The Contrast

The Contrast
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Soprano Bad-assery and the subsequent Ol' Yeargain rage.

Yesterday I came across this article about the soprano Kristine Opolais.

"Kristine Opolais got to bed at 5 a.m. Saturday after singing her first "Madama Butterfly'" at the Metropolitan Opera and going out for dinner.

Just 2½ hours later, the 34-year-old Latvian soprano was awakened by Met General Manager Peter Gelb, who wanted to know if she could take over a televised performance of Puccini's "La Boheme" that afternoon after Anita Hartig took ill."
At first she said "no" then she looked deep inside of her gullet, saw that she had the steely balls necessary to do some soprano bad-assery and made Met fuckin history. So, with almost no sleep she ensued on what was probably one of the most stressful but rewarding days of her life.

Here is a recording from the live broadcast!

Stuff like this gets me pumped, y'all. I love it! I'm so glad that something new, interesting and challenging was presented to this opera singer and to this business and that it went well!
You gotta think that the fans are loving it!


Are you kidding me?

Well, aint that a bitch...

I'm not gonna say where I saw this, or who posted it or whatever. My rant isn't really about these individuals but more about the attitude in general. You can dig around and give these people hate spam if you really really want, but that's not gonna do a damn bit of good. Haters gonna hate, y'all. No use to sink down to that 'ignant level. Fight hate with love...However, I do feel like I gotta say something to the masses, put my stamp on it, qualify my feelings and extrapolate them ad naseum. 
This wonderful lady (I can only assume she is wonderful, I have no reason to believe otherwise) does something that's pretty cool, and doing it in two of the biggest, well known Puccini soprano roles, and she's got haters?? What's up with people nowadays?

Let's address this "hurting herself" issue head on. 

If a singer cant handle singing a role in full voice two days in a row, they need to reconsider their career. And even then, she's a grown ass woman, she was asked and she originally said "no." Then she said "fuck it, let's do this" and surprise surprise, her larynx didn't jump out of her throat and kick her in the gut. Two performances back to back is not completely uncommon. Even two in one day is asking a lot, but people still do it all the time. Some great, very memorable performances featuring some of my heroes have stepped up to do similar triumphs. Here is two examples off the top of my noggin, but there are definitely more.
Domingo famously made his MET debut in Cilea's Adriana Lecourvreur when Corelli had cancelled 40 minutes before the performance. He was in the middle of performances of Luigi in Il Tabarro and Canio in i Pagliacci and was rehearsing Calaf in Turandot extensively with the MET for his debut he was to be making later that season. He came, he conquered, he Domingoed, and he set a precedent for being the voice of steel.

Jonas Kaufmann:

In August 2012 during the Salzburg Opera Festival, Pietr Beczala took ill and was unable to vocally perform the role of Rudolfo in La Boheme.

"The excellent tenor Piotr Beczala had decided a mere ten minutes earlier that his vocal cords would not be up to singing Rodolfo that night. We would have to wait forty minutes for a replacement. Further hisses. Fortunately Pereira had an ace up his sleeve: the replacement would be another star, Jonas Kaufmann, who is at the festival singing Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. After the forty minutes had elapsed, Pereira announced the plan: Beczala would act the part while Kaufmann would sing from the side of the stage."

*UPDATE* Saw this last night and needed to post it.

IN March, Jennifer Wilson, an unknown 39-year-old soprano, suddenly burst onto the international opera scene by jumping in for Jane Eaglen as Brünnhilde in Wagner's "Götterdämmerung" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, just a day after singing the same character in a rehearsal of "Die Walküre." Artistry aside, this is a stunning athletic feat. Few people today have the vocal heft and stamina to get through even one of these roles, let alone take on both back to back.

Ms. Wilson not only sang the killer leading role of the five-hour "Götterdämmerung," she also sang it so well, with a huge, beautiful sound and dramatic nuance, that she brought down the house. It was as if a pitcher were called up from the minor leagues and threw two perfect games on two consecutive days.
Not to diminish what Opolais has done, but it's nothing new. The top bad asses have been doing this for years, and I be 'mirin every single story. It takes a LOT of focus and mental capacity to have that much music, language, and style stay in your brain and voice. And in this day and age where we have top level sopranos dropping out of performances all the time, it's a pretty refreshing look to see someone do the opposite, go above and beyond a level of comfort to at least try something outstanding.

