A religious mass or requiem celebrated through music is not a grand opera.
Around a year ago I began searching for works in this genre because I was dazzled by a DVD-recorded performance of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor. The entire company of musicians and singers, led by the incomparable John Eliot Gardiner, give an enthralling performance. The sopranos, Barbara Bonney (lyric) and Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo), captured my attention for a number of reasons beside their physical beauty and superb interpretation of their parts in the Mass. The manner in which they offered this music as soloists was as if they were musical instruments played directly by Mozart, or even God. Their duets with each other, and each with the orchestra, enhanced this perception. They are dressed formally–dark colors and full length gowns. (L-R: Bonney; von Otter).
The other work on this DVD is Mozart’s Requiem, with the same artists. The soloists in both these works included male tenor and bass singers, but they were garbed as men usually are—in a kind of uniform, and therefore not of interest for this topic. (The C minor mass on this DVD can now be seen on Youtube).
Most recently I have viewed, again and again, the performance of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with soloists Sabina Puértolas (Soprano) and Vivica Genaux (Mezzosoprano). (The complete performance here on Youtube).
As with my perceptions while experiencing the Mozart Mass, I felt these women were willing instruments in the performance of this soulful music, not presenting themselves as performers, but presenting the music as God had directed Pergolesi. (If the reader would like to know where I stand with respect to God or religion, please read this).
These women, too, are beautiful and beautifully dressed, appropriate to the occasion and subject.
Now, please observe these cropped pictures of other sopranos singing sacred music (I will not identify these women further, or identify what they are singing, out of respect for their persons):
Each of these women, as with those depicted further above, is physically beautiful and likewise sang a famous work with a renowned conductor and orchestra. There is no disputing they sang professionally and competently. But, unlike my experience with the others, I did not feel either of these women had yielded, or subordinated their persons to the music. Their attire signaled this to me. I did try to ignore their dress and their charms in looking for that subordination, but I didn’t discern it in more than possibly a few places.
I must state a bias here. I do not seek out grand opera except for certain arias sung by certain artists, both female and male. I find that the stories, recitatives, settings, and actions get in the way of the music. My criticisms should be taken in this light. (I have found exceptions in some baroque operas).
I wonder if the reader will tend to agree or disagree with my assertions here; that is, regarding appropriate dress for sacred vocal works.