Are all opera singers good actors? Sadly, no. Nathalie Desplat. Maria Callas, Renee Flemming, are some notable singers who have been applauded for their acting skills. Interestingly, all three of those sopranos have acted outside the opera stage. Callas played Medea in Pasolini’s film of the same name, and Desplat originally trained as an actor before realizing she also had a voice. The gorgeous Renee Flemming made her Broadway debut just last year, in a non musical, that garnered some lovely reviews for a solid comedic performance of an over the top opera singer.
Certainly there have been musical theatre performers who moved on from opera to theatre. This is the usual scenario for performers who weigh singing AND acting to be of equal import. Harve Presnell, who began as an opera singer, performed in movie musicals, like The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Paint Your Wagon, and found critical acclaim in the third act of his life in dramatic roles; most notably, in the movie Fargo.
Marco Berti and the Burden of Success
This weekend I attended the HD Broadcast of Puccini’s Turandot. This lavish Zefferelli production has been a mainstay in the Met repertoire for almost 30 years. It is unapologetic in its over the top treatment of the last opera Puccini wrote. So grand is this production, that any opera singer would be forgiven for a large, over the top performance. Which is one reason why Marco Berti’s detached, low energy, distracted performance seemed so disturbingly out of place.
Someone must have told Signor Berti he only has to work when he is singing. Why else would he hold the expression of a man looking at a bus schedule when Liu (played gloriously by Anita Hartig) is committing suicide right in front of him?
I was thinking that he was perhaps, saving himself, for the Nessun Dorma that was to come in the final act. If that was the case, he apparently did not save enough. He has this horrible vocal habit of hitting a lower note to bounce up to the high note, not once, not twice, but EACH AND EVERY time he hit a high note. His Nessun Dorma was as disconnected as the rest of his performance, and that prompted the couple sitting next to me to begin swearing. Where is a head of cabbage when you need one?
Hey, it’s a Big Room
Performing on a massive stage, like that of the Metropolitan Opera requires a large performance. Subtlety does not travel beyond the pit in a venue of this size. We tend to forgive opera singers when their gestures are exaggerated, even if the performance journeys into the melodramatic. Since operas are often built upon totally implausible plot lines, the singers are given the difficult task to draw the audience into a world of make believe, while delivering a vocal performance of repertoire that was written for a high level of virtuosity. It ain’t easy.
The HD broadcasts, give opera fans a close up view of the faces of the people on that stage, and THAT is a great opportunity for the audience. We can see the eyes, the hands, the sweat on their brow. We can breathe with them. And while the soloists do the heavy lifting, we also see the faces of the unsung heroes of the opera stage; the chorus.
The Met chorus is a large group of completely committed, hard working, uncompromising, well trained, totally dedicated people, whose names we will never know. When you compare these wonderful people to the snooze fest that was Marco Berti, it does make you stop and think.