June 13, 2014

Opera Buff

I had the good fortune to have a private tour of the Opéra-Comique on my last day in Paris and then attend their performance of Charles Lecocq's Ali Baba that night. The whole time I was pinching myself in disbelief: feeling damn lucky to be in the same theatre where Pauline Viardot-García had many of her triumphs. The show was very good, with fine singing by the chorus and soloists: one bass-baritone cleverly staged as a gangster in a raccoon coat and leather pants, naked from the waist up, looking like the fellow on the left. 

I've been in quite a few productions where flesh has been celebrated, though not always from a soloist. One memorable production was Busoni's Doktor Faust where a hunky, well-endowed supernumerary appeared naked in a coffin far downstage, which was clearly appreciated by patrons as evidenced in the inordinate number of opera glasses which glinted in stage light.

If opera-goers have always wanted singers to look as beautiful as they sound (and they have); one wonders if it is possible to have too much of a good thing since revealing everything leaves nothing to the imagination. Of course, this gay man didn't close his eyes when Mr. Six-Pack appeared. However, while not a prude, I was keenly aware that my ears closed for a couple pages after being smothered in eye candy.

All this came to mind when a young baritone with an excellent voice casually mentioned that he wanted to get buff, telling me that he had researched weight training and found a book which advised him to hold his breath. Was that ok? No, it wasn't—and I told him why, having spent time lifting myself.

"Learn to weight train from a good trainer!" I told him. "But keep one thing in mind: you must not hold your breath!"

"Why not?" He asked.

"If you hold your breath, your vocal folds will press together and become hoarse. Have you heard a really built guy like Stallone talk?" He nodded his head. "What does he sound like?"

"Oh... I get it." He said.

"Those Old School teachers didn't let their pupils do anything remotely athletic. In fact, Lamperti forbade his students from rowing boats on Lake Como. It was thought to exhaust the voice. Next time you are at the gym, pay attention to how everyone talks, especially the aerobic fitness trainers, as well as the weight lifters. Now, I'm not telling you that you shouldn't lift, but you have to be smart. No holding your breath! Ever! Or grunting and making noises. If you do lift, you might practice yoga afterwards, since weight training shortens and stiffens the muscles."

Now. Did my student want to weight train to get onstage? No. Methinks he had other fish to catch.

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