has become an over sold, tired commodity, a testimony to the empty existence of opera lovers, and the pointlessness of opera in today’s world. Oh yes, Domingo in a disgusting display of “Let’s help the hype” told the ridiculous Anna Netrebko that she was “like Callas”. So Callas has become a decorative robe for whichever nonentity the whore house of the music business is pimping out. In all the Internet commentary that followed the crack and the comparison, few mentioned that Domingo is awful in general. He’s not a baritone, not even in the limited way he was a tenor. He’s just a puppet of media, a tenor preposterously compared to the very good he could never match and even to the greatest tenors, beside whom he sounded like a singer of bit parts. Now he’s an elderly footnote with too much ego to retire and spend hours on his knobby knees thanking Mammon for being able to fool so many people for so long. On Netrebko’s recent ghastly CD devoted to destroying Verdi arias, she committed musical atrocities that Callas could hardly have conceived of, let alone have been willing to put on something as durable as a CD. So the only real world use of poor Maria is to puff up every fraud that dances along the yellow brick road to sell out the enormous Metropolitan Opera. Even a fake baritone who was a second string talent like Domingo can use Maria as a bandwagon. And everybody’s happy, except maybe the ghost of Maria Callas.That is to say, the above should have caused us neither surprise nor repulsion had it appeared on an independent blog. But it didn't. It appeared in a blog post on a blog sponsored and published by no less than the venerable and widely read music journal Musical America; a blog and blog post written by one Albert Innaurato, the dependably bitter, angry, and foulmouthed Rumpelstiltskin of the opera world's yakking class. How Musical America could permit these near-libelous comments in a blog they sponsor and publish is beyond our understanding. That Mr. Innaurato is more than occasionally an idiot, his seeming encyclopedic knowledge of non-Wagnerian opera and the non-Wagnerian opera world notwithstanding, is well known. Musical America sponsoring and publishing Mr. Innaurato's "Musical America Blog" containing this sort of clearly inappropriate, over-the-top content makes us wonder whether Musical America is occasionally given to the idiotic as well.
I confess it's beyond me how anyone who admits to "wearing [his] Wagnerian badge on [his] sleeve" could have any good words to say for the staging of the new Opera Australia Melbourne _Ring_. That staging is clearly and unmistakably out-and-out Eurotrash and should be condemned as ought all Eurotrash stagings of any canonical opera whatsoever. Such stagings are an especially pernicious malignancy no matter how well-designed and -executed they may be. Any directorial hack can come up with a Eurotrash staging of a canonical opera. There's no trick to doing that. The trick is to come up with a new, fresh, and revelatory staging of a canonical opera that's faithful to the full spirit and sense of the concept and vision of the opera's original creator (called in German, _Werktreue_). And the trick there is that such a staging requires an opera director with a deep understanding of the opera in question as well as a genuine creative gift, a rare commodity always. On the evidence of this Melbourne _Ring_, Neil Armfield is clearly no such opera director.As always, the above reprinted here for the purpose of making a record of it on S&F.
But I do think that the [English National Opera] management has expended too much energy trying to please the critics and a metropolitan coterie of mavens and diehards with shows that are "ground-breakingly original" or "radically challenging" while failing to give enough thought and attention to presenting day-in day-out, bread-and-butter opera that offers less sophisticated or exigent audiences an enjoyable and modestly priced evening out....So, pander to the tastes and sensibilities of opera-going proles in order to bring more cash into the ENO box office. Wow! Now there's a new and novel idea. Incredible. That's been the money-making solution since Day One of public opera houses, and for opera as an artform it's always the wrong solution. Some people never learn.
