Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lessons for Madras Music Academy from Metropolitan Opera

A wonderful article in WSJ, that appeared recently, was on how NY Metropolitan Opera hunts the globe for talent and finds it in places like China. The latest rising star is Shenyang, a rare find according to superstar soprano Renée Fleming . Shenyang is what they call a bass-baritone, a very rare blend of vocal qualities.

The article quotes Edith Bers, chairwoman of the vocal department at Juilliard, the reputed school in NY, as saying "Chinese singers need to learn to form their vowels and consonants differently. Mandarin is formed at the back of the mouth, unlike Romance languages which are produced closer to the front".

His training is rigorous, the article said, "he rehearsed pieces by Carl Loewe and Hugo Wolf, a German diction coach reminded him to hit his H's. Another coach, Vlad Iftinca, suggested changes in mood".

If one looks at the whole picture one is impressed by the professionalism that forms the bedrock of Met Opera. One wonders if that professionalism is a by-product or the root of a western mind. Just look at the thirst to hunt for talent across the globe, to sift through multitudes to find one rare voice and having found it then go on to encourage it, sharpen it, refine it etc. Nothing is too trivial, not even the diction. No excuses for a Chinese immigrant to mispronounce a German accent, that too performed in NY for Americans.

My thoughts hearken back to Music Academy, that self styled custodian of carnatic music. While it makes feeble attempts to modernise to stay relevant the parochialism is striking. More so the crass absolute lack of professionalism. The worst insult is to hear ANY carnatic singer sing Tamil songs, the crumbs they tend to throw to keep the lumpen Tamil chauvinists at bay. Usually its a Bharathiar song and without fail it would be sung with a Sanksrit accent with the worst note reserved for pronouncing "sa" as "sha", so "senthamizh naadu" becomes "shenthamizh naadu". Again one wonders if the cavalier attitude is a by product or the root.

1 comment:

cmfan said...

I have attended many an opera performance at the Met. The Music Academy management cannot hold a candle to their professionalism and sheer drive. The powers-that-be at the Academy are a motley collection of individuals, none of whom are professionals from the music industry. Their commitees are populated by members whose sole interested is in promoting their stufdents or favoured performers. Larger issues like the health of Carnatic Music etc. are of no importance. Singers who cannot hold a note to save their life will feature in Academy concerts as long as they have backing. Carnatic music today is not taken up by any sane individual as a profession. It has been relegated to the status of a hobby for amateurs and bored housewives.