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In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

Opera and MTV

Nov 3, 2010 12:59:00 PM
By BLO Staff

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It wouldn’t ever occur to me to put “opera” and “music
video” together in a sentence, but that’s exactly what I found one day while bumming
around on YouTube—a soft-focus, staged video of Angela Gheorghiu singing “Un
bel di” from Madama Butterfly. I
looked around a bit more and found several professionally produced aria music
videos, mostly by Angela and Anna Netrebko—it’s an interesting example of how
technology impacts opera performance. Most of Netrebko’s videos have been taken
down off YouTube because of copyright issues (they’re part of a DVD she sells
called “The Woman, The Voice.”) However, “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s Rusalka is still up, featuring Anna in a
Marilyn-style white swimsuit, floating on a pool toy . Check it out: Song to the Moon

If this left you scratching your head, you’re not alone.
This video weirded me out, primarily because opera singing is so physical, but here
Anna is lip-synching to a recording of herself. This is nothing new for pop
music—voices are auto-tuned, filtered, and mixed beyond recognition; but in
opera, the voice is not messed with or even amplified. It’s real, yo—and it’s
not always pretty. In order to get the notes, singers make fairly bizarre faces
(Cecilia Bartoli is a great example.) If you’ve ever taken voice lessons, you’ve
probably been told to hold your nose, stick out your tongue, and bare your teeth
to try and achieve good vocal positioning and tone. Once I was told to “act
like a badger,” and it totally did the trick. It’s strange to see Anna on film
when her voice is so clearly coming from somewhere else. Also, it’s a bit
boring—gorgeous though Anna is, it’s not quite enough for me to watch her splash
her hands through rippling water for extended lengths of time.
In another example, Angela Gheorghiu performs “Habanera,” from Carmen

 

Let’s take it frame by
frame.

0:02: A giant red rose floats across the screen. The first
of many.
0:07 Angela appears, silhouetted, in a sea of floating (albeit
normal-sized) red roses.
0:08: L’amour est un
oiseau rebelle…
etc. etc. Angela, unlike Anna, at least looks like she’s
really singing—she’s breathing properly and focusing energy in the front of her
face. However, I still can’t quite take her seriously, and I think it’s because
of all the floating flowers.
0:54 Angela’s head of shiny, shiny hair abruptly leaves the
field of roses and reappears in front of bright lights.
Stop looking at me like that, Angela! I believe you, I
promise. Love is exactly like a rebellious bird.
1:05 A mirror appears, and Angela soulfully inspects her
reflection.
1:32: A phantom chorus begins to sing the refrain. Angela
looks in the mirror some more, and then looks at me, serenely. She has nothing
to do for a good twenty seconds except wait for the chorus to finish. At least
they didn’t cut to the giant rose again.
2:25 - Angela begins the second verse. The camera pans out to reveal her sitting on a flight of stairs. Behind her is a painting of a bull - between that and the roses, I we've all the items that veritably scream, "Carmen!" Perhaps some castanets will appear lying on a table somewhere.
4:01 - The chorus sings the second refrain, and rose petals rain down as she triumphantly finishes the piece.
4:28 - It's baaa-aack!
As with “Song to the Moon,” this video left me wanting more from
the story—most of the video is just a close-up of her face. It’s no coincidence
that the two singers trying out this format are Netrebko and Gheorghiu—they’re
both widely known for being hot. Angela Gheorghiu has a quote on her website from
the New York Sun calling her “the world’s
most glamorous opera star,” and Netrebko has been quoted as saying that her
voice has gotten so big because of “the microphone between my tits.” More than
ever before, sex appeal is a factor in determining which singers hit it
big—it’s no accident Nathan Gunn is always called on to perform shirtless. Not
that I’m complaining. Opera may not have been intended for the close-up, but
Peter Gelb points out with his HD Simulcasts at the Met that it’s the way of
hi-def or the way of the dodo.
Anyway, even if the operatic music video falls a bit short
right now, I think Gheorghiu and Netrebko are on to something—a short-form,
digital medium for opera has really cool possibilities. Granted, my stance is
usually in favor of more opera in all forms, all the time.
In other news, Renee Fleming also makes music videos, for
her other life as a pop star. 
- Audrey Chait, Brown Universit

Topics: Student Posts, General Opera, Videos

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