John Tomlinson: Amplification at the Opera

Extracts from a talk given to RPS Members at The Athenæum on 21 March 2000

“Opera singers sing the way they do - with purity, clarity, strength and projection - because it has always been necessary to do so in order to carry over the orchestra and communicate with a large audience, particularly since the nineteenth century during which orchestras increased in size and power. But if you bring in mikes, slowly but surely singers will lose this projecting skill, and the whole art of opera singing, and the musical style associated with it, will never be the same again. Where will it all end?”

“When you spend thirty years of your life learning a skill, you love and value it. I love the art of opera singing and am devoted to it, and it worries me that there are already instances of young unspoiled voices being miked, with great popular success, and then being subsequently ruined when singing the same role, and trying to have the same success, in unamplified circumstances. Damage is being done in this way as we speak. And there’s damage also to musicality and style in miked performances of arias sung by completely inappropriate, often inadequate voices - catering for populist tastes that don’t seem to know the difference between the real thing and a cheap copy.”

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DID YOU KNOW?

Richard Wagner was musical director of the 1855 Philharmonic Society Season and conducted all eight concerts.