Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A History of Breaking Down the Fourth Wall on the Opera Stage

It is hard to forget that you are watching Anna Netrebko as
Anna Bolena whether she smiles or not. (Photo: Ken Howard/MET)
"The soprano Anna Netrebko was singing the fiendishly difficult title role in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. The final scene began with her achingly beautiful rendition of the aria 'Al dolce guidami,' its final note slowly diminishing to nothing. The audience erupted in cheers that went on far longer than is usual at the Met these days. Ms. Netrebko, who had ended the aria gazing upward, suddenly gave a wide smile, driving the audience to even greater applause. The critics were not amused....That was what was so moving about Ms. Netrebko’s smile. The illusion shared by an operatic audience is strengthened, not weakened, by its occasional collapse. Opera is drama, yes—thanks to people like Callas, those values were restored. But it is also sheer performance, a quality that is allowed to subvert that drama from time to time. To be serious, opera has to be fun....As it happens, Ms. Netrebko was in the house. At intermission The Observer went over and asked her what had happened at the end of 'Al dolce guidami.' 'Well, I don’t know, it was just a smile to the conductor,' she said. 'It was kind of like, ‘O.K., we did it. It was good. The audience is applauding.’ It’s a beautiful moment to stay on the stage of the Met and receive all this applause, you know? It’s really a great moment. I think if it’s done just a little bit, without going too far, it’s O.K.'” [Source]

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