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Subject: Re: Operatic Aesthetics
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:32:13 -0400

text/plain (379 lines)


>"The only thing I wish you would do is to identify the sources of the absorbing
and informative excerpts you have quoted"

Here are the 3 sources.

1. Elliott Antokoletz (Duke Bluebeard's Castle)

2. Marina Frolowa-Walker (Boris Godunov)

3. Matthew Morrow, Debussy and Lawrence Gilman (Pelléas)


On Thursday, October 20, 2016, donald kane <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> We haven't heard from Albert in a very long time, and it's not easy
> to see what the connection may be between your brief quotation,
> ("out of context", to put it mildly),   and the extensive ruminations it
> has engendered.
> I have always respected, as so many others seem quite unwilling to do,
> your personal, idiosyncratic, and hard earned "tastes", "preferences", or
> whatever you want to call them, in opera.  Many lists of titles get posted
> here with no other purpose but to draw a kind of self-portrait of the
> person
> posting.  All well and good, sometimes thought-provoking - like yours -
> but all too often, an attempt to display the wide-ranging diversity of
> one's cultural
> identity, as in "I love CAROUSEL and HAMILTON just as much as I do AIDA
> and SONNAMBULA, and PARSIFAL, and GREASE,  because they're all great
> theater, etc. etc. .."      Tiresome and predictable.
> The only thing I wish you would do, Eric, is to identify the sources of the
> absorbing and informative excerpts you have quoted to support your own
> choices.  The three writers,- if they are not one and the same, deserve no
> less.
> dtmk
> On Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 4:09 AM, Genevieve Castle Room <
> [log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> Albert Innaurato wrote:
>> >"The fool mocked [GCR] makes a mistake of the primitive, though I suppose
>> I have made it too. One should not hasten to establish hierarchies in the
>> arts. Why should one be a puritan in one’s tastes?"
>> This has absolutely nothing to do with being a 'puritan in one's tastes'
>> or
>> wanting to 'establish hierarchies' as I also have strong interests outside
>> of opera and classical music. It is simply that there are many things I do
>> not care for in the operatic repertoire. The fact is that the music in a
>> lot of operas does not 'exercise a peculiar magic over my ear'. There is a
>> chunk of Mozart's operatic music that leaves me cold. Verdian oom-pahs and
>> much bel canto treacle has never rated particularly high with me. Most
>> Baroque operas are not highly charged with imaginative power and lack
>> inner
>> musical substance. Beloved classics such as 'Carmen' or 'Rigoletto' or
>> 'Eugen Onegin' have never 'floated my boat' (though I recognize their
>> importance) but I will never pay money to hear them again...... I can go
>> on
>> and on.
>> Let me say it again. For me the bulk of the operatic repertoire is
>> not invested with an intensity of fine musical invention and most of these
>> pieces do not stir up my insides.
>> Reminder: I am one of those individuals who became profoundly excited
>> when first coming across these introductory commentaries about aesthetic
>> and technique by various composers. My list is very long of course so here
>> to give you an idea are just three of them.... Take a few moments and read
>> it because it addresses a topic in opera that I never tire of.
>> >"1. As part of an evolution toward new musical styles and techniques in
>> the early twentieth century, 'Duke Bluebeard's Castle', is far removed
>> from
>> the ultra chromaticism of German late Romantic music as well as from the
>> major-minor scale system of Classical functional tonality, its musical
>> language stemming rather from the pentatonic-diatonic modality of
>> Hungarian
>> peasant music. Originating in this source, it is inevitable that the opera
>> should reveal irreconcilable differences from the prevailing supranational
>> German and Italian operas of the 19th century in details of phrase,
>> rhythm,
>> and pitch organization as well as in its large-scale formal construction.
>> In its general stylistic technical assumptions, one finds fundamental
>> connections rather with the musical impressionism of Debussy's Pelléas et
>> Mélisande. An affinity between *Bluebeard* and *Pelléas* is partly
>> suggested in their common absorption of pentatonic-diatonic modality into
>> a
>> kind of twelve-tone language, a fusion of which is revealed by Bartók's
>> own
>> statement: ".... it became clear to me that the old [folk] modes, which
>> had
>> been forgotten in our music, had lost nothing of their vigor. Their
>> employment made new rhythmic combinations possible. This new way of using
>> the diatonic scale brought freedom from the rigid use of the major and
>> minor keys, and eventually led to a new conception of the chromatic scale,
>> every tone of which came to be considered of equal value and could be used
>> freely and independently." [.....] *Bluebeard's Castle *did not find
>> public
>> support in its early years, a condition which was largely due to the
>> conservative tastes of the Hungarian public. Its genuine Hungarian
>> qualities were unrecognizable to an audience accustomed to hearing
>> Italianate and Germanized settings of Hungarian texts. Bartók strictly
>> preserved the Hungarian language accents in his musical setting.
>> Furthermore, the archaic SYLLABIC STRUCTURE is set almost entirely in the
>> old "parlando-rubato" folk style, producing a kind of contemporary
>> "recitative opera" that was pioneered by Debussy. The elements of folk
>> music are transmuted into richly patterned, sophisticated art music.
>> >"2. Glinka's "Russian style" in a 'Life for the Tsar' was created out of
>> popular idioms of the day and was never intended for reuse outside that
>> opera. For Musorgsky, however, this was not enough, and he devised an
>> approach to musical declamation that was derived from the rhythmic and
>> pitch patterning of Russian speech, thereby avoiding the arbitrariness of
>> Glinka's Russian style. The music of the language as spoken in real life,
>> together with the local and personal quirks a speaker will have absorbed,
