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Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH
on the trail of no ordinary newsflash ...

Dear Alice,
Just spotted this, from CBC News -- and the one below, from Associated Press. I think that nothing's new under the sun, myself ...
What do you think?
Mervyn in the Big Apple

The Associated Press:

Opera singers are increasingly admitting to increased drug and alcohol use sparked by relentless pressure to perform often and well. Tenor Endrik Wottrich recently fulminated: 'We are faced with the choice of performing and being attacked because we sing one false note, or being attacked because we are taking care of ourselves,' he told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 'To deal with the pressures soloists are taking beta blockers to control their angst, some tenors take [the steroid] cortisone to push their voice high, and alcohol is everywhere,' he said. Another singer mentioned that some top singers snort cocaine.

Austrian music critic Wilhelm Sinkowitz said: 'Opera always was stressful ... but these days there are more and more performances and more and more pressure.'

Still, physicians who treat singers urge them to resist the temptation to perform at any cost. Some, they say, overdose without knowing it, as they travel from gig to gig in one city after the another without keeping track of cortisone treatments that -- if overdone -- can actually destroy a voice.


The conductor of the Canadian Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra is suing some of its musicians, saying they accused him of abuse, stalking musicians, working under the influence of alcohol and intentionally sabotaging performances. Artistic Director Douglas Sanford, who is seeking more than 200,000 Canadian dollars in damages, said he was defamed in the wake of a recent steward's report saying that Sanford was 'incompetent, using "aberrant tempi, dictatorial in style, and conducted one concert smelling of alcohol." The symphony steward also accused Sanford of engaging in abusive bullying tactics, shouting down, ridiculing or ignoring a player who tries to say something he disagrees with.'

Dear Mervyn,
Well, yes ... and no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In other words, no professional can be surprised that solo opera singers -- who despite wildly inflated salaries are surely under more pressure even than solo instrumentalists -- imbibe or snort or whatever. All the performing arts are super-stressful and they're at the most stressful end of same. (Though I didn't know that steroids could force a voice higher -- that's amazing. Wonder if it works for duff sopranos???) I was also pretty surprised at the choice of drugs. I take beta-blockers for cello solos and find that they dry my throat horribly ... Under such circs, how could anyone, however gifted, sing opera? -- and alcohol is also famously dehydrating, though I wouldn't know about cocaine, personally. But the fact that opera singers are stressed to desperation point is certainly no surprise.

HOWEVER, I can't go along with you on your second news squib. OK, so let's say, just off-hand, that 15% of conductors drink, that 45% occasionally bully musicians, that 55% use aberrant tempi, that 60% are dictatorial, and that 90% are incompetent. (I consider these figures conservative, but am open to correction ...) I still think that for one conductor, singlehandedly, to achieve ALL of these goals is pretty newsworthy (or, she hastens to add, in case he wins his case, pretty defamatory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) I'm also fascinated by two other aspects of the case: I've never heard of a conductor stalking musicians (though I've heard of musicians stalking conductors, often with near-murderous intent, in which case I would normally leap to the musician's defence ...)

And what price the sabotage? I want to know more!!!!!!!!!! Does Douglas Sanford mean that the celli and basses get together, forming a quorum, and decide that at, say, letter M of Beethoven's Fifth, the cellos will drag and the basses rush?? Impossible!!!!! ... Basses never rush. I meant to write: the celli rush and the basses drag, of course. And then what happens, aside from the principal trumpet stomping out in a fit of pique and the concertmaster breaking his bow over the head of the principal cello?? Or is it more likely that the sleazy principal bassoon bribed the brass to get a beat ahead at letter G???

Whichever it was, this is no ordinary newsflash, and I urge all of you in the Saskatoon region to write fast and tell us more!!!!

Copyright © 7 September 2007 Alice McVeigh, Beijing, China

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