I carry no torch for Fidelio: it’s not an opera I love, and I certainly wouldn’t want to direct it because I’m not sure it works. But that’s the issue. If you don’t believe in a piece you shouldn’t do it. Calixto Bieito clearly doesn’t believe in this opera, and it would be better if he’d left it alone.To which we dutifully responded:
But what Michael White wrote of Calixto Bieito in his article for _The Telegraph_ is true of almost every Eurotrash (_Konzept_) Regietheater Regie. It's practically what defines a Eurotrash Regie. Eurotrash Regies have zero interest in what the original opera's creator intended, and even less interest in the music. They care only about what the original opera's *story* (i.e., the story as set forth in the libretto) *suggests* to them for a story of their own invention that they want (or would want) to tell. As far as the music and all that singing goes, it's for them merely an intrusive annoyance they have to put up with because part and parcel of, and unavoidable in, fraudulently misrepresenting their resulting new stageworks as "new interpretations" — or, worse, "new stagings" — of existing, mostly canonical operas. And, no, I'm not being in the least hyperbolic or rhetorical in any of the above.As always in such cases, we reprint the above merely to make a record of it here on S&F.
⚫ Act I finished. Bravissimo!, @NicoMuhly. Riveting, deeply affecting, and darkly beautiful. I need a full score — and a DVD!While we readily if somewhat embarrassingly confess that our two "Bravissimo!" were more than a smidge over the top, we put that down to a momentary instant access of enthusiasm brought on as much by what we heard as it was by its being measured against what we'd expected to hear and those über-superlatives were, after all, part of two instantly written and posted tweets as opposed to soberly thought out, well-considered critical commentary and as such were, to some degree at least, forgivable on that count alone. The next day, we began reading the MSM reviews of the work and were disbelievingly astonished. Almost all were largely (but, except for Martin Bernheimer's jaw-dropping, parallel-universe review, not entirely) negative (see this Ionarts post for a sampling). Searching our mind for some possible explanation for this wholly unexpected (and, to our mind, wholly unwarranted) critical response, the best we could come up with was a lame, "There must be something seriously distorting about the staging that somehow managed to insidiously overwhelm both music and text." We need to hear this work again (better, several agains) — this time with at least a beforehand look at the vocal score and a hearing with vocal score in hand. When so many experienced professional ears hear that which is in opposition to what one's own ears have heard, one has no choice but to revisit the work in question before again placing full trust in one's own initial judgment.
⚫ Act II over. Commedia finita est. A deeply affecting, soul-deep journey that works. Once again, @nicomuhly: Bravissimo!
And last, the more contentious singer/opera matter.Mr. Douglas: How about if we change T____'s sentence just a little bit - like - Great voices can make the opera libretti less distasteful than might otherwise be the case. For many people, myself very emphatically included, great music making trumps all other facets of the operatic experience.For all opera (i.e., for all _dramma per musica_) — from the most slight French or bel canto confection to the most profound Wagner music-drama — the music and its performance are the work's _sine qua non_ and central dramatic element. There can be no argument concerning that point. But the libretto is of utmost importance as well, as, again, from the most slight French or bel canto confection to the most profound Wagner music-drama, the libretto acts as armature of the drama providing as it does those critical narrative and concrete details music alone is incapable of expressing. Great voices can make a weak and/or clumsy libretto more convincing and lend it more weight than it otherwise would have, but if a libretto is truly distasteful then distasteful it will remain no matter how great the voices singing it or the music accompanying it — that is, if one is actually paying attention to what the libretto is saying. And if one is not, such a one is missing a critical part of what the opera is about no matter how superb the music and no matter how deep one's enchantment and involvement with that music might be. The synergistic dramatic coupling of text and music — a genuine organic unity in a Wagner music-drama (as opposed to his operas); something less, sometimes even much less, in ordinary conventional opera — is principally what makes opera the unique dramatic artform it has grown to be.
