Lots to say about Idomeneo, but not possible yet.
I've just read a story on musicalamerica.com by Scott Cantrell, the music critic from the Dallas Star who about a week ago wrote a scathing review on the Met's new Attila. A few days after, a comment was posted online that came from one of the cast members of the opera, none other than Sam Ramey, who made a cameo appearance as Pope Leo, basically blaming the stage direction (or lack of) for the production's inadequacies. I did not see the production, but I can say that there have been may times in my career when I wanted to make that very comment to a reviewer. Now there seems to be a controversy brewing as to whether or not a singer should be allowed to speak out and voice his or her opinion (especially before the completion of the run of performances has finished) about the production team or conductor. I'm not sure that it is a good idea or not. But, I do think it is time for singers to have equal footing when it comes to having a say about what goes onstage. We have more and more become little more than puppets that are basically forced to "do as we are told" when it comes to costuming, stage direction, tempi (too slow or too fast), vocal production, etc. Then when the critiques come out, we are many times blamed for things that are completely beyond our control.
How could any of this be "beyond our control," you say? Here's why.
When I arrive for a rehearsal period, I have no idea what the stage director, costumer or conductor have in mind. It is only during that 3 to 6 week period that these ideas are "revealed". At that point, it is too late for you to say "no" to the contract, especially if you want to get paid! We get paid to sing and not to rehearse. (Yes, there are theatres who pay for rehearsals, but they are very few and a rehearsal fee or per diem normally just pays for the expenses you may incur while living in the city you're in.) So, unless you are raking in money from other sources, you don't walk out of a contract. You have already signed on to sing the role and as per the contract have agreed to abide by the management's conditions. Hopefully, one is able to collaborate with both stage director and conductor and I must say that more often than not, that is the case. There have been very few instances in my career that I have been totally at odds with a stage director or conductor, so I have been very fortunate in that regard.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is, if we have no say in how the production looks, please don't blame us. We literally are just "the messengers". I have made it a point in my career that even if I don't agree with a stage director on his or her concept, I will do everything in my power to "sell it" and I know that most of my colleagues do the same. And during the run of that show, I will defend that concept as best I can.
So here's my wish for all critics: Please don't forget about what the art form is and hopefully will continue to be. Opera should be first and foremost about singing. So if and when there is a production you don't care for, please try and judge us fairly without going too much into the production's drawbacks. We would also be extremely grateful if you could try and give us as much copy as the production. Too often the singers become just a footnote of a review. Wouldn't it be nice to put us back at the forefront where we belong?
More on Idomeneo on Monday.