Is the Golden Age of the voice coming to an end as the barihunks and high-fashion divas take over?

I’ve been asked on a number of occasions if the current tendency to accentuate the visual aspects of opera signals the “end of the Golden Age of the voice”.

I think the short answer is yes.

It’s now abundantly clear that opera singers are cast not simply because their voices are best qualified for the role in question, but also because of their “looks” – even if this means that the most vocally qualified candidate for a role may be passed over.

Certainly there has been much made of this issue in the Australian press, with many column inches generated by the artistic director of Opera Australia. There is some merit in what Lyndon Terracini has had to say, and I agree with much of it. There are, however, many points of contention.

In what I think was his most ill-conceived utterance, Mr Terracini argued that we should look to Hollywood as the ultimate example of, as he put it, “people who look exactly right for that role… consummate actors… completely involved in what they’re doing, so their performance is totally believable.”

Of course, the performers Mr Terracini was referring to are paid millions of dollars per project, and have personal trainers, chefs, hairdressers and make-up artists, stylists and PR professionals at their beck and call. Moreover, their performances are recorded or amplified with a series of microphones (always conveniently out of shot), lit from three feet away and redone as many times as necessary until they’re perfect. These performances also spend months in the editing room undergoing digital enhancement and post-production before they’re played before the public. 

The meritocracy of opera must begin and end with the vocal. Therein lies the art, the raison d’être, the Alpha and Omega.

Read Stuart Skelton’s complete article in the July issue of Limelight, on sale now.