Living Opera

Article excerpt

Joshua Jampol, Living Opera. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Cloth, x, 330 pp., $27.95. ISBN 978-0-19-538138-2 www.oup.com

In this collection of interviews, Joshua Jampol discusses a life in opera with some of its greatest living exponents. Twenty notable figures in the field-eleven singers (including Placido Domingo and Renée Fleming); six conductors (Pierre Boulez and Seiji Ozawa among them); stage directors Patrice Chereau and Robert Carsen; and Kasper Bech Holten, head of the Royal Opera in Copenhagen-share their opinions and experiences. Jampol sets the stage for each exchange, but adds no other commentary to the transcripts. He is an organized and attentive interviewer who does not fall into the trap of asking each person the same list of questions, thereby avoiding, as he puts it, "interchangeable answers and no voices."

The interviewees divulge myriad opinions on topics from acoustics to zarzuela, but all discussion is centered on opera. Director Robert Carsen characterizes it as the most ambitious of art forms because it combines all of them. Holten, however, states it is not really an art form, but rather the world's oldest multimedia. Conductors Pierre Boulez and James Conlon eschew the term "specialist," whereas William Christie-who leads the Baroque orchestra Les Arts Florissants-prefers that term to "authentic." More than one interviewee takes aim at stage directors. Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto baldly states they are the problem for the future of opera, while soprano Waltrud Meier bemoans that directors are not consistently on a high artistic level. Subjects range from a minilesson on singing technique from Renée Fleming to a discussion of vocal health with Natalie Dessay. Placido Domingo reveals that he writes down every performance he has done (225 performances of Otello at the time of the conversation, including three performances as Cassio), while Simon Keenlyside breezily states he does not give a fig for superstitions in the theater. …

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