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As consumers, we too are responsible for the genre's downturn, glorifying stardom, thereby applying excess pressure on younger voices as we keenly await the next virtuoso. Vocal technique however requires phenomenal muscular memory, effectively breaking the music into the voice. Encouraging younger voices to strain in roles beyond their capabilities is simply counterproductive.
Equally detrimental is the displacement of opera from its context. Commenting on Sony BMG's recent compilation album Tales of Opera, Michael Tanner marveled as 'Keenlyside becomes 15 widely differing characters ... from Rossini's Figaro to his Guillaume Tell, exuberance to tender grief, and the effect is spellbinding.' Mesmeric as it may well be, such recordings are commercial gimmicks bent on producing albums not art. The removal of music from its context strips opera in particular of its verisimilitude and mocks the academic profundity of an art closely entwined with the Enlightenment.
Despite the current degenerative guise, significant measures are currently in place to abet a revival of the musical genre. The 'Jette Parker Young Artists Program' at the Royal Opera House supports the development of young professional musicians, contractually binding them to the company, where in addition to singing minor roles, participants are afforded linguistic, acting and principal study tuition. Smaller opera companies too are increasingly playing a significant role. The much underestimated Neuköllner Oper in Berlin's melting-pot quarter is just one example of a company willing to take risks, arranging scores, fusing creative genres and experimenting with the traditional roles of ensemble and voice.
Copyright © 9 September 2007
Ciaran McAuley, Berlin, Germany