Monday, March 12, 2007

Part Teacher

I've noticed that it can often take multiple exposures for something to become explicitly pleasurable for me. Before there, there is maybe boredom, slight discomfort, etc., but always some underlying pull and compulsion to try X again, whether X is a food, an activity, or, in the case of this post, an opera/production.

The opera in question is Theodora and the production, Peter Sellars' Glyndebourne staging with David Daniels, Richard Croft, Dawn Upshaw, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. I really appreciate the symbolic mime/dance aspect of Sellars' direction -- and the staging itself seems very natural, all things told. I do wish that Christie took a more vital approach to the orchestra's contribution. While the singers offer coruscatingly precise and daring performances, I always sense that the orchestra is holding back politely. It's just on the cusp of having that level of dangerous presence -- it's almost more maddening than if they were further off the mark.

The singers, though, are the core of what I have not begun to understand more clearly. I should think that the principals, in particular, must view their roles less as performers, in the general usage of the term, and almost more like collaborators. Collaborators with their colleagues, yes, but more importantly, with the audience. We, the viewer, expend our resources (namely money and time) to come partake of an experience that the performers share. Their throats open and out pour their thoughts in reverberating waves. Our minds are open, and we drink of their souls through our ears. When it is a true collaboration, I sense that the performer is not interpreting so much as showing the audience a range of possible thoughts in the music, from the composer -- almost as if by singing a phrase one way, the performer has paradoxically shown me 5 additional, differing ways simultaneously.

A brief word on Hunt Lieberson. I would say that she certainly has her faults. The very highest notes are not particularly secure. The tongue wags dangerously and transmits an unusual tension to the listener, but worse! the phrasing chokes and stumbles. And however beautiful the intrinsic tone of the voice, it is virtually unchanged from aria to aria, role to role, which is particularly noticeable in a sound palette that is so pungent. One cannot drink only rich red wine.

But. (that word, at once so portentous and anticipatory!) But, whereas some singers stutter confused half sentences, and more singers sing competent but generally utilitarian sentences, she speaks eloquent paragraphs. Paragraphs with an unerring sense of movement to the very last period, and very often beyond. It is this very sense (and the various technologies [e.g., part teacher] employed to make this sense apparent and expressive) that is so special.

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