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Thread: Handel on DVD and Blu-ray

  1. #16
    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    "De Niese is maybe not the best singer in the world, but she's nonetheless good in my opinion, and as a 'performer' she's great. It helps that she looks great"

    --------------

    I agree with you, and actually had an argument recently in which I was defending exactly this concept, that being a good performer and looking great has value as well, that voice alone can't be the only criterion to define an operatic singer these days. I even added another aspect: having a nice personality. To defend what I was saying one of the examples I quoted was this Glyndebourne performance of Giulio Cesare. I said - De Niese doesn't have the best voice in the world for the role, but she surely looks convincing as Cleopatra, who was supposed to be the most beautiful and sexiest woman of her time, so, Glyndebourne went with Danielle instead of with a 300-pound soprano with a better voice, and I fully support their choice. Especially because Danielle doesn't do anything offensive to the ear either, she just lacks power, but her voice like I said is nice enough, and she can act, and can dance, and looks fabulous doing both, what is not to like?

    Another example that I quoted is Kathleen Battle who has a beautiful, crystaline, delicate and agile voice, looks good, and is a decent actress, but apparently is so personality disordered that people won't work with her and she was not only kicked out of the Met but never found other contracts after that episode, therefore, so much for voice being the only criterion to ensure a singer's career. What good did her gorgeous voice did to her once nobody wanted to sign contracts with her any longer?

    And finaly, my preferred argument regards the much maligned Anna Netrebko who is said to have a number of vocal defects including poor articulation, heavy accent, poor control of her breathing and of the musical line, with questionable musicality and lack of agility (although I wouldn't be as harsh as her critics), but she looks fabulous, can act, is friendly and uncomplicated to work with, and has a beautiful timbre of voice, so I find her success perfectly legitimate and justified, and I'm a big fan of hers.

    Of course, when you get the whole package like Renee Fleming who still looks good, and Miah Persson who looks good period, and they both can act, have nice personalities, AND are capable of great singing, you get a winner, but the reality is that not everybody can accummulate all these qualities in one package, and with the vast number of opera companies in the world, people need singers, and those like Danielle and Anna who fulfill at least three out of these four characteristics are in high demand.

    Angela Gheorghiu is another almost complete package, but not quite. She *can* look great but sometimes doesn't. She *can* act but sometimes is a little cold. She *can* be professional but sometimes picks tantrums. Her voice on the other hand is flawless, so people put up with the occasional hiccups. But my point is, they wouldn't, if only the voice was good and everything else started to fall apart. Not anymore. Opera these days is big business and a particular threatened kind of business during this economic crisis, so the people who worry about the bottom lines of the companies are a lot less likely to take abuse from singers and risk losing millions, and they want people who will fill the house seats. Looks and acting, then, are becoming increasingly more important.

    Another factor is that before, a few would attend a given performance, and then it would be perpetuated by audio recordings, so, top singers were of the variety "plant your two feet on the ground and sing" and their looks mattered a lot less. These days, however, there is YouTube, DVD, and unforgiving blu-ray high definition, and then looks got a big jump in importance.

    This is not to say that greats like Montserrat Caballe who didn't look good at all wouldn't be successful even in this blu-ray HD era, because they had a certain dose of dignity and impressive presence combined with celestial voice, that tended to enrapture the audience and make everybody forget about their looks. But the sad reality is that these days we haven't been finding too many Montserrat Caballes... So, the pretty sexy women get their place under the spotlight.

