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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 12:30 pm 
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how do you explain to a neophyte the appeal of operas, operettas, musicals and ballets whose plots now seem silly, if not indeed outright ridiculous.
EL TROVADOR=IL TROVATORE and LA FUERZA DEL SINO=LA FORZA DEL DESTINO have not aged well at all; if Verdi had not set those plays to music, they would now be of interest only to historians of Spanish literature of the Romantic Era.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 1:21 pm 
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Life was different, then........

It's true that Verdi immortalized these rather hysterical story lines, but 150 years ago, people thought and acted very differently than our considerably more liberal ways. Honor and childbearing are just two examples of how much has changed. In 1850, Forza and Trovatore were much more believeable story lines. Also, the decisions Violetta makes in La traviata would be considered normal for those days, but not so today. Same with Puccini's "shabby little shocker," Tosca.

As one example, think how contraception has changed behavior and attitudes since the invention of the Pill in 1969.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 1:27 pm 
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Some of Shakespeare's plots are also pretty silly, yet his plays continue as core repertoire in today's theatre. That isn't the problem. "Il Trovatore" remains one of the most popular operas despite its plot, because of the music and the opportunities it provides for brilliant operatic singing. I believe the problem is with operatic music, which of course is classical and requires a classical orchestra, and with the sound of operatic voices, which puts some people off who like the more "natural" voices of pop and musical comedy singers..

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 1:31 pm 
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Silly, if not indeed outright ridiculous? . . . popular, powerful and in the end believable? Imaginative art need not reflect contemporary social norms.



Last edited by jserraglio on Mon Feb 13, 2017 1:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 1:39 pm 
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Those 'plot lines' in baroque opera, with their metastasian formulas, are contorted and serve mainly the singers, as were those elaborate 'fairy tales' of Wagner. The 'problem' for operas with great music was and is trying to remember how the characters and their narrative are interconnected. But the complete experience is ultimately what matters.

It's interesting to note that during the time of Beethoven and Schubert (who wrote many operas which we never hear) the cult of Rossini was in full swing. I consider that music anathema to the aesthetic of Beethoven and Schubert and it was reasonably indicative of the mood of fickle Viennese audiences and Beethoven's frustrations with them!!


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 1:44 pm 
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Looking for silly plots in serious works of art? Try Gulliver's Travels, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat's Cradle and The Crying of Lot 49, etc. etc..


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 5:36 pm 
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Belle rossini is still in full swing in my book-it was just this past season we finally caught his best opera at the Met-a very good basically traditional william tell! Len


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 5:45 pm 
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lennygoran wrote:
Belle rossini is still in full swing in my book-it was just this past season we finally caught his best opera at the Met-a very good basically traditional william tell! Len


I don't mean to rob you of your pleasure!! You've mentioned before how you love Rossini. But you're an extremely amenable fellow anyway - I wish I had your forebearance. I can tell that William is the apple of your eye.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 5:50 pm 
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Belle you`ve handled your reply beautifully-only thing you got wrong is donizetti is actually the apple of my eye! Len getting ready for tonight`s rusalka. :lol:


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 7:43 pm 
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Belle wrote:
I consider that music anathema to the aesthetic of Beethoven and Schubert and it was reasonably indicative of the mood of fickle Viennese audiences and Beethoven's frustrations with them!!

Beethoven, no doubt, but Schubert? He actually composed two overtures in the Italian style, referring to Rossini whose operas had just been performed in Vienna with great success. Of course he lacked Rossini's flair for the theatre, but from those overtures I have the impression that he wished he had it.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 10:56 pm 
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Schubert had a huge amount of trouble with operas, as you no doubt already know. He couldn't penetrate the market and critics have suggested his libretti were the problem. I note that quite a few of them have been recorded in recent years. In any case, Schubert just couldn't penetrate the Viennese preference for Rossini no matter what he did. There's quite a decent lot of music in these works though they do seem of a generally lighter nature than most of Schubert's oeuvre. In that sense, then, these works were anathema to the rest of Schubert's output; that's what I meant. Perhaps this is another reason for their failure; they were neither one thing nor the other!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJJYQnE4srw


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 14, 2017 6:11 am 
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W.H. Auden is one of the few major poets who also devoted his full skill and energy to crafting librettos, not only for such composers as Stravinsky and Henze but for English-language performances of "The Magic Flute." He said that the first and most important requirement of a libretto is not its dramatic effectiveness or literary quality but that it must inspire the composer to write outstanding dramatic music. On the evidence of operatic and musical history, I think Auden was exactly right. Otherwise, how could an opera like "Die Zauberflöte" or "Il Trovatore" succeed, and "Die ägyptische Helena" fail? The latter has a libretto by Hofmannsthal, not only a major literary figure but the author of successful librettos, but this one failed to inspire Richard Strauss.

