Manners of speaking

This was nagging at me, so I went back and re-read a bunch of last week’s obituaries for Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. They’re all about the same: her renown in the 60’s and 70’s, her shady Nazi past, her EMI career, her husband, her tyrannical teaching style. Oh, and this…

From The New York Times:

But others found her interpretations calculated, mannered and arch…

From the Boston Globe:

Her syllable-by-syllable highlightings of poetic texts were also notably unspontaneous, leading to repeated charges of affectation and mannerism.

From About Last Night:

Yet even at the height of Schwarzkopf’s career, there were plenty of critical naysayers who found her singing fussy and mannered to the point of archness, and since her retirement in 1975, it’s my impression that their point of view, which I share, has come to prevail.

… and I suddenly realized that calling a singer “mannered” is just a way of concealing a certain laziness of opinion. (I’ve done it, too.) Face it: all singing is mannered. You’re taking words that would normally be spoken, and singing them — the amount of moment-to-moment strategizing is enormous. If you’re going to take someone to task, though, I think that you need to put in a little more effort than just calling it “mannered.” Any singer worth their salt is doing just as much calculation as Schwarzkopf ever did; it’s just that, if you buy it, you don’t notice it.

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