Saturday, December 10, 2005

Attention

Though I began this blog by calling opera exemplary, few people actually wish to live -- or, perhaps more to the point, die -- like their favorite operatic hero(ine). Even among singers. Though it's a change from norms set back when life expectancy was around 30, the training and hiring system today more than ever tries to protect singers, bringing them along slowly into (ideally) a long career -- one which might start at an age by which a performer of yore could already have blown out his voice.

(Some have wondered if this has inhibited the tragic vein in modern well-trained singers. That seems to me to confuse cause and effect: we live longer, and take steps based on living longer, because we have -- collectively -- largely adopted a less tragic approach to life. Besides making us rich and healthy, this choice has colored other things, moving the norm from which an individual -- performer or no -- is likely to start.)

But no system can -- or would wish to -- hide the fact that the stage is an essentially dangerous, precarious place. Like a prophet or tyrant of old, the performer is the focus of mass attention, and is in turn subject to its often-resentful whims. (One remembers how many of those prophets and tyrants ended.) This is the raw dramatic energy of opera performance: tragedy channels it into awful terrors for the characters, comedy into laughter at their folly. So each night these fictional constructs pay for their performers' prominence, freeing us in the audience to marvel at the athletic, mimetic, and other skills well-displayed. But if something goes wrong... And even when it doesn't, surely some must wonder if the substitution's something that can be carried off indefinitely, or if the real person will eventually have to pay...

Some performers live tragic lives, others are clowns (amusing or detestable), and very many live straightforwardly while off the job. Most, I think, prefer the latter -- as would most of us. (Others take part in celebrity, that satyr play-cum-romance that's the essence of popular culture, but that's tricky -- and not an aspect that shows much while in the high-cultural repertory of staged opera. For TV and concerts and miscellaneous appearances, yes.)

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Blogging, too, is perilous -- hardly as much, but in much the same way, though many further deflect attention with a pseudonym. And while most don't necessarily read blogs for the dramatic one-before-many aspect, it is there, even sans applause, booing, or even fan/hate mail.

If one has even blogged himself towards death (though he's still around at the moment), that shows an outer limit to dedication -- and its possible cost. It, too, lets in that damned demanding, troublesome thing: the public eye.

So when a favorite blogger -- only thinly pseudonymous and, at the same time, a nearly-famous soprano -- goes on hiatus feeling "overexposed", shouldn't all bloggers sympathize? Even if their attention fed the performer-side aspect of the condition in the first place, and even if writing about it may feed it all even more.

(Another soprano offers her thoughts on blogging here.)

5 comments:

  1. Yes, those two particular singer bloggers going through the intense self-questioning process ("Why am I doing this? Is this detrimental to my career???") have echoed and intensified my own self-questioning process. Blogging is indeed a dangerous game, and I've been *seriously* considering performing (when that comes up and it will soon) under my maiden name, in self defense.

    No results yet in my head, not any that are ready for prime time anyway, but thanks for bringing it up.

    You've made some other very excellent points in your post! I could be seen as someone who may "start" a singing career about the time others used to consider stepping down. Extended life span, improved health, alternative medicine, modern travel & modes of communication may make this possible, plausible even.

    As for the stage, once you've been bitten by the stage bug, once you've got theatre in your veins, well, there's no turning back, no matter what your age ... It's just a matter of finding the proper venue.

    I will be adding your blog to my blogroll asap. Don't know why I didn't before - you've really got something good going here!

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  2. "At the moment" should possibly read "for the moment" for who knows how long it will last.

    Also, does this not also apply to other interactive net-based phenomina, like chat rooms and message boards? They have a life cycle where they start out being a fun, amusing, hobby, and then turn into something too much like work, or too much like high school.

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  3. Very well said, AUV. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

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  4. This is indeed a very thought provoking and well-written post. Canadienne is living what she must, and ACB seems to be uninjured this far. Only time will tell what will become of any of us brave enough to say what we think in a medium where nothing really goes away ever.

    It's certainly a trial and an execricese in humanity and bravery. I'm on board, though I am trying to balance my very outspoken opinions with reality.

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  5. As a singer who only recently stepped into the world of non-anonymous blogging, this is a scary post to read. It's true that in other industries, there are many cases of lost jobs due to blogging. It's even entering standard contracts in some industries.

    I hope that this nightmare doesn't come true in our industry. We have already had so many wonderful singers become outspoken, or famous a$$holes, and survive, in the days before the internet. Perhaps outspoken bloggers will follow the same path. Wasn't it Talvela who suspended a conductor over the orchestra pit until he changed is musical decision? Wasn't Callas a famous jerk backstage? (actually, my memory about these anecdotes is TERRIBLE. I think I'm wrong about Talvela in particular, but the point remains) Many Wagnerian singers after the second world war had resumes that cited the Nazi party, and despite public outcry, these singers became favorites.

    Of course, the industry is a lot less forgiving now than it used to be. All we can do as bloggers, is to filter our commentary through propriety, and hope.

    A good post, with good comments. Thanks.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.