Plainly, Schubert's librettos did not inspire him to create his best music, nowhere near. Not only did all of his operas fail, and most weren't even produced, but modern revivals have failed to make a place for them or any selection from them in the repertoire. Belle has found the right word for Schubert's operatic music: "decent." That just isn't good enough. Many of his songs show that he didn't need texts of high quality to produce masterpieces, even whole cycles of songs, and "Die schöne Müllerin" is halfway to an opera. None of the librettos he set brought out the best in him, so it's fair to say that they are to blame for his failure. Not wholly, however. Schubert's evident lack of aptitude for opera may have made it impossible for any libretto to inspire him as we know an eight-line poem often could and did.

Rossini, on the other hand, had a positive genius for the theatre, especially in comedy. It won't do to look down our noses at "The Barber of Seville," not only the most successful straight comic opera ever written but a brilliant achievement. Its success doesn't depend just on hit tunes like "Largo al factotum" or "Una voce poco fa," the latter originally written for Rossini's serious opera about Queen Elizabeth. The two finales that show Almaviva sneaking into Bartolo's house as a drunken soldier and a sycophantic music teacher have perfect comic timing, and still make audiences laugh heartily. No doubt Rossini learned much from Mozart, whose music he knew and admired, especially the Act 2 finale of "The Marriage of Figaro," which was only 30 years old. For me at least, none of Rossini's serious operas are anywhere near his best except for the last, "William Tell," finally getting a revival this season at the Met after too long a lapse. But the lapse is telling. Despite its merits, "Tell" hasn't forced its way into the repertoire as "Barber" and some other comedies have.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 14, 2017 4:55 pm 
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Wonderful comments!!


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 7:34 am 
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John F wrote:
Some of Shakespeare's plots are also pretty silly, yet his plays continue as core repertoire in today's theatre. That isn't the problem. "Il Trovatore" remains one of the most popular operas despite its plot, because of the music and the opportunities it provides for brilliant operatic singing. I believe the problem is with operatic music, which of course is classical and requires a classical orchestra, and with the sound of operatic voices, which puts some people off who like the more "natural" voices of pop and musical comedy singers..


For work-related reasons I went to the Book of Mormon musical last night. The cast were incredibly energetic, singing while dancing with great vigour and expertise, but they really didn't sing well.Couldn't hold a note, and often couldn't hit it at all, despite being miked in a very small theatre. More natural voices are often simply not very good.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 7:38 am 
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John F wrote:
W.H. Auden is one of the few major poets who also devoted his full skill and energy to crafting librettos, not only for such composers as Stravinsky and Henze but for English-language performances of "The Magic Flute." He said that the first and most important requirement of a libretto is not its dramatic effectiveness or literary quality but that it must inspire the composer to write outstanding dramatic music. On the evidence of operatic and musical history, I think Auden was exactly right. Otherwise, how could an opera like "Die Zauberflöte" or "Il Trovatore" succeed, and "Die ägyptische Helena" fail? The latter has a libretto by Hofmannsthal, not only a major literary figure but the author of successful librettos, but this one failed to inspire Richard Strauss.

Plainly, Schubert's librettos did not inspire him to create his best music, nowhere near. Not only did all of his operas fail, and most weren't even produced, but modern revivals have failed to make a place for them or any selection from them in the repertoire. Belle has found the right word for Schubert's operatic music: "decent." That just isn't good enough. Many of his songs show that he didn't need texts of high quality to produce masterpieces, even whole cycles of songs, and "Die schöne Müllerin" is halfway to an opera. None of the librettos he set brought out the best in him, so it's fair to say that they are to blame for his failure. Not wholly, however. Schubert's evident lack of aptitude for opera may have made it impossible for any libretto to inspire him as we know an eight-line poem often could and did.

Rossini, on the other hand, had a positive genius for the theatre, especially in comedy. It won't do to look down our noses at "The Barber of Seville," not only the most successful straight comic opera ever written but a brilliant achievement. Its success doesn't depend just on hit tunes like "Largo al factotum" or "Una voce poco fa," the latter originally written for Rossini's serious opera about Queen Elizabeth. The two finales that show Almaviva sneaking into Bartolo's house as a drunken soldier and a sycophantic music teacher have perfect comic timing, and still make audiences laugh heartily. No doubt Rossini learned much from Mozart, whose music he knew and admired, especially the Act 2 finale of "The Marriage of Figaro," which was only 30 years old. For me at least, none of Rossini's serious operas are anywhere near his best except for the last, "William Tell," finally getting a revival this season at the Met after too long a lapse. But the lapse is telling. Despite its merits, "Tell" hasn't forced its way into the repertoire as "Barber" and some other comedies have.


Yes, as Belle said, excellent contribution. I strongly agree. The 1958 (I think) Callas Barber with Gobbi and Luigi Alva was the first opera I came to know on a recording, and I loved it. Still do.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 7:58 am 
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barney wrote:
More natural voices are often simply not very good.

By our standards. But really that's beside the point I was making. Nobody has ever praised Mick Jagger's vocal quality as such, have they? Yet he has more fans than Domingo and, very likely, all the operatic tenors in the world combined.