    Here, look at these extraordinarily attractive women in a recent performance of Cosi fan Tutte:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzmNqbFDikU

    "It's not over until the fat lady sings..." Well, maybe it *is* over, at least for the fat lady herself, poor thing...
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #17
    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    "De Niese is maybe not the best singer in the world, but she's nonetheless good in my opinion, and as a 'performer' she's great. It helps that she looks great"

    --------------

    I agree with you, and actually had an argument recently in which I was defending exactly this concept, that being a good performer and looking great has value as well, that voice alone can't be the only criterion to define an operatic singer these days. I even added another aspect: having a nice personality. To defend what I was saying one of the examples I quoted was this Glyndebourne performance of Giulio Cesare. I said - De Niese doesn't have the best voice in the world for the role, but she surely looks convincing as Cleopatra, who was supposed to be the most beautiful and sexiest woman of her time, so, Glyndebourne went with Danielle instead of with a 300-pound soprano with a better voice, and I fully support their choice. Especially because Danielle doesn't do anything offensive to the ear either, she just lacks power, but her voice like I said is nice enough, and she can act, and can dance, and looks fabulous doing both, what is not to like?

    Another example that I quoted is Kathleen Battle who has a beautiful, crystaline, delicate and agile voice, looks good, and is a decent actress, but apparently is so personality disordered that people won't work with her and she was not only kicked out of the Met but never found other contracts after that episode, therefore, so much for voice being the only criterion to ensure a singer's career. What good did her gorgeous voice did to her once nobody wanted to sign contracts with her any longer?

    And finaly, my preferred argument regards the much maligned Anna Netrebko who is said to have a number of vocal defects including poor articulation, heavy accent, poor control of her breathing and of the musical line, with questionable musicality and lack of agility (although I wouldn't be as harsh as her critics), but she looks fabulous, can act, is friendly and uncomplicated to work with, and has a beautiful timbre of voice, so I find her success perfectly legitimate and justified, and I'm a big fan of hers.

    Of course, when you get the whole package like Renee Fleming who still looks good, and Miah Persson who looks good period, and they both can act, have nice personalities, AND are capable of great singing, you get a winner, but the reality is that not everybody can accummulate all these qualities in one package, and with the vast number of opera companies in the world, people need singers, and those like Danielle and Anna who fulfill at least three out of these four characteristics are in high demand.

    Angela Gheorghiu is another almost complete package, but not quite. She *can* look great but sometimes doesn't. She *can* act but sometimes is a little cold. She *can* be professional but sometimes picks tantrums. Her voice on the other hand is flawless, so people put up with the occasional hiccups. But my point is, they wouldn't, if only the voice was good and everything else started to fall apart. Not anymore. Opera these days is big business and a particular threatened kind of business during this economic crisis, so the people who worry about the bottom lines of the companies are a lot less likely to take abuse from singers and risk losing millions, and they want people who will fill the house seats. Looks and acting, then, are becoming increasingly more important.

    Another factor is that before, a few would attend a given performance, and then it would be perpetuated by audio recordings, so, top singers were of the variety "plant your two feet on the ground and sing" and their looks mattered a lot less. These days, however, there is YouTube, DVD, and unforgiving blu-ray high definition, and then looks got a big jump in importance.

    This is not to say that greats like Montserrat Caballe who didn't look good at all wouldn't be successful even in this blu-ray HD era, because they had a certain dose of dignity and impressive presence combined with celestial voice, that tended to enrapture the audience and make everybody forget about their looks. But the sad reality is that these days we haven't been finding too many Montserrat Caballes... So, the pretty sexy women get their place under the spotlight.

    Here, look at these extraordinarily attractive women in a recent performance of Cosi fan Tutte:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzmNqbFDikU

    "It's not over until the fat lady sings..." Well, maybe it *is* over, at least for the fat lady herself, poor thing...
    Yes, I can agree with those comments. I'd just like to add that all comments about any of these singers having a poor voice have to be taken with a giant grain of salt - let's say a boulder of salt. It's possible that some lesser known singer might have as good or better voices than some of the stars, but if they really had a poor voice they would never have made it in the highly competitive world of opera where countles women are eager to replace Netrebko or de Niese, and most of them probably aren't Montserrat Caballe look-alikes either. So, you may look like Miss Universe, but if you aren't up to par vocally you'll never reach the top.

