Friday, August 19, 2011

Zachary Woolfe Explores "Charisma" in Opera Singers

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most
charismatic of them all?
Maria Callas photographed by Angus McBean.
"Charismatic performers are those whom you simply can’t look away from. Their charisma is an almost physical presence, a spark that powers even the most unassuming musical passage. To experience a charismatic performance is to feel elevated, simultaneously dazed and focused, galvanized and enlarged. It is to surrender to something raw and elemental, to feel happy but also unsatisfied. Charisma calls forth a melancholy, a vaguely unrequited feeling. I’ve caught myself, after certain performances of an aria or a movement, leaning forward, as if drawn against my will. Charisma requires that you acknowledge a new, larger set of possibilities. It is demanding. We are told of Callas’s overwhelming use of her body and voice onstage. As Schonberg added, of that 1965 Tosca, 'the stage presence shown by Callas in her performance would have raised the hackles on a deaf man.' The question is whether people want to be swept up. Charisma can be exhilarating but also frightening. Our surrender to it demands a trust that is not easily conceded. If our desire from performance is only for comfort and reassurance, charisma will repel us. It is about revealing scope, and it raises the stakes dangerously high....Recently I was in the Met Opera Shop, and a video clip came on the screen above the CD racks. The longtime Met soprano Aprile Millo was singing 'La mamma morta,' the ecstatic aria from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, with burning intensity. The sales clerk and I both watched raptly. Later I e-mailed Ms. Millo to ask her what charisma is. 'Hemingway gave us a haunting clue to it,' she replied. 'In his obsession with the Spanish bullfights, he spoke of the lust of the crowd and its desire to feel something special, a raw authenticity, even in so brutal a setting. What he mentions is the hush that would come over the crowd at the entrance of the toreadors. The people could sense the difference between those who did it for the fame, the paycheck, and those who had the old spirit: the nobility, bravery, heart, ‘duende.’ I believe this also happens in the theater. The crowd can sense the one with the authentic message, the connection to the truth.'" [Source]

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