Monday, June 24, 2013

YouTube at the opera: the bad, the good and the sublime

The things you find while snooping around YouTube. This morning for some reason, maybe because it's Monday and awful out, I found myself digging around in videos of operatic bloopers - just an awful thing to do, sadistic, for opera is like figure skating: one slip of the blade and you're spinning around on your ass.

There were several categories. Quite a few, actually. An obvious one was singing off-pitch, invariably flat, and usually all the way through the piece. One wonders how someone with a trained singer's ear can do such a thing, but there they were (professionals, I mean, like Pavarotti, Roberto Alagna, and even the legendary Callas), slipping farther and farther off the wire like some floundering Wallenda.

There were the gargled or yodelled high notes, usually afflicting tenors who probably should have realized they were off their game. Sometimes that little bit of muscle at the back of the throat just won't cooperate, and can't be coerced.  Sopranos tended to shriek like squeezed chickens. There were elaborate choruses which were completely incoherent: SOMEONE had started off on the wrong foot, thus making proper entrances impossible while the conductor tried frantically to get everyone back on board. In one case, I swear I heard him skip several bars, but to no avail. 

There were complete silences. I mean, stunned and stunning silences in which the singer just stopped what they were doing in total disorientation. In a couple of cases the tenor (it was always a tenor) would shout out an excuse to the audience, something like, "Don't blame me, blame Puccini!" Almost worse were the "saves", the singer deciding to skip the triple-axel and sing something far less challenging.

The lyrics to these disasters all translated to approximately the same thing: "I should have cancelled, I should have cancelled. . . " Knowing when to cancel is a fine art in itself, but too many performers seem to want to go on with the show even as the ship sinks under their feet.

Though the videos contained their usual near-complete lack of information (where, when, even WHO), you could sure tell what theatre you were in. It was not hard to get the good folks at La Scala going, not just shrill whistling and booing but standing up and yelling things like, "Dog!", "This is murder!" and "Off the stage, charlatan!" North American audiences seem to be a little more restrained, but there is something limp and even baffled about the applause after such a fiasco. And definitely disappointed.

Having said all that, I'm not posting any bloopers today. I've had enough of them and felt a high degree of schadenfreude (thank you, Matt Paust) while listening to them. I suddenly thought of the glorious Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes, once worked to death on airline commercials and elsewhere, but now beginning to heal and regain its lustre. And I found this one, and within two seconds I was crying, all thought of bloopers erased.

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