    As for Netrebko and her 'poor articulation' and heavy accent, let's not forget that she's Russian. I wonder how the accent or articulation of the Russian language is of western singers who sing in Tchaikovsky's or Prokofiev's operas - often worse than Anna's Italian or German I bet. As for that other stuff they say about her - well, let's just say that I'm not a specialist but just a fan. And I'm happy to be so because it means that unlike the critics I don't need to desperately find something about her to dislike but can just enjoy the things that make her good.

    One little comment about de Niese - she may not have a powerful voice, but in the baroque operas that are her forté that's less of a handicap because she hasn't got to compete with a giant modern orchestra.
    Last edited by jhar26; Aug-31-2010 at 21:18.
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

  3. #18
    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Excellent point about De Niese and the small period bands in baroque music. She is smart in picking the right repertoire that fits her voice. Like Renee Fleming, who will never do something that doesn't match her voice or could harm it - that's why she is still singing at quite a high level for her age.

    You don't need to defend Anna Netrebko to *me* - like I said I'm a big fan. I'm very excited with the fact that in late October I'll be seeing her in person at the Met, in Don Pasquale. Can't wait!

    Yes, the Russian accent - I've listened to her singing a couple of Slavic language arias and she sounds nicer than in French or Italian. But still, most top singers manage to reduce accent with intensive training, and Anna's, although lessened as compared to the beginning of her career, is still quite heavy - which, like I said, doesn't stop me from loving her. And I can see some of the problems her critics indicate, although I'm no expert either. But I can also see some outstanding singing that she is capable to produce. She is a bit of a hit and miss, and one of the reasons may be that she doesn't pick her repertoire entirely appropriately - she is definitely not a top coloratura soprano, and when she does Bel Canto, the results can be weird. But given everything that I just said above, I'd still prefer to see her doing Bel Canto and acting and looking great, rather than someone else with more agile coloratura who can't act and looks unconvincing for the role.

    And yes, you are right about the competitive nature of the business, and the fact that even great looking good actresses like Anna need to *also* sing if they want to get to the top.

    Then, I believe that the massive amount of criticism she is a victim of is explained by two things.

    1. Her glamour goes beyond the opera world - she is the only current singer who can see her face on the cover of Vogue - therefore she becomes the *face* of opera, which multiplies the exposure and makes many people very jealous, and prone to picking on her *because* she is so beautiful and popular - remember, snobbery and elitism are still rampant in the opera world. In addition to this, the snobs will frown upon (but not say it because it is not politically correct) her humble and unsophisticated origin. I've seen snobs calling her "that peasant girl from Russia."

    2. By being so prominent, she invites comparison with the greatest of the past. While she can perfectly withstand comparisons to people of her own generation (not the ultimate top singer, but not so bad either, and there aren't too many who can sing better and are still very active), she most definitely *can not* withstand comparison to some of the good oldies. But this is unfair to Anna. Nobody these days can withstand comparison to the outstanding divas of the past, for the simple fact that the environment has changed; opera is not anymore the main form of entertainment in society (that would be the movies, sports, and pop music), and the sheer pool of talent and opportunities to train got much more scattered than before. Talented singers these days are more likely to try and make a quick buck in pop music without much training required, rather than take on the years of hard work necessary to become an operatic singer. And paradoxically, for those who have the vocation, training is all scattered around the world in hundreds of universities and conservatoires that can't afford the kind of concentrated talent that was found in the headquarters of the great operatic empires of the past. So, for a generation to produce the kind of talent that was relatively routine in the past, it takes some big time luck, vocation, and opportunity, like being at the right place on the right time and not being derailed by all sorts of other influences. So, that we still *have* someone like Anna who had limited formal training for a while and was a cleaning girl at the Mariinsky theater, is already extraordinary.

