Monday, January 13, 2014

Downton Operatic

Spoiler warning: contains some details about last night's Downton Abbey episode.

So one of the plot points last night - egregiously, in my opinion - was an appearance by an Australian singer. Eventually, it emerged that she was an Australian opera singer, and then that she was none other than Dame Nellie Melba.

That is where I started to get the fear, which turned out to be justified. The great soprano was played by Dame Kiri te Kanawa, a great singer now essentially retired.

Leaving aside the fact that she is not Australian (and her ancestry is part Maori) -

Dame Kiri is 70; I last heard her a couple of years back at the Flicka farewell recital. I remember her from the 70s and 80s, and I'd rather remember the Kiri of her prime than what I heard in 2011.

It was just plain sad to hear her two years ago, and even sadder to hear her picking her way carefully through a couple of numbers, knowing what she would have sounded like in her prime. Not only that, but her appearance misrepresents Melba. Here's Dame Nellie, age 65, at her 1926 Covent Garden farewell; yes, she is more careful than she would have been in 1906, but the freshness of tone and control are still remarkable:


Dr.B said...

I didn't feel that Kiri embarrassed herself. The point of the scene was to show what snobs they were.

Henry Holland said...

It was also to show the divide between upstairs and downstairs yet again: the toffs sit there like it's a grim duty, as if its expected that they'll like it (even if few of them do) and the servants just want to leave.

I love DA, it's a well-made bit of of soap opera. As an Anglophpile who loves that period of English history, I find it hilarious how they portray relations between the upstairs and downstairs people.

In reality, working at a great house like that could be a utterly miserable existence; you know the guys you see in the background of the downstairs scenes wearing white long-sleeved shirts and vests, always scurrying around? They were called hall boys and they worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week doing the most miserable dirty jobs, all for a pittance.

The sad part is that being a hall boy or maid was considered a step up for a lot of the working class!

So much for the Florencia during the 2014-15 SFO season......

Lisa Hirsch said...

Dr. B., I winced all the way through her singing, I'm sorry to say. It wasn't embarrassing so much as a reminder of the huge gap between her prime and her current vocal condition.

Henry, yeah; I cannot believe how familiar the upstairs and downstairs people are with each other. Go to your butler for advice? Or take advice that he offers? Um, no.

Gosford Park is far more accurate!

Henry Holland said...

I can ever so slightly believe that Lord Grantham would ask advice from John Bates, as Bates was his underling in the Army during the Boer Wars, but "Um, no" is about right. :-)