Conrad L. Osborne's blog

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John F
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Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by John F » Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:03 am

If you're as old as me, and if you read High Fidelity magazine as early as I did, the name of Conrad L. Osborne will ring not just a bell but a carillon. He was the main reviewer of opera recordings at a time when they were fairly rare and usually carefully planned and cast by the record companies. At one point he wrote a survey of all the major available opera recordings, published in High Fidelity in installments. I learned a lot about opera and singing from reading his stuff.

To my surprise, he's still at it. Record magazines, record stores, and new operatic recordings have become pretty rare birds, but Osborne doesn't limit himself to silicon and vinyl - he also writes about live performances. Currently he's on about Adès's "Exterminating Angel" and "Thaïs," both seen recently at the Met. The blog is here:

http://conradlosborne.com/blog/

Writing for the Web is perishable, it can be gone in an instant, as I was reminded when CompuServe wiped out 100 forums and their contents last Friday. Print is durable; copies of High Fidelity can still be found, not only in libraries and some private collections but in second-hand bookstores that also carry magazines. But print is also expensive to produce and therefore its content is rigorously limited in length, while the Web is effectively infinite and we can write at whatever length we choose.

Osborne has exploited this, and I say it's a good thing. Instead of three column inches about "Exterminating Angel" he gives us three pages. Along the way he takes up important general topics relevant to the work at hand. For example:
Osborne wrote:...What still seems to me the essential failure of most contemporary operatic writing—the inability to musically identify with characters in a way that makes us feel something for them. The anonymous author of the “In Focus” feature of the Met’s program booklet evidently believes Adès has done something of that sort. “Despite the ensemble nature of the work,” he or she writes, ” . . . a unique musical personality differentiates each character,” and I guess I did pick up some distinctions of general stance or mood among them. But I felt nothing for them. Terrible things happened to them, and they sang about their feelings, and three of them actually died, but I remained an onlooker in objective mode.
A tribute to Osborne is in the first part of this blog by Jaime J. Weinman:

http://zvbxrpl.blogspot.com/2004/05/con ... ritic.html
John Francis

maestrob
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Re: Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by maestrob » Tue Dec 19, 2017 11:28 am

Osborne's wife was a singer trying to establish a career as an agent during the 1980's who studied with my voice teacher. Osborne wrote a book at that time about a pick-up production of L'Africaine and all the politicking and insider shenanigans that go into producing such a performance (I have a signed, dedicated copy on my shelves as I write this). It's available on amazon still for $5 or so: I found it entertaining then and still do. The book is titled "O Paradiso" after the famous tenor aria from that opera.


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jbuck919
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Re: Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:16 pm

John F wrote:Writing for the Web is perishable, it can be gone in an instant, as I was reminded when CompuServe wiped out 100 forums and their contents last Friday. Print is durable; copies of High Fidelity can still be found, not only in libraries and some private collections but in second-hand bookstores that also carry magazines. But print is also expensive to produce and therefore its content is rigorously limited in length, while the Web is effectively infinite and we can write at whatever length we choose.

Osborne has exploited this, and I say it's a good thing. Instead of three column inches about "Exterminating Angel" he gives us three pages. Along the way he takes up important general topics relevant to the work at hand. For example:

Osborne wrote:
...What still seems to me the essential failure of most contemporary operatic writing—the inability to musically identify with characters in a way that makes us feel something for them. The anonymous author of the “In Focus” feature of the Met’s program booklet evidently believes Adès has done something of that sort. “Despite the ensemble nature of the work,” he or she writes, ” . . . a unique musical personality differentiates each character,” and I guess I did pick up some distinctions of general stance or mood among them. But I felt nothing for them. Terrible things happened to them, and they sang about their feelings, and three of them actually died, but I remained an onlooker in objective mode.
As one who has privileged to meet many of you, sometimes multiple times, in person, I hope that we have shared something more permanent. There are things that cannot be wiped out even, which God forbid, if CMG were to disappear as a forum tomorrow.

As for Osborne's comment, I wonder if he is missing the point about opera characters. For me, at least, they are not meant to be cared about, and if that is a problem, then it far predates anything modern. They are meant to be appreciated for the artistry with which they express their state and feelings. I'd welcome the opportunity to hear the Adès, which is more than I can say about Massenet. In the following presentation, the MC is apparently named Thomas, pronounced as in French, like the equally mediocre contemporary of Massenet.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by John F » Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:28 pm

If you read on in Osborne's piece, he has more to say about the audience's response to and relationship with operatic characters, and how the music influences this. I think he's right - obviously, or I wouldn't have quoted him. If we don't care about Wozzeck and Marie, for example, then what's the point of the tragic orchestral interlude in D minor before the final scene, and indeed of the whole elaborate and expensive enterprise?
John Francis

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Re: Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by jserraglio » Fri Dec 22, 2017 1:03 pm

John F wrote:
Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:03 am
copies of High Fidelity can still be found, not only in libraries and some private collections but in second-hand bookstores that also carry magazines.
This site covers only the [High Fidelity] issues from 1951 through the advent of FM stereo.

http://www.americanradiohistory.com/Hig ... gazine.htm

John F
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Re: Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by John F » Fri Dec 22, 2017 3:37 pm

Wow! There's a time machine for you. Back in those days there was often only one recording of a piece or none at all, so its appearance on LP was an event. Even though the performance might not have been first-rate. Later on there were superb record reviews by David Hamilton, Will Crutchfield, and others. Thanks for finding that.
John Francis

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Re: Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by lennygoran » Mon Dec 25, 2017 8:51 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:16 pm
I'd welcome the opportunity to hear the Adès, which is more than I can say about Massenet. In the following presentation, the MC is apparently named Thomas, pronounced as in French, like the equally mediocre contemporary of Massenet.
Getting to this thread late-ironically I've seen Exterminating angel twice now-live and HD-well worth for me. Have never seen L'Africaine but know the music-would go to it in a second if only the Met or NYCO would do it. Regards, Len

jserraglio
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Re: Conrad L. Osborne's blog

Post by jserraglio » Sat Dec 30, 2017 7:39 am

A few PDF copies of Hi-Fi/Stereo Review from 1958-62 are hosted at Vintage Vacuum Audio
http://www.vintagevacuumaudio.com/magazines-1952-1962/
==========================================
High fidelity's Silver Anniversary Treasury (Hardcover – 1976)

https://www.amazon.com/High-fidelitys-S ... 0911656014

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