    Of course, there are people like Elina Garanca who were raised by musician parents and were exposed to lyric art from age 2. But there are less and less of those since it's been harder and harder to earn a living as a family of musicians.

    So, I agree with you, let's leave Anna's flaws alone and just enjoy her assets, which are numerous.
    Last edited by Almaviva; Aug-31-2010 at 22:02.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  4. #19
    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post

    You don't need to defend Anna Netrebko to *me* - like I said I'm a big fan.
    I know. But sometimes I feel the need to speak up for her because some critics I feel are prejudiced towards her for the reasons you mentionned in your post. They accentuate the negative while they choose to ignore the positive. And of course she isn't 'perfect', but vey few singers (or artists in general) are perfect. But we shouldn't exaggerate either because I've also read many super positive reviews about her work also.

    So, I agree with you, let's leave Anna's flaws alone and just enjoy her assets, which are numerous.
    Exactly.
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

  5. #20
    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    By being so prominent, she invites comparison with the greatest of the past. While she can perfectly withstand comparisons with people of her own generation (not the ultimate top singer, but so bad either, and there aren't too many who can sing better and are still very active), she most definitely *can not* withstand comparison with some of the good oldies. But this is unfair to Anna.
    Just like to add.....

    Yes, I'm also bored with people always arguing that Rosa Ponselle or Maria Jeritza (or anyone else) were better than whoever is around today. First of all, I agree that this is very unfair. No matter what you do, there's always bound to be someone who's done it better. Who knows? If there would be recordings of 19th century singers critics in the 1920's might have argued that Guiditta Pasta was a better Norma than Ponselle.....So what?

    And secondly, what they often conveniently choose to ignore is that from a purely vocal perspective the past greats may have been better, but as artists who combine singing with acting todays opera stars are probably superior. Today's audiences/critics/stage directors don't tolerate singers who stand in one spot and just sing (oratorios in costume as it were) anymore. To be considered a great opera artist today requires more than just the ability to sing great. So compared to the past we've lost something, but we've also gained something and it's great that we have the opportunity to enjoy both the past greats by way of their recordings and the greats of today. Both deserve our respect and admiration without all those never ending discussions about who did what best in my opinion.
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

  6. #21
    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jhar26 View Post
    Today's audiences/critics/stage directors don't tolerate singers who stand in one spot and just sing (oratorios in costume as it were) anymore. To be considered a great opera artist today requires more than just the ability to sing great. So compared to the past we've lost something, but we've also gained something and it's great that we have the opportunity to enjoy both the past greats by way of their recordings and the greats of today. Both deserve our respect and admiration without all those never ending discussions about who did what best in my opinion.
    Couldn't have said it better!
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Watching this now:



    I like it so far. The modern costumes (or rather, vintage fascist-era costumes) and black lipstick are not bothering me as much as they have bothered others here. Antonacci is a very attractive woman and I relish any opportunity to see her. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is excellent as usual. I like most Glyndebourne productions, I think they have good taste, even when they do a bit of regietheatre. This production has good singers and a good orchestra in good conducting hands, Handel's music is beautiful, what's not to like? There's not much to gain with the updating of the setting, but there's not much to lose either. The essential elements: good singing (especially by Scholl, a show stopper!), decent acting by singers who look the part, good orchestra, good conductor - are still there.

    Case in point, this gorgeous duet with beautiful Antonacci and exquisite contralto Scholl:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_631iPcGo0
    Last edited by Almaviva; Oct-10-2010 at 20:03.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  8. #23
    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    I saw this one today. The production is set in Handel's time with a bit of the Roman empire as part of the mix. Strange combination, but nothing that takes away from the fun. Not a bad production really, but nothing special either. As for the singers - all the male characters are without exception disappointing. The Ottone (Claudio Nicolai) sounds very wobbly, the Narcisso (Eberhard Katz) is nothing short of embarrasing and the clownesque and overweight Gunter von Kannen would be more suitably cast in a biographical movie about Oliver Hardy than as the Emperor of Rome. Nerone (David Kuebler) looks and sounds a bit better, but only in comparison to the rest of his male colleagues. On the other hand, the two ladies - Barbara Daniels as Agrippina and Janice Hall as Poppea do a good job. Janice Hall is close to ideal in fact, but ithat's not enough to make this DVD worthy of a recommendation. A pity really because it's a very good opera. Handel deserves better than this.
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

