Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Nipper Legacy

There's a wonderful Alex Ross piece on the effects of recording on music performance (and sometimes vice versa) in the 6/6 New Yorker (but go look at it via Ross's blog, which is excellent in itself). Just after quoting Mark Morris below, it seemed fortuitious - like these guys, I love my CDs and DVDs and MP3s (the few hundred of the last that I have, anyway), but they exist in parallel with my experience of live performance. Ross, in reviewing a few books on the subject, brings his own critic's experience to the job, and I think he's right on target.

He notes, for example, on the Early Music front:

In at least one area, though, performance style has undergone a sea change. Early music has long had the reputation of being the most pedantically “correct” subculture in classical music; .... But the more dynamic Renaissance and Baroque specialists—Jordi Savall, Andrew Manze, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Il Giardino Armonico, William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants—are exercising all the freedoms that Philip [one of the authors under review, ed.] misses in modern performance: they execute some notes cleanly and others roughly, they weave around the beat instead of staying right on top of it, they slide from note to note when they are so moved. As a result, the music feels liberated, and audiences tend to respond in kind, with yelps of joy.

To which I would add that it's precisely because this repertory is relatively new to audiences - live or in recordings - that its performance practice hasn't been set in stone; our ears are open because we aren't sure what it should sound like. Be nice if we weren't so sure about more familiar stuff, too.

In Chicago and LA I had opera series tickets - even very good seats in Chicago - and I'd do my prep with recordings so I'd know what was going on without having to read supertitles too much. It was all wonderful, though a few seasons will teach you how miraculous a really good night can be, when everything - design, staging, conducting, singing - comes together and you are swept away. Critical experience (and disappointment) make you value those moments all the more. Still, you worry about drifting into the Voice Camp - those operagoers who've seen all the shows before (they think) and just go to hear new or favorite singers and fill out the scorecard. (This is not confined to opera, btw.).

So, a reminder. My roomies and I had a series at the LA Opera, and they were doing La Cenerentola with Frederica von Stade - a matinee, too. Not a staging I liked - tricked up with a framing conceit that didn't help the story (it's Cinderella - ought to be simple enough) and that didn't mesh with the end - but von Stade was in superb woodwind-voice - touching and brilliant by turns. In an intermission, we went out to the Music Center plaza for a break.

Patti, it seems, had never been to a live opera before:

"What I can't figure out is where they are wearing the microphones."

I looked at Pete (she's his gf, after all), and tried not to laugh.

"Patti, they don't wear microphones. Those are their real voices."

Patti's jaw dropped - really! - I don't think it had crossed her mind that that sound was possible without help.

I wished I was Patti at that moment, a veil lifted from my eyes (and ears). I'm quite sure it didn't make her an opera fan, but it expanded her idea of what humans can do, and it had all happened in her presence. So cool.

Nipper, above, is, after all, attending to a Voice he knew from a living Master - now in the Limbo of lacquer and a horn. Poor doggie.

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