July 2011

Deborah Voigt and "the little black dress"


Opera singer Deborah Voigt might be the prime example of how opera is changing.  Everyone knows the stereotype of the big-boned, pointy-breasted soprano singing Wagner in a Viking hat.  That was Deborah Voigt.  She was a heavyset soprano who sang Wagner, sometimes in a pointy bra, I suppose.  And she was good, really good.  Until she got fired for being too large--she couldn’t fit into a little black dress for London’s Royal Opera House in 2004.  Since then she has dropped a considerable amount of weight--she went from a size 30 to a size 14.  With opera’s modern leading ladies like Anna Netrebko being not only supremely talented but also movie star gorgeous coupled with Voigt’s story, it seems that opera has become as commercial and looks obsessed as other performing arts.  

Deborah Voigt grew up in Wheeling, Illinois right outside Chicago.  She studied choral conducting at Chapman College in Orange, California, but dropped out and worked as a computer operator for two years. After that, Voigt went to study voice at California State University in Fullerton, training under Jane Paul Hummel for eight years.  She went on to apprentice at San Fransisco Opera.  

Since then, she won many singing prizes.  In the early 1990’s, critics said that she would become the next great Wagnerian soprano because of the deep richness and dark color of her voice.  She often sings Strauss and Verdi, as well.  She performed and performs at the best opera houses in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin.  

Getting to know the composers who brought folk music to the masses: Copland and Bartók

You’ve definitely heard Aaron Copland’s music.  His Rodeo ballet music is used in the “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner ads.” Copland was fascinated by putting the folk music of his people, Americans, into “high art,” or symphonic and ballet music.  Across the ocean, too, the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was raising the music of the peasants to the ears of the upper class.  Here’s a little bit about the composers who did so much for folk music and what went hand-and-hand with it, nationalism.

5 Classical Pieces the Film Industry Needs to Forget

There are certain pieces of music that are just inherently cinematic. Even if they were written long before the moving picture was even conceived of, they suit the high drama of the stories we make on screen. Unfortunately, lazy production can lead to the same pieces being used over, and over, and over. You know what I'm talking about. You've seen those trailers--the ones for the forgettable disaster or action movies, the ones that all have that same one epic song. It needs to stop. People have been writing music for hundreds of years. Much of it is epic. There must be other things you can find to score your trailer. These are the biggest offenders, the pieces every film director and producer just needs to file away in a forgotten corner of their brain and never speak of again.


Carmina Burana  (O Fortuna)





Yup. We get it. This is a part that's devastatingly epic. Cue the dramatic choral music. So intense. Except for the part where it loses its edge when it's been in a thousand scenes. 


Carnival of the Animals (Part VII: Aquarium)


When you need a trailer to invoke a sense of whimsy and wonder, Camille Saint-Saens is your guy. Or so 99% of film producers would still like to think. 


The Ride of the Valkyries


Francis Ford Coppola used this perfectly in Apocalypse Now. Perfectly. As in, no one ever gets to use this piece in a movie ever again. No one. No exceptions. 



Also Sprach Zarathustra


Again, once a brilliant director uses a piece perfectly, it should be off-limits to the rest of the rabble. It's not cute or an "homage" when Strauss's piece pops up again and again. It's just irritating. Leave it where it belongs. 


Lux Aeterna


While not technically a classical piece, this instrumental bit of film score must be the bane of Clint Mansell's existence by now. It is THE song you hear in trailers over and over. It's the musical code for a standard dramatic scene. It's funny, because it was written for the Requiem for a Dream score. You wouldn't think you'd be able to draw a piece from a movie about hardcore drug use and apply it to every trailer you want to feel "intense", but there you go.