  9. #24
    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Here, I've just watched this monument to Eurotrash and the worst kind of Regietheater:



    Strangely enough, if you try to forget that you're watching Ariodante, it even works. The staging has some striking moments, and can even be somewhat erotic.

    But when you think that this is Ariodante, one of the most beautiful and romantic Handel arias, then you realize that this production is a complete disaster.

    First of all, they had the bad taste of translating the libretto from Italian into English. Bad move!
    Second, the cast has several instances of people not looking the part, less than enthusiastic acting, weird facial expressions that don't match the moment or the emotions portrayed by Handel, and very variable singing.

    Anyway, this is such a good opera that they weren't able to totally ruin it, but they tried really hard.

    I think I'm for the death penalty for "smart" stage directors. They ought to be shot.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    I think I'm for the death penalty for "smart" stage directors. They ought to be shot.
    I agree. Or at least they should be forced to furnish their homes with their sets. Maybe that will cure them, if they have to look at vending machines, business suits, automatic weapons and the like all day long.

  11. #26
    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Here, I've just watched this monument to Eurotrash and the worst kind of Regietheater:



    Strangely enough, if you try to forget that you're watching Ariodante, it even works. The staging has some striking moments, and can even be somewhat erotic.

    But when you think that this is Ariodante, one of the most beautiful and romantic Handel arias, then you realize that this production is a complete disaster.
    Oh dear. After the disastrous bore that is the version with Ann Hallenburg in it (a very colourful spectacle, as long as you don't mind grey, grey and grey, and very exciting, in the same way as watching paint dry is exciting), I'd had some hopes that the Ann Murray one might be better. Drat. Looks like there is no decent Ariodante out there on DVD then.

  12. #27
    Member Geronimo's Avatar
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    This forum was quite enthusiastic about this dvd, so I gave it a try. And I really enjoyed it. Very entertaining, good acting and singing, wonderful setting. And the music was great too. Thanks for recommending it!

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    Default Handel on DVD and Blu-ray

    Does anyone have an opinion on this:



    This is part of my quest for an acceptable (= traditional) Handel DVD. Judging from what I can see on youtube, this is probably not traditional in the traditional sense of the word (distracting dancers), but at least the staging seems to respect to some extent the atmosphere and setting of the piece.

    While this doesn't seem to be one of Handel's major works (Handel experts?), what I could hear of the music seemed quite delightful.

  14. #29
    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    I own this version and have enjoyed it quite a lot, Gualtier. I don't know if this is a good sign for you since our tastes diverge so dramatically. But I don't think this one would offend you in terms of any Eurotrash stuff, and the music and ballet were quite good. See, I usually don't like ballet in opera because you get some second string dancers, but this one had the participation of a bona fide ballet company, and I thought that everything was rather perfect.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    I own this version and have enjoyed it quite a lot, Gualtier. I don't know if this is a good sign for you since our tastes diverge so dramatically. But I don't think this one would offend you in terms of any Eurotrash stuff, and the music and ballet were quite good. See, I usually don't like ballet in opera because you get some second string dancers, but this one had the participation of a bona fide ballet company, and I thought that everything was rather perfect.
    Thanks, so this sounds good so far. I actually don't think we have incompatible tastes, on the contrary, we complement each other almost perfectly: You have a high tolerance for updated, non-traditional productions, and I'm not picky about singers and orchestras (not really because I don't want to but because of lack of expertise). So among the two of us, we like basically everything (except poorly sung ET).

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