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Joe Pearce has many ways to bore his friends, not least of which is his oft-stated unwavering belief that the world of opera has lost much in the way of singing, style, and individuality in the days since 1) most of the major operatic venues in the world ceased to perform the repertoire in their own languages, 2) it was decided that the repertoire had to be performed in the language in which each opera was written (think of the French- and Czech-language productions of L’AFRICAINE, GUILLAUME TELL and DON CARLO, or THE BARTERED BRIDE, JENUFA and RUSALKA, where the singers can all sing [we are told] decent French or Czech, but have no real empathy with either language and, worse, no French or East European singing style with which to perform such works), 3) a reliance on total fidelity to the score came into being, this much at odds with both tradition and what most of the great opera composers had expected from their works’ interpreters, and 4) as a consequence of such things, singers lost anything that even approached a national style of singing and embraced (the pay is good) the now-infamous International Style of Singing. And since the language that so influenced the style also influenced the singing (does Anna Netrebko sound vocally any more Russian than she does German or Italian or French – even when she’s singing in Russian?), an unintended consequence is that the opera stage is filled with terrific physical actors who rarely act with their voices, at least in comparison to their ancestors, who were often sticks on the stage but acted up a storm with their voices.
If any single person or place is to blame for this, Joe feels that blame should be placed on the head of Herbert von Karajan, who, upon taking over the Vienna State Opera in the late 1950s, decreed that all operas would henceforth be sung in their original language. What Herb said and what the VSO did influenced all the great opera houses of Western Europe and within about fifteen to twenty years La Scala, Berlin, and Paris had capitulated, with the main Eastern European opera companies getting on board by the mid-1990s. Result: Solid, professional singing that is much less interesting than what most of those same opera companies had experienced from prior generations of singers differently trained, and as all but the very top echelon of those singers ceased to bring in audiences, more and more reliance on Regietheater and Eurotrash productions to interest audiences.
We are concerned in April with the singing individuality, style and performance practices that held sway in Russia from approximately 1940 to 1960, when the Soviet Union rather stood still in many respects where Opera was concerned, where the singers coming along were trained to an entirely different standard than their Western counterparts, and where, consequently, a style of vocal performance that no longer passed muster in much of the West was firmly ensconced in Moscow and Leningrad (well, that’s what it was called then). It is Joe’s opinion that they were right and the rest of the world was wrong, or at the very least, that something irretrievably precious was lost where singing was concerned and that only opera-lovers and record collectors of a decidedly historical bent are even aware of that loss. Although we think of the Soviet Union as having been totally closed off in the period under consideration, it is interesting to note that, in addition to untold hundreds (more likely, thousands) of aria and concerted recordings from that period, they also produced at the same time almost forty complete recordings of Western operas (mostly Italian and French, with some German, Polish and Czech works), all sung in Russian by what we now recognize – especially from the male contingent – as some of the very greatest singers of the 20th century, most of whom were rarely allowed to sing outside the Soviet Bloc, consequently remaining almost totally unknown to all but that relative handful of record collectors who knew where to obtain their recordings during and for a while after that period.
Joe’s program will be made up primarily, but not exclusively, from those complete opera recordings, and he tells us that you ain’theard nothin’ until you’ve heard the two best recordings ever made of ROMEO ET JULIETTE, both in Russian, with Lemeshev and Kozlovsky taking turns at demolishing the competition, and for that matter, you’ve never heard anything quite as terrible as the latter tenor’s idea of how to sing Gluck! It would definitely frighten the horses!
Joe celebrates his 55th anniversary with the V.R.C.S. in April, and this will be his 54th program for us (he missed a program by spending some time in the army, defending Seth Winner’s right to free speech; he is repentant about the result). Whether or not tapes will be available of the program is up in the air right now, but we urge your attendance to hear Ivan and Elisaveta and Sergei and Irina (who might be described as Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice on food rationing, but Pavel and Mark and Alexander and Zara ate well).
FRIDAY, APRIL 7, 2017 (THE FIRST FRIDAY) TIME: 7:45PM SHARP
This page last revised 3/21/17 11:18 AM EST
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