On our general topic, "Prima la musica e poi le parole." Opera's appeal is primarily musical, as the saying goes, and secondarily the words, meaning both what the singers sing and what they do. If you don't like an opera's music, its drama goes for nothing. There are countless examples of this. For example, Maeterlinck's "Pelléas and Mélisande" is a play of some distinction and when it was new, some popularity, but it's hardly ever acted today except maybe in France (I don't know). The very same text, with some cuts, is the libretto of Debussy's opera, which after more than a century is still often performed and recorded. Some years back, a theatre in Vienna (I forget which one) staged Hofmannsthal's "Der Rosenkavalier" without Strauss's music; again, a distinguished play, but that experiment has rarely if ever been repeated. Alban Berg and Manfred Gurlitt both composed operas based closely on Georg Büchner's unfinished play "Woyzeck," at the same time; Berg's became a classic, Gurlitt's sank with hardly a trace, though in these days when everything gets recorded, so did Gurlitt's opera. The public judged accurately which opera was the most inspired by essentially the same text.

So, dulcinea, you have your explanation of opera's appeal to its audience. Of course it's wasted effort to try and explain that appeal to a neophyte. Just take him or her to an opera, or maybe a sophisticated operetta like Gilbert & Sullivan or "Die Fledermaus," which are performed by classically trained singers and a classical orchestra, and see if it appeals. If not, shrug your shoulders and move on.

Long ago, I took a colleague to see Verdi's "Falstaff" at the Met in the fine Zeffirelli production, with an excellent cast and the young James Levine in the pit. My colleague, like me, was an editor of books for college literature courses; he knew his Shakespeare from beginning to end, and indeed was working on an edition of the complete plays with two distinguished scholars. He was also a deep-dyed Gilbert & Sullivan fan. But he just didn't get it. One problem doubtless was language - this was before the availability of simultaneous translation in titles; even with the titles, that may still put some people off. But if, as I say, it's the music that sells opera (or fails to), that shouldn't matter.

(Indeed, one 18th-century English gent once said he didn't care what language an opera is in, as long as it was one he didn't understand. :mrgreen: )

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 3:37 pm 
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Then there's the not inconsiderable matter of bad productions!!

http://slippedisc.com/2017/02/pathology ... roduction/


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2017 7:48 pm 
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I quite agree, though I was taken with the music score of Gulliver's Travels, by Bernard Herrmann, who conducted some of this music on a British Decca CD [443.899]. Some of him conducting this music can be seen on YouTube.

jserraglio wrote:
Looking for silly plots in serious works of art? Try Gulliver's Travels, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat's Cradle and The Crying of Lot 49, etc. etc..

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2017 2:33 pm 
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John, I've heard recordings of these two Schubert operas and seen DVDs : Alfonso & Estrella and Fierrabras . True, the librettos are nothing special, but both contain some very beautiful music and as far as I am concerned, genuinely worth revival in our time . These are the EMI recording of Alfonso conducted by the late Otmar Suitner , with Fischer-Dieskau, Prey, Theo Adam , Rothernberger & Schreier ,
as well as the DVD conducted by the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt , the DG Fierrabras conducted by the late Claudio Abbado , and a DVD from the Zurich opera conducted by Franz Welser-Most .
To those of you here who haven't seen or heard these, I recommend them highly .


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2017 3:05 pm 
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THEHORN wrote:
John, I've heard recordings of these two Schubert operas and seen DVDs : Alfonso & Estrella and Fierrabras . True, the librettos are nothing special, but both contain some very beautiful music and as far as I am concerned, genuinely worth revival in our time .

I didn't say otherwise, and it's nice to hear those operas on records; I have them all. But they are failures nonetheless, as I explained. From Schubert's time to our time, the opera houses of the world have ignored them, and that is the true test of an opera's success or failure.

Now and then someone may test the waters. Claudio Abbado conducted a production of "Fierabras" at the Vienna Festival of 1988; that's the source of the DG recording. But though he was music director of the Vienna State Opera and indeed of the City of Vienna, which of course was Schubert's city, that house did not take it or any other Schubert opera into its regular season. From that I have to conclude that though the 1988 performances may have been an artistic success, they were a repertory experiment that failed. Too bad, but there it is.

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2017 5:30 pm 
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There is no better playwright than REALITY; only REALITY can get away with stories and characters that, if fictional, no one would believe them. It is because of Jeffrey Dahmer that the public accepts a character as outlandish and grotesque as Hannibal Lecter.
If I could commission operas, I would request the tragic story of George III of Great Britain--a veritable King Lear--, and that of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, who mined glorious beauty out of a life full of sadness and gloom.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 17, 2017 1:01 pm 
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Then, I take it, you admire Donizetti's operas on the three queens, but not his Lucia di Lammermoor? Just asking.......


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2017 1:00 pm 
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maestrob wrote:
Then, I take it, you admire Donizetti's operas on the three queens, but not his Lucia di Lammermoor? Just asking.......

LUCIA has a great score, even though its Sextet has been used too often in Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies cartoons.

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