“All Hail the Opera Singer!”
“It is a well-known fact that in the opera world, singers are held in rather low esteem by instrumentalists. That is due to the fact that some of the most highly regarded opera singers of the past (such as Enrico Caruso) could not read music. I don’t believe that is any longer the case but the slander still persists.
I, although an instrumentalist, must rise to the defense of my vocal colleagues. I have an almost devout reverence toward singers of all kinds. Eddie Fisher could not read music and yet must be respected.
There are some who believe a composer must know how to play an instrument in order to write for it. Paul Hindemith was one such. He learned how to play every instrument and then wrote a sonata for it. But the expectations for an opera singer go far beyond those for any instrumentalist or even composer. Imagine, if you can, a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra committing to memory a five-hour-long Wagner opera and playing it on the violin while at the same time intoning the text and remembering the position at all times of his body, hands and feet, despite having stepped in at the last minute to substitute for an ailing comrade while he,himself, is recovering from a terrible head cold he got the day before and carrying the performance off to perfection. That would be any opera singer.”