Cher Public

Prelude to the Quantification of the Diva

diva_quantificationLa Cieca is delighted to announce a week-long series of investigative reports deciding once and for all the question “Who is the greatest opera diva of our generation?”

Starting this afternoon we will determine the answer to this most consuming of all conundrums the only way art can ever properly be judged: scientifically. Specifically we will apply the Kang Method (patent pending) to two divisions of divas from the years 1980-2010.

Starting with a list of over 100 nominees submitted by you, the cher public, La Cieca winnowed the roster down to 25 semi-finalists each in “Classic” and “Contemporary” diva divisions.  Then you, the cher public, voted (early, and in some cases, often) for your favorites, tallying over 15,000  total ballots cast.

“Classic” divas (those who are no longer actively performing opera) include Hildegard Behrens, Montserrat Caballé, Régine Crespin, Mirella Freni, Marilyn Horne, Christa Ludwig, Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price, Leonie Rysanek, Renata Scotto, Joan Sutherland and Tatiana Troyanos. (Because of ties, there are 12 instead of the announced 10 divas in this category.)

“Contemporary” divas (i.e., those still on the boards) who topped the list of nominations are Cecilia Bartoli, Natalie Dessay, Joyce DiDonato, Renée Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Edita Gruberova, Karita Mattila, Waltraud Meier, Anna Netrebko and Dolora Zajick.

And now, La Cieca can hear you wondering, just what sort of criteria are to be applied to these divas to define “greatness.”  La Cieca is so happy you asked so intelligent a question. Your doyenne considered applying “four basic qualities that comprise stardom in opera” as defined by Ethan Mordden in his definitive “inside look” Demented, i.e. Voice, Musicianship, Temperament and Commitment (though E.M. himself suggests the addition of yet a fifth quality, Audacity, as so memorably exemplified in the story of Grace Moore‘s step-ins.)

She (La Cieca, not Grace Moore) conferred as well with the expert Mordden invented for the occasion, Lotte Heinotz, the “curiously unpopular singer of minor roles active in Vienna in the early 1900s” who authored the “classic pamphlet Der Weltsopranführer.” Frau Heinotz, you will recall, insisted that “All the world of the diva may be divided into five parts: voice, profile, costume, entrance, and death scene. But if you have the first part, the rest will take care of itself.”

In the end, La Cieca based her criteria on those  devised by Jay Caspian Kang (not coincidentally, inventor of the Kang Method) for his definitive study of pop divadom in The Awl.  Certain qualities were eliminated from the discussion of opera divas as being lost arts: for example, in opera no one does “stank” these days, more’s the pity. Anyway, after great deliberation, La Cieca settled upon 10 “Diva Criteria” to be applied on a weighted basis to determine (definitively, mind you!) the ultimate in diva distinction.

Emotional Journey (200 points possible)

  • Does the singer create the “grand opera buzz?” Briefly, do you leave the theater a different person? And if not, why the hell not?

Stimm (150 points possible)
Kunst (150 points possible)

  • Voice vs. art. “The Stimmdiva’s idea of preparing Gounod’s Marguerite involves learning her music and ordering her outfits. The Kunstdiva reads Goethe.”

Iconic Moment (100 points possible)

  • A phrase, a gesture or a situation so closely associated with the diva as to become her trademark. The Iconic Moment could be Maria Callas snarling at the process server or Meg Ryan‘s “I’ll have what she’s having” scene.

Cult Status (100 points possible)

  • Artistic, financial and popular success is nothing without insanely obsessive fans to share it with.

Grandezza (100 points possible)

  • The grace, confidence and repose only a great lady can wield, toots.

Scandale (100 points possible)

  • Cancellations, feuds, insane demands and other sundry drama. (Note: wig anecdotes are scored both here and in the following category.)

Hair and Headgear (50 points possible)

  • A diva without a turban is like… wait, what were we talking about again?

Weight Fluctuations (50 points possible)

  • “With my avoirdupois and my tra la la la la I would be the chief sensation of the age.”

Drag Imitability (50 points possible)

  • The diva’s persona should be so boldly defined, on the very cusp of mannerism, that an imaginative impersonator need apply only a thin veneer of exaggeration. Or, to put it another way, if she can’t be “done,” then she’s not a diva.

Keep watching parterre.com beginning this afternoon for the first installment of “Quantification of the Diva!”