Friday, December 18, 2009

The much-more interesting world of opera

Today, I posted the following on a popular organist listserv. I'm guessing the organist-types won't care so much for it. I thought you would enjoy it more!

My good friend Andrew Farkas sent me this today:

It is entirely more interesting than anything going on in our little organist world. True, the musical and vocal level of singing has never been lower. But at least there's something INTERESTING to read about. Bigger-than-life personalities, like the Greek gods throwing lightning bolts at each other.

These folks aren't circus attractions who get 15 minutes of fame from their little trick. ("I can play 'Granada' with my ear lobes!") They do more than inspire curiosity. These are personages who dominate a stage, and what's more, they have a relationship with their audience. Their audience sees through the performer who says, "I want your attention and will stoop to absolutely anything to get it." These operatic titans are simply living their operatic lives, and they get attention because they are INTERESTING -- interesting people who are really living life -- not always cleanly, but living it they are.

Biggs and Fox were interesting. Menuhin was interesting, and he happened to be a prodigy. But just being a prodigy doesn't automatically make you interesting. (And what happens when you grow up? An old prodigy becomes like a retired baseball player, increasingly grateful for the people who still remember him. And if they're really unlucky, they live long enough that no one remembers them except some bespectacled librarian. "Oh, yes, I remember you! You pitched for the Manhattan Island Red Stockings in 1742.") Liberace was interesting, and he happened to wear sequins. But putting on sequins doesn't automatically make you interesting. There has to be something more.

Biggs and Fox had something more. Horowitz and Rubinstein had something more. And these operatic numina? Well, they don't sing so good, some of them. But boy, do they have that something more! I was on the edge of my seat reading about the Sicilian tenor and the Romanian soprano. And I immediately became sad that in my inbox today, there was nothing about organs that put me on the edge of my seat. In fact, it's not just today.