>> is converted into the vocal lines of song and opera, so that its
>> Russianness is ingrained, sealed, and polished into the music. Musorgsky
>> himself was well aware of the nationalist potential of his newfound
>> principle: while reporting on the composition of his song cycle 'Nursery',
>> for example, he claimed that he has portrayed children who were "Russians,
>> with a strong local flavour". Ultimately, Musorgsky was able to stake a
>> claim to Russianness thanks to the originality and progressive character
>> of
>> his operatic works, overcoming all the accrued Italian, German and French
>> cliches with one bold stroke. There were, of course, other markers of
>> Russianness that Musorgsky shared with his contemporaries (folk-song
>> quotations and imitations, church singing, and bell-ringing), but these
>> were still filtered through Western conventions and were generally imposed
>> from the outside on the preexisting Western operatic forms. Musorgskian
>> declamation, as part of his overall realist aesthetic, is different, since
>> it tends to erode these forms from within, imposing a much more radical
>> change on the art form.... Unsurprisingly, Musorgsky's principles of
>> musical declamation were soon established as a great nationalist
>> achievement, and CLOSE READING OF HIS RECITATIVES was championed by
>> Russians scholars, a practice that reached its peak in the work of Aleksey
>> Ogolevets (1966), the compiler of a 400 hundred page volume that trawls
>> through Boris Godunov phrase by phrase, with endlessly detailed and
>> uniformly admiring commentary"
>> >"3. Debussy became a great admirer of the Russian composer's output,
>> which
>> differs markedly from Wagner’s on account of its highly unorthodox
>> character. As it happened, Debussy was engrossed with Musorgsky’s *Boris
>> Godunov *when he began the composition of his own operatic masterwork,
>> *Pelléas
>> et Mélisande*. Affinities between the two works abound, particularly with
>> respect to prosody as both *Boris *and *Pelléas *TEEM with vocal parts
>> that
>> mirror the inflections of ordinary speech [....] Musorgsky led Debussy to
>> make the declamatory style prevail in *Pelléas *although in Debussy's
>> case,
>> the declamation is rather less actorly, and closer to the flatter profile
>> of ordinary speech. Its anti-Wagnerian approach was celebrated as the new
>> course for French music [....] To start with, it seemed difficult to admit
>> unreservedly that Debussy did not feel a fraternal emotion, however
>> slight,
>> at having discovered a musician (Musorgsky) who spoke a free language,
>> adopting a simple and direct means of expression, disregarding Wagnerian
>> pomp and complication and achieving in his own way an independent and
>> spontaneous work of art. This was something the young French compser had
>> been seekng for years, striving to create the equivalent in a totally
>> apppropriate, different, and much more subtle way [.....] "It is important
>> to insist on the simplicity (to be found) in *Pelléas: *I spent 12 years
>> striving to remove from it everything superfluous that had somehow slipped
>> in unawares -- but I never set out to revolutionize anything. I merely
>> tried to show how people who were singing (in a drama) could at the same
>> time remain human and natural, without needing to become like madmen or
>> ciphers [....] One cannot but wonder what William Hazlitt, who could not
>> think of beauty, simplicity, or sensibility as qualities having any
>> possible association with opera, would have said of a manner of writing
>> for
>> the lyric stage which ignores even those opportunities for musical effect
>> which composers of unimpeachable artistic integrity have always held to be
>> desirable and legitimate. In a curious degree much of the music is both
>> contemplative and impassioned; its pervading note is that of a still
>> flame,
>> of emotional quietude -- the sweeping and cosmic winds of 'Tristan und
>> Isolde' are absent. Yet the dramatic fibre of the score is strong and
>> rich;
>> for all its fineness and delicacy of texture and its economy of accent, it
>> is never amorphous or inert. Its spiritual and emotional flavour are
>> without analogy in the previous history, not merely of opera, but of music
>> [....] It is a dictum that is scarcely calculated to persuade a very
>> general acceptance: "a passionate exposition of the most delicate and
>> strange intuitions" is not precisely the kind of aesthetic fare which the
>> "plain, blunt man," glorying in his plainness and his bluntness, is apt to
>> relish. It is a point upon which it is perhaps needless to dwell; but its
>> recognition serves as explanation of the fact that the music-drama into
>> which Debussy has transformed Maeterlinck's play should not everywhere and
>> always be either accepted or understood. For in the musical setting of
>> Debussy, Maeterlinck's drama has found its perfect equivalent: the
>> qualities of the music are the qualities of the play, completely and
>> exactly; and, sharing its qualities, it has evoked and will always evoke
>> the more or less contemptuous antagonism of those for whom it has little
>> or
>> nothing to say.
>> Jon Goldberg wrote:
>> >"Those who tout the operas they love as a way to "impress" us with their
>> supposed knowledge of the arcane/obscure/rebellious are doomed to be seen
>> as snotty, snooty, and smug. I'm sure we all have at least a few obscure
>> operas we love and wish were performed more often"
>> What? There are no 'obscure' operas on my list. Every single one has been
>> recorded at least once.
>> Jon Goldberg wrote:
>> >"I do tend to think we should really always want to explore and champion
>> works that aren't often done - but not because of some belief in loving
>> opera being "hard work"
>> If I want to achieve the most intimate understanding of an opera's subtle
>> complexity and truly get most of it into my bones and blood it will
>> require
>> enormous patience. With most of my favorite operas my understanding and
>> fullest appreciation of them has come... IN DEGREES!
>> Jon Goldberg wrote:
>> >"What Eric will most likely never understand, however, is that his taste
>> doesn't give him more "refined tastes"
>> Do you know this old quote? "To be part of an elite means loving
>> passionately and not negotiating your