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Classical Notes: October 12, 2006 Archive

Is it over for the fat lady?

Posted at 1:45 PM on October 12, 2006 by Don Lee (2 Comments)

It could, just could, be a watershed moment for classical music concerts. The much-respected presenter Cal Performances has installed amplified sound in its main venue, Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Critic Richard Scheinin offers his early impressions in The San Jose Mercury-News and nicely summarizes the implications.

Here’s one of them:

If this is the wave of the future, it obviously will have an impact on performance technique. If I'm not mistaken, Broadway singers don't quite belt the way they used to; they've learned to rely on and work with amplification. It makes for a different type of singing, I'm sure with its own subtleties, though certain aspects of the art have changed, perhaps been cheapened, and without question been lost.

If amplification takes over, one loss would be the voice that can fill a 4,000-seat opera house. Many opera fans would mourn the obsolescence of these rare, noble instruments. For others, though, such voices have been nothing but obstacles to enjoying opera. Thanks to microphones, most music listeners are accustomed to a more intimate, and arguably more natural, style of vocal production. For them, the big voice is simply too much.

If the Met were amplified and the singers adjusted for it, would more pop fans give opera a try? I think they would. But I can’t figure out who would sing Brunnhilde.

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