It is elsewhere that we find singers who sing today, enjoying their prerogatives as complete and unencumbered artists, but never in the opera world. To hear singers sing the way Patti did, with sovereign command and the complete control of what they want to do and without the barest hint of interference, one has to go to the world of pop, to rock, and to country western....And that's precisely where such anarchic, individualistic performance practices belong. They have NO place in opera. Ever since the first public opera houses opened in the mid-17th century in Italy where pimping theater owners/managers understood that pandering to the tastes and sensibilities of opera-going groundlings was the way to make the most money, singers became the dictators of what appeared onstage in those houses because they and the pimps understood what the groundlings valued in opera: spectacular voices singing spectacular songs amidst spectacular sets and stage effects. About opera as a new and unique dramatic artform the groundlings couldn't have cared a rat's ass worth and so opera as _dramma per musica_ all but died almost at its very birthing a mere half-century before. It's been a long, hard, bumpy ride from that time to this, but finally today, with the help of a few extraordinary geniuses, opera has managed to reestablish itself as the unique dramatic artform it was intended to be by its late-16th-, early-17th-century innovators, and singers now understand their proper place in the artform: as another part of the musico-dramatic machinery whose every effort must be focused on achieving the most vivid and compelling realization of the opera creator's concept and vision as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions) under the direction of first-rate conductors and stage directors devoted to achieving that end.
I've been reading Sounds and [sic] Fury for several years now, mostly because I like the way you write, but I think that's going to stop now as I still don't understand your blog's purpose. It's short on information but long, very long, on criticism, especially against the work of print classical music critics, yet you never post reviews of your own. In fact you've admitted to not attending live performances of concerts or operas for decades now, and even seem to brandish that as some kind of mark of distinction. Even when you write about televised opera performances or DVD or YouTube recordings of performances you still don't do actual reviews but comment in a general way about some aspect or other of the productions, mostly about the stagings which you almost always hate. It's getting to be more than a little annoying and I don't need to come here to be annoyed. I commend you for your writing skill, but other than that, reading Sounds and [sic] Fury is getting to be a waste of my time. Sincerely,Honest, straightforward, and right to the point, and we mean to answer in kind. First off, and perhaps most important of all, S&F is NOT written to be informative or for the delectation of others. It is written for ourself alone to provide us "a more satisfying alternative to arguing with and raging at insensate objects such as books, newspapers, magazines, CDs, [DVDs,] computer displays, and TV sets in respect of their wrongheaded, in-error, or otherwise imbecile content," as we once (but apparently not often enough) put the matter some years ago. It's always gratifying to learn that others find S&F worthwhile reading but that's nothing more than a mere side benefit for us. If we wrote S&F to be informative and for the delectation of others we would, of course, insist on being paid meaningful amounts of hard cash for our efforts as writing the blog gratis in that case would make us little better than Dr. Johnson's blockhead. And in that, you have as well your answer as to why we don't do actual reviews on S&F (although we've made rare exceptions to that rule in the past). Doing a proper review is bloody hard work and unrewarding in itself (not to even mention the trouble and expense of attending a live event when required) and none but a slave works for no pay justly commensurate with the time, talent, and expense involved. Lastly, we don't at all mean to "brandish ... as some kind of mark of distinction" our nonattendance in the last couple decades or so of live concert and opera performances. It's merely a fact of life for us due to constraints financial and logistical. The only exception to that is the case of performances of known Eurotrash stagings of canonical operas which performances we would never attend were we a multimillionaire and the opera house immediately next door our abode both as a matter of principle and because one's attendance at such performances serves only to fatten the wallets of and encourage the perpetrators. We trust you will find the above response to your correspondence as honest, straightforward and to the point as that which occasioned it, and we thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
A stranger asks me to write an Aesthetic Statement. He demands my notion of the ideal poem, so he’ll know the secret of my love of some poems and my distaste for others. I feel his pain. Perhaps he wants to prosecute me should I praise a poet who deviates from my Platonic ideal. An aesthetic statement is of little use to a critic unless he’s a lover of manifestos, a maker of quarrels, or a host who treats his guests like Procrustes. Aesthetics is a rational profession for the philosopher, but for the working critic it’s a mug’s game. To write about your aesthetics is no better than revealing your secrets if you’re a magician, or returning a mark’s stolen wallet if you’re a pickpocket.This is must-read stuff — for MSM professionals as well as for us mere blogger amateurs.
