A difference of philosophy

 A reader named Carlos wrote the following which I will reply to point by point:

First, I will post every comment that I feel is presented respectfully. And Carlos indeed makes his point in such a manner.

One of my previous comments was extensively critized by you and yet remains true.
It seems people try justifying their failures and the bankrupt of opera business with the hope of better days and their right to stay in Neverland, dreaming awake. I recall a Spanish philosopher (Ortega y Gasset) opinion on music in 20th century: “Music as an art form is dead”.

Dear Carlos, not only do I criticize your comment but I am diametrically opposed to it. You have a right to your opinion, and an opinion as such is simply that. There is nothing fundamentally true about it. That you believe your comment to be true is as much an opinion as anything else you say here. And my blog is a collection of my opinions as well.  I am not here to convince you since your mind is made up and your purpose seems to be to counter the optimism that I propagate here. Your choice.

You claim you are an amateur who loves singing, but when you support your ideas by quoting that: “Music as an art form is dead,” your motives are at least suspect.

Before all what is happening, the saying “there is always room at the top” sound facecious. I see some people who should have never made it for their own good, psychiatrically speaking.
And even if things were reversable, sincerely, we wouldn’t be alive to see it.
As I told you before, I have known fantastic singers who didn’t ever get the chance some rats have had, including scandinavian singers, who are very well-prepared indeed. By the way, I’m not a frustrated professional singer, one of those who have been dropped. I have always been an amateur with a strong love for singing and music in general and for my other profession, in which I earn life.

Where do I begin? Operatic singing requires so many skills, such that no one in the history of the art form could ever claim to have mastered all aspects of it. Placido Domingo is the most successful singer in the history of the field, yet his technique is far from perfect. Does that make his other skills unworthy? Pavarotti had the best technique among tenors of the last generation, yet he had poor language skills other than Italian and by his own admission he was physically somewhat awkward. Maria Callas, considered the greatest singer who ever sang opera might have given her life to have Tebaldi’s voice.  Those who make it in this field make it because of reasons that are very logical. Sometimes, someone has a great audition on the right day and they get the opportunity even if later their skills prove unable to cope with the rigors of the field.

As an amateur, you chose not to face the tough situations that aspiring professionals do. Do you ever ask yourself why they put themselves through these rigors? They do because they are opera singers. They believe fervently that what they do makes a difference and they will fight to get a chance to do it, and in a world where people like you (comfortable in your lifestyle) find it easy to dismiss them for having the passion to fight on.

As for the singers you think should have the chance, if they did not, there is something they did not do correctly. Having a voice is not enough. Everyone does. Developing that voice to a professional standard is one part of what we do. I know singers with well-developed instruments who win competitions get jobs and then do not go forward because they only make sounds. They bring little understanding of the amazing scores they sing, they have no sense of the poetry they sing and have given no thought to their part in the dramas in which they play. A voice is like a lens to a sun of ideas. For a singer, the voice is the lens that magnifies their thoughts, emotions, philosophies, etc. Without thoughts and emotions and ideas, the lens means little. Before a singer asks why they did not get cast, I always ask them what do you think you can improve. Anyone who has time to complain is hardly asking himself the right question. We can only improve ourselves.

Most importantly, it takes courage to believe that there is a way in. The person who stays on the outside of a difficult situation and says: “It’s hopeless, there is no solution,” has nothing to offer in terms of helping the situation.  To believe there is a way in, one must then be responsible for that opinion. No one is daydreaming. Daydreamers do not act. People who believe in a solution work to make that solution a reality and unless you can find a way to help, you who call yourself a lover (i.e. amateur) of the art form, then leave those of us alone who are trying to do something about the difficulties of our field. To be truly optimistic one needs faith that there is a solution, requires courage to find that solution, and the patience to see it through. It is what “we professionals and aspiring professionals” do every day.

And since you have little idea about what we active professionals and aspiring professionals do, and since you do not have the wherewithal to face the music so to speak, from what authority do you speak? 

That’s why, reading your post, I could not believe you were refering to this guy Kaufmann as a great singer. I heard him live in Germany and he is nothing more than a bureaucrat of singing with a faulty technique. 