Was it a publicity Stunt?

Possibly. In fact, in many ways it probably was a way to capitalize on operatic drama and get news in the paper and create a stir, a buzz, something crazy and interesting in the opera industry...Uh, how is this a bad thing???? Don't we want to be in the papers, in the news, in the media, to be talked about? Aren't we trying to save our business and our industry from growing uninteresting. The Met does La Boheme every year. Every. Year. Literally, every year. You know why? Because people love this damn show. Why? Because it's amazing music, it's fun, funny, sad, heart warming and heart breaking, it's got love stories, bromance and comradery, and It's not that long. It's guaranteed to sell. The show is so damn good that they made a musical out of it. (Rent)

That being said, do we need another standard performance of La Boheme? Especially at the MET where it has decades of exquisitely performed Mimi's that are as incredible as the immortal diva herself (All hail Callas!) I would trade performance security in La Boheme for excitement any day of the week. Now, if it was a work that hasn't had as much representation or wasn't as well known, they probably wouldn't have had anyone but the cover to step in, but they took a gamble and it paid off for both parties. I'm fairly sure Opolias, despite not being brand new to this business at all, is starting to become a buzz word in the industry now, and the press, media and now controversy is getting The Met all sorts of play.

Did a cover get screwed?

You know, she probably did, but that is an aspect of our business we have to accept. If they can get a bigger name to take to the stage to perform over a cover who is notably less known, then they have a very large incentive to give people the level of names associated with the level of opera house they are and can afford. Would the cover have done just as well? I actually think she probably would have done it better. I don't know, I don't know her, but I have heard some phenomenal covers that I constantly wonder why they aren't headliners EVERYWHERE. She probably would have been more rested, better rehearsed and coached and mentally prepared. That's her job, to be there ready and waiting, it's not her job to perform the role. It's her job to perform the role when the administrative staff tells her to. It's a harsh reality, and it really sucks to be passed up, but this stuff happens. I hope and wish the best for her and her career. It's obviously not over, and anybody that actually knows the business will not assume she was not prepared.

To put a lightness on the mood, here is a documentary about Simon O' Neill and him understudying Placido Domingo in Die Walküre.

I'm not always a fan of The Met's casting or how they operate themselves, but I NEVER want to put down a singer that says yes to a contract or an opportunity, even if it is outside of their voice's abilities and will not service the music well. How can I fault a person for saying yes to getting to sing absolutely fantastic music with the greatest opera orchestra in the world, on THE stage, and getting paid handsomely for it? I can't even really say anything beneficial in regards of opinion as far as what the MET should be doing to make it's product better. I have no experience in that part of the field and honestly, I usually enjoy the majority of MET opera features I see. The live in HD broadcast and the play back it gets on PBS is the best thing that has happened to opera in years...despite it sometimes not working.

My biggest issue is this...

Can we not give props to those that deserve it? 

Politics and jealousy aside, can we not just celebrate in something cool for once? If you can't succeed in the manner you'd like to in your field, it's not going to hurt you to be positive about someone else's success. By all means, be envious and desire it for yourself, it will make you work harder towards that goal, but don't put them down to elevate yourself. That's classic hater crap.

So, in honor of her haters, I'm gonna give a small list of why Opolias is awesome.

1.) She's a total babe.

She looks like Charlize Theron, am I right?

2.) Her repertoire is awesome sauce.

Butterfly, Mimi, Tosca, Donna Elvira, Liu, Violetta, Rusulka, Nedda, Suor I need to go on? This is the goods, y'all. All of the music we grew up loving and wishing we could sing. She's gotten to do it all and she does it well.

3.) She's willing to do staging that explores new concepts that make an actor do things that are more much more demanding. Check out this Sempre Libera:

This lady is a bad-ass and she's got cajones. I dig that name, too. Opolias! It's like an awesome nectarine based alchoholic beverage. You get all of The Opera Bro's love and respect, Opolais. Anytime haters be hatin, Ol' Yeargain has got your back.

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