kottke.org posts about opera

Kim Jong Il, authorSep 22 2009

Two books by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il are available at Amazon: Kim Jong Il on the Art of Opera and On the Art of the Cinema. From the preface of the latter:

The cinema is now one of the main objects on which efforts should be concentrated in order to conduct the revolution in art and literature. The cinema occupies an important place in the overall development of art and literature. As such it is a powerful ideological weapon for the revolution and construction. Therefore, concentrating efforts on the cinema, making breakthroughs and following up success in all areas of art and literature is the basic principle that we must adhere to in revolutionizing art and literature.

Here's more information about Dear Leader's cinematic and operatic interests.

On the Art of Opera describes how Kim and his dad, the late Great Leader Kim Il Sung, discovered the husk of a tired art form and gave it a much-needed shot of North Korean communism. Any impartial observer would agree that Kim's aesthetic prescriptions are every bit as crowd-pleasing as his economic policies.

"In conventional operas," Kim writes, "the personalities of the characters were abstract, their acting clumsy, and the flow of the drama tedious, because the singers were forced to sing unnaturally and their acting was neglected." Furthermore, until the arrival of the Kims, "no one interwove dance and story very closely."

And now? "The 'Sea of Blood'-style opera," he observes, "has opened up a new phase in dramaturgy." In case you've been living in a cave, Sea of Blood is North Korea's longest-running production, the Cats of Pyongyang. It has been staged 1,500 times, according to the official Korea News Service, which calls it an "immortal classical masterpiece." Kim claims to have revamped the form by chucking the aria out the window and replacing all solo performance with a cunning Kim innovation: the pangchang, a more satisfying off-stage chorus representing groupthink.

The solution to the soprano problemAug 26 2009

The soprano problem is the mispronunciation of lyrics by sopranos at the high end of their range. In order to make themselves heard in opera houses, sopranos need their voices to resonate, which they only do when making certain sounds.

Jane Eaglen, a critically acclaimed soprano who has performed Wagner's works in opera houses worldwide, explains that sopranos must try to find a balance between power and clarity. "It's really about how you modify the vowels at the top of the voice so that the words are still understandable but so that you are also making the best sound that you can make," she says.

A pair of scientists have found that the meticulous Richard Wagner may have been aware of this problem and wrote the soprano parts in his operas to minimize the mispronunciations.

Did you know that there was aApr 23 2008

Did you know that there was a ban on solo encores at the Metropolitan Opera? Not anymore. After Juan Diego Flórez busted out nine flawless high Cs in a tenor solo, the reaction from the audience compelled the singer into the first solo encore at the Met since 1994.

Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, said on Tuesday that he had asked Mr. Flórez weeks ago whether he would be prepared to repeat the aria, if the audience demanded. Mr. Fl'orez had already done so at other houses, including the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where last year he became the first to violate an encore ban since 1933.

Mr. Flórez agreed to Mr. Gelb's request, and the orchestra and chorus were warned. A system was established. Mr. Gelb kept an open line on the phone in his box to the stage manager. After the explosive reaction he gave the stage manager the go-ahead. The manager activated a podium light for the conductor, Marco Armiliato. Mr. Armiliato held out a questioning two fingers to Mr. Flórez. "He just smiled, and that means 'Yes,' " the conductor said.

Flórez nailed all nine Cs in the encore too. The mp3 of the performance is a thrilling listen.

The opera Tristan and Isolde has hadMar 21 2008

The opera Tristan and Isolde has had more than its fair share of mishaps over the years. The current engagement of the opera at the Met has been through 4 Tristans already.

The latest version of the Opera webApr 18 2005

The latest version of the Opera web browser has been released.

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