I have heard him too, and like many who came before him, he is far from perfect. His vocal technique is imperfect, and I have personally criticized his choice of repertoire. But that aside, he is an inspiring musician who understands the relationship of text and music and how to imbue it with his humanity. I believe he could become a legendary singer if he had better vocal technique and if he chose appropriate repertoire. His imperfections do not make him a dilettante. I am able to criticize what he does wrong and still be able to recognize what aspects of his total package are commendable. You as a side-liner have the luxury of making black and white judgments.  Professionals who understand the complexity of the field must have a nuanced sense of criticism.

There are hundreds of those singers I call “bureaucrats of singing” in those opera companies in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, singing roles they don’t like at all (or have not the voice and preparation to sing) because they have to.
Let’s face it: very few are in position to chose what they are gonna sing. And being not in position to decide what one is going to sing is slavery to me. That’s why I would never even think of an operatic career. And I’m happier this way. I can lead a peaceful life, with financial safety, time to travel and I can really feel free to sing with pleasure. I would never be glad to submit myself to intendants, conductors or the worse type of worm infesting opera world today, stage directors, just because I need to make money.

Your argument is at least hypocritical.  You like your financial safety and all the pleasures it brings you. Is your job absolutely perfect without any downsides? Are there not things about your job that you wish were better? Yet you do it and you revel in it. Why not allow the singers to deal with the negative issues in their own field and allow them their happiness.  No one forces anyone to be a singer. Singers who are inspired to sing chose to do their job with all the negatives that come with it.  I am a strong critic of the excesses and idiocies of opera, but I seek solutions.  I actively do several things every day to better my field. If you love this field than subsidize it in some way instead of vilifying every thing about it.

I understand being optimistic is a comprehensible necessity. Otherwise, half of global population would have comitted suicide. However, ignoring reality and fueling hopes in vain is something I cannot put up with. Let’s put the cards on the table. All of them.
You show knowledge of showbusiness and you must know a handful of singers in desperation. Sometimes too late to turn the course of their lives…

Will anyone tell you how you should lead your life? What seems desperation to some is a worthwhile journey to others.  In my 25 years of teaching I have observed one rule:  I do not tell anyone they cannot.  I simply put all of the obstacles before them that they will face and I let them chose.  As I said before, optimism is not a passive philosophy. To be truly optimistic one must be willing to prove his positive vision.

This weekend I experienced two exciting musical events: 1) an operatic production where many of the singers sang poorly and the stage direction was poorly conceived. In the middle of it all there were too young professionals who sang as well as the very best in the field today.  They are both having carefully managed careers that allow them to grow (so I found out later). Every time they were on stage, the people around me sat up more attentively in their seats. They could tell the difference and they would rather (as I did) to have those two singers sing all night.  Those two singers have managed to put it all together to give breath-taking performances despite the less than ideal situations around them. They are professionals. They inspired an audience to bravos by their skills. They are optimists who made it work in a difficult situation and in the process made the audience feel that their money was not spent in vain. They got the big bravos, the rest were politely applauded. The audience understood.

2) The next day I witnessed an inspired performance of Bruckner’s 4th Symphony conducted by a brilliant young conductor that I had seen before in an equally inspired performance of La Boheme in Cologne. He is consistent. As a conductor myself I recognized how well he new the scores he conducted. There are major conductors at the top of the game who do not do their homework as well as this young conductor does. He conducted a pianist who did not play so well in a Beethoven concerto. With optimism, the conductor used his skills to find a way out of that less than perfect situation.  That is what professionals do. When it came time for the Bruckner, he kept an audience of close to 3000 people spellbound.  They applauded him heartily. Their Sunday afternoon was well-spent. And this was not in a great metropolis but rather in a relatively small town in Germany that boasts an A level opera house and symphony orchestra.

These people left me inspired, Carlos. I feel inspired to go on helping great singers complete their package such that a few years from now they will be even better than the singer you chose to judge so categorically. Despite your fervent belief, the operatic field is not going to die so easily.  There are many of us who are on this journey for life. It was 11:30 pm when I read your comment and I was in my studio practicing to make myself better. We believe that the arts feed the human soul and that our work, while it may not always make us rich in money, fills our spirits in ways that you obviously have not considered.  We know the challenges we face and we are engaged in meeting them. We plan to build Carlos, and if you want to help then grab a shovel and get to work. Otherwise, do us the favor of not distracting us with your side-line pessimism.

Respectfully disagreeing with your premise,

Jean-Ronald Lafond,
 Singer for over 30 years, teacher for over 20 years, experienced professional singer and actor, stage director and conductor, who speaks 6 languages well,

BUT who (like all the real professionals he knows) asks himself every day: “What can I do better today?”