My wife and I went to see Bizet's "Carmen" at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night. In general, everything sounded as good as orchestral music amplified in the outdoors can sound.
The lead Denyce Graves, however, was bad. Truly bad. Weirdly bad. I don't think I've ever heard anything quite like it. When she sang the "Habenera" (the first we hear from her), I had to dip into the deepest wells of my own self-discipline not to laugh out loud. She sounded like a not-very-good amateur countertenor (albeit with an unusually big voice) in some cheesy cabaret. Ugly sound. No connection between registers. Serious problems with pitch -- I've never heard such consistently out-of-tune singing in a professional production. (As Mark Swed puts it, "[I]n a couple of places, she might as well have been singing Nono's atonal opera ['Intolleranza'].")
Graves is apparently a well-regarded mezzo-soprano, so I'm just left wondering what the hell went wrong. It was just...so weird.
It's pretty common that I'll be playing a gig and someone will approach me and say how hearing me play makes them wish they had time to practice. But, you know, work and all that.
Funny thing is, I'm a guitarist, and I don't have time to practice -- I'm way too busy just trying to find a gig.* (And when I do find one, well, let's just say the actual playing I wind up doing typically ain't exactly pushing me to my limits.)
If you want to have the leisure time and other resources required to work seriously on playing your instrument, my advice is: Take up investment banking. You'll probably have more time to practice than most actual professional musicians. Plus, you'll be able to afford better gear. And most importantly, you won't ever have to play commodity music.
*Okay -- and blogging as work avoidance. (You see right through me.)
"The wrathful and reverent attitudes characteristic of youth do not seem to permit themselves any rest until they have forged men and things in such a way that these attitudes may be vented on them--after all, youth in itself has something of forgery and deception. Later, when the young soul, tortured by all kinds of disappointments, finally turns suspiciously against itself, still hot and wild, even in its suspicion and pangs of conscience--how wroth it is with itself now! how it tears itself to pieces, impatiently! how it takes revenge for its long self-delusion, just as if it had been a deliberate blindness! In this transition one punishes oneself with mistrust against one's own feelings; one tortures one's own enthusiasm with doubts; indeed, one experiences even a good conscience as a danger, as if it were a way of wrapping oneself in veils and the exhaustion of subtler honesty--and above all one takes sides, takes sides on principle, against "youth."-- Ten years later one comprehends that all this, too--was still youth." --Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part Two ("The Free Spirit"), 31.