A PASSION ANALYZED, YESTERDAY OR TODAY?
One of my great passions is opera, one acquired in childhood. For me, opera has everything, great music, great drama, often great spectacle. Unfortunately, I am torn between what opera in the world has become and what it once was. I would have to say that today, opera is more of a complete experience where previously it was mostly about the singers. Directors and set designers have gained equal status with the performers.
In a sense, I believe these changes have become necessary due to the need for modern audiences to have a more visual experience than before. One need only look at rock concerts to see this. In Elvis's or the Beatle's day, audiences were perfectly content to watch their idols play and sing. Now, performers have to jump around, smash their instruments to the accompaniment of fireworks or a light show. Everything is choreographed.
Why something similar has occurred in opera is more complicated than the need for change in the audience, accustomed to so many distractions with television, movies, video games, and streaming. Personally, I think it has a lot to do with the quality of today's opera singers. They just don't have the voices of singers of the past. All you need to do is compare today's stars with those of the post World War II singers through the early 1960's. Take the tenors. In the forties, fifties, and early sixties there were giants like Bjorling, DiStefano, Del Monaco, Corelli, Bergonzi, Tagliavini, Melchior at the end of his career, Windgassen, Vickers, Wunderlich, Pears, Tucker, and Pierce. Only two singers from the mid sixties until the present day would belong in their category, Pavarotti and Domingo. Same with sopranos. Tebaldi, Callas, Zeani, Stella, Price, Sutherland dominated the period. Who can compare to any of them now. One could also go down the list of lower voices. Audiences were once thrilled by hearing these great voices when the set they performed on was a painted backdrop.
Today, many of the world's great directors are drawn to opera production. Some of their productions are revolutionary, some relevant to today's world, others having nothing to do with the opera itself. Often productions are visually stunning and many new composers are getting their voices heard. Orchestras in the pit are better than in the past and are conducted by some of the leading maestros of the age. I enjoy watching many of these productions, but when I turn on the stereo, it is the voices of the past I'm listening to. In my mind, I can imagine a more stunning production than any of the performers were likely to have experienced in their careers.