Just when I thought I was safe, Bruce Martin has spoken out against Opera Australia, proving it's not just mezzo sopranos whom the company has left disgruntled. Evidently he quit OA in January, after hearing the Chandos live recording of Rusalka in which, he claims, the voices — his own included — have been heinously distorted. He sought an expert (
unnamed Michael Brimer - see comment below) who agrees: distorted "beyond recognition" and poor Bruce apparently has been made to sound like "the bleating of a goat". I listen to that Rusalka a lot, and can't say that the word 'goat' has ever sprung to mind as a description for Bruce's singing. Then again, my memories of that evening are dim (and my seat was in a galaxy far, far away, known as the gallery) so if there is a huge difference between the live sound and the recorded product, I wouldn't trust myself to spot it. Cheryl definitely sounds like Cheryl on that recording, though, although it has been remarked upon that she's perhaps disproportionately loud. As for La Spina, who would know? Not me, the philistine, who skips those tracks.
I do wonder to what purpose, exactly, Bruce Martin supposes this distortion (if such it be) was introduced? He is a sensible, intelligent man, so I'm guess it isn't just a persecution complex. To judge by the rest of the article, it's not so much fear of sabotage that left him so appalled by the recording, as a fear that what may be a deliberately distorted representation of the performance in question is yet another symptom of what Fiona Janes has (now famously) described as the slide into "an abyss of mediocrity", of Opera Australia's alleged artistic decline. Bruce has backed up Fiona's claims. It seems he has been making similar ones since long before The Letter, about funding, the talent pool, repertoire, and everything, really.
And so, the war continues. Or does it? It remains to be seen whether the addition of new voices — Martin's now, and who knows who else might crawl out of the woodwork? — to this chorus of complaint will actually succeed in bringing about some real action and self-examination on the part of OA's administration, or whether all grievances will be as swiftly dismissed as Fiona's was. There might be a revolution in the offing, or it might all just all be swept, whimpering, under the rug, and left to suffocate there.
As for me, I'm still on the fence. I can rail against the issues which affect me directly, weirdo casting decisions, prohibitive ticket pricing and so on, but of underlying problems in the culture of the company, of backstage unrest and administrative woes, I'm necessarily ignorant. Besides, I'm defensive of my adopted company. I curse them daily, but I'm also daily grateful they exist. At least my silence, unlike that of these dissidents, is pretty easily bought — throw me two or three Cheryl Barker vehicles a year, enough Strauss to be going on with and perhaps a few tenors who can really sing, and the words "abyss" and "mediocrity" will almost certainly never pass my lips.
Apparently there's more detail of Bruce Martin's grievances in the current issue of The Monthly, however you'll have to be a subscriber (which I ain't) to read it. Marcellous has blogged about it, and this whole kerfuffle, here.