Saturday, August 16, 2014

How Important is the Poetry?

There seems to be a recurring issue that arises when I find myself listening to vocal recitals. The more of these recitals I attend, the more aware I seem to be of the texts and the question of whether or not the singer really understands those texts. I may have Lotfi Mansouri to thank for this attitude. I once saw him teach a master class and discovered that he had no tolerance for any opera singer who could not give a word-by-word account of what (s)he was singing. Nevertheless, a recital setting does not have to worry about advancing the narrative; and the truth is that there are a lot of composers out there who seem to think that the words are only there to provide props on which the notes can be hung.

The more I encounter these situations, the more it bothers me. So much often goes into making a poem that it seems reprehensible that the text can be honored for little more than general meaning and perhaps rhythm. I have become particularly sensitive to rhyme schemes and the extent to which they impose their own framework of sonority on a poem. When a composer takes the trouble to recognize it and shape his/her music around it, should not the singer do the same? Sadly, there are to many singers these days who care so much about quality of vocal tone and stage presence that little is left to attend to what they are actually singing.

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