A few years ago [MSM music critic] Martin [Bernheimer] noted ... that it has been 30(?) years since an opera figure had appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Why has opera lost its status as news? [...] My first thought was that American managers had not taken the course of their European colleagues and adopted a more adventurous course for staging along with expanding the repertory. By being boring, the charitable contributions, critical to America's artistic lifeblood, were shrinking. A financial slump was clearly happening with symphony orchestras and major opera companies cutting back. But, in a larger sense, it doesn't seem entirely to be related to donors. With the loss of so many local music critics around the US and so little media covering classical music is America's interest in "cultural" in the larger sense in a gradual decline? [...] Is there a solution for the Bernheimer Conundrum?To which we responded:
America's interest in matters "cultural" (meaning, of course, "high cultural" as opposed to "pop cultural") in "gradual decline"(!)? Precipitous decline, you mean: the snowballing toxic fallout from the equally toxic and imbecile equalitarian ideology of the Sixties. The postmodern answer to that circumstance has been an ever increasing surrender by the MSM "smart set" to those imbecile equalitarian notions and the resulting championing of the even more imbecile notion that high culture ought to embrace popular culture and erase the distinctions between it and high culture by making pop culture an integral part of high culture thereby making high culture (and you should forgive the contemptible locution) "more relevant". Is there a "solution" to this noxious trend? Only one I can think of that has any realistic chance of actually being effective: simply wait until the current postmodern lunacy dies of its own imbecility. The wait may be a relatively long one but, thanks to our present digital age, not nearly as long as such waits used to be.
Advance word on the new Bayreuth Ring, staged by the Berlin-based director Frank Castorf, promised a sharply political interpretation, one in which the curse of the Nibelung’s gold would give way to the curse of international oil. Photographs from the rehearsals showed such settings as a gas station on Route 66, an oil rig in Baku, and the façade of the New York Stock Exchange. Leftist approaches to the Ring are nothing new: Wagner designed the libretto as an allegory for the corrupting forces of nineteenth-century capitalism, and late-twentieth-century productions by Joachim Herz, Götz Friedrich, and Patrice Chéreau articulated that agenda onstage. Still, the time seemed ripe for a radical Ring set in the twilight of the American empire.Say what(!)? By what perverse reasoning or logic would "the time [have] seemed ripe for a radical Ring set in the twilight of the American empire"? Rather, given the occasion — the bicentennial celebration of Wagner's birth in The House That Wagner Built — the time would have seemed ripe in our modern-day world to have Wagner's magnum opus set for once as Wagner himself envisioned it: in a timeless, universal, largely place-less world (the pre-historic — literally — Rhine Valley being the only identifiable location) wherein his timeless, universal, mythic (music-)drama could play itself out. By his above introductory graf, Mr. Ross betrays his surrender to and even tacit approval of the pernicious malignancy of Konzept Regietheater known more familiarly as Eurotrash and one cannot but mourn this shameful surrender by one of our otherwise most thoughtful and perceptive classical music critics.
How have we allowed this to come about? How has one of mankind’s most glorious achievements [viz., opera] fallen into the hands of this freakish band of directors that seeks only to demean the form in its own narcissistic, solipsistic image? How have we come to be beholden to such as one of the most outré of this ill-begotten breed who can trenchantly assert that he is ‘faithful to Mozart’, a claim that carries as much validity as would Richard Dawkins declaring he is faithful to God? It is my firm conviction that no part of the operatic world, from administrators, to conductors, to singers, critics and audiences can escape censure.*The essay is well worth one's time reading in full. (Our thanks to Opera-L member Peter Bollard for the above Early Music World link.) * To which compare our,
And what sort of respect should be shown singers and musicians — the sine qua non (literally) of an opera performance — who were too cowardly to adamantly refuse to take part in such butcheries? That's right. None at all. They deserve to share the full weight of our censure along with the butchers initially and ultimately responsible for the butchery.