Making faces

I was watching the Met’s I Puritani last night (of which more later). Their Elvira in this performance was Anna Netrebko, and one of the not-quite-musical aspects of the performance that I noticed was that she is one of those singers whose face never seems at all disturbed by the physical process of singing – she always looks pretty, no matter the demands of the music. Perhaps she is lucky with muscle structure or something.

But of course I am not the only person ever to have noticed this. This DVD is from a live broadcast, and the half-time interview with Netrebko was conducted by Renée Fleming. One of the questions that Fleming asked Netrebko was about this very thing, how she avoids distorting her face. Netrebko’s response was simply that she knows the camera is there, and so she makes an effort not to make unattractive faces. I wonder if singers have become more self-conscious about this kind of thing in the age of DVD recordings. Or rather, I am fairly certain that many singers are self-conscious about this; what I wonder about is what the practical effects of it are, artistically. Do people develop work-arounds if they know they look weird producing certain sounds? I mean, thirty years ago it would hardly have mattered, since most people who saw as well as heard opera would have been seeing it live in an opera house, and in that case one is usually sitting too far away to catch every twitch of a muscle on a performer’s face. But things are a little different now.

8 thoughts on “Making faces

    1. I watched it over two days – half last night and half this morning. I’m not a huge Bellini fan, esp. after hearing Wagner not long before, but I thought it was well done. What is it that has put you off?

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        1. The staging is pretty boring. I always find this opera really unintentionally funny – it’s something about the combination of Puritans (or “Puritans” I guess) and that oompa-oompa bel canto score.

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  1. That’s what kind of bugs me about Vesselina Kasarova. I wonder if she could get some coaching from AN? I mean, she’s very expressive, but sometimes it seems like there is a bit too much going on there. On the other hand, she sounds at least wonderful every time she opens her mouth…

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    1. I don’t really mind VK’s expressions – I’m so used to them at this point that they register as just right rather than too much. And ultimately, if it sounds good, she’s doing something right! I wonder if VK or other singers with stretchy faces have ever tried switching up the technique to change it, and found it doesn’t work for them? I don’t know nearly enough about the mechanics of singing (or about acting for that matter) to say how much facial movement is necessary.

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    2. I glad that it isn’t just me that is disturbed by VK’s facial expressions – and hand gestures too! In that Alcina DVD year or two back they were a distraction to me; at the beginning I thought that they were signifying that Ruggiero was under a spell…

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      1. They were a distraction to me the first time I saw that DVD too – especially the hand gestures. I’ve gotten used to it, but the first time I saw it it seemed very strange.

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