Sunday, December 14, 2008

Now Just Wait a Minute

Anthony Tommasini has a feature in today's Times about prompting and the tenor Peter Seiffert's use of an earpiece to which his own prompters sends prompts electronically. Overall, the article makes a mountain out of a molehill, but Tommasini does a lousy job of supporting his crashing final conclusion:
The basic issue with this performance of "Tristan und Isolde" was pretty elementary: Mr. Seiffert, it seemed, did not know the role well enough to sing it. Neither an old-fashioned prompter nor a newfangled earpiece can compensate for that."
Tommasini musters essentially no evidence in support of this conclusion, expressed in the closing sentences of the story. He writes endlessly about the role of assistant conductors (he must surely know that they're responsible for quite a lot of musical preparation with soloists, as well as sitting in the prompter's box), about the earpiece, about prompting at other theaters, and about what a solo vocal recital would be like if the singer had a prompter. He says that Seiffert looked at the prompter's box a lot anyway and said this in his review of Tristan as well. Nowhere does he say that Seiffert got lost or sang incorrect phrases or trampled the soprano or...well, he offers no direct evidence that Seiffert was insufficiently prepared, only the indirect evidence of the tenor's reliance on his own prompter and the earpiece. 

Tommasini also underemphasizes or doesn't even address some of the circumstances of this Tristan revival. 
  • He doesn't say how much rehearsal time was allotted; this was the fourth go-round of the production since 1999, and Met revivals don't always get a lot of stage time. 
  • The cast was largely new, as well, which presumably complicated the rehearsal period. 
  • Seiffert has been ill or on the verge of it since the start of the run. Goodness knows, I get foggy-headed when I have a cold. I have never had to sing a Wagnerian role in that condition, for which I'm thankful. I can't guarantee I'd sing every note correctly. 
  • Lastly, how available was conductor Daniel Barenboim during the rehearsal period? As the Times has reported, he must have spent some time in Boston over the last few weeks rehearsing and performing Elliott Carter's Interventions. 
All of these issues would affect how well any singer performed in a given revival. Tommasini does not make the case that Seiffer does not know the role well enough to sing it.


Marcus said...

Dang, I thought the Times got rid of printing tripe like that when Holland left....

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hahaha, but yeah. This article combines fluff (the non-issue of the earpiece) with damning a singer on insufficient grounds. Maybe he knows something I don't know, and maybe I missed major evidence in the story supporting his view, but I read the feature and his review looking for exactly that.

I suppose my posting ought to have noted the obvious, that the role is extremely long and difficult under the best of circumstances. Hell, it killed the first tenor to sing it.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if a singer with an earpiece can be charged with not knowing the role well enough to sing it, so can a singer who relies on a prompter. Yet the article also says that a Tristan without a prompter is unheard of.

Tommasini somehow assumes that the earpiece is more of an offense against art than a prompter, but doesn't say how. (He scoffs at the idea of a lieder recital with an earpiece. Well, wouldn't a lieder recital with a prompter be equally silly?) It may be distracting, but from his own description, constant glances over at the prompter's box are even more so.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I agree with everything you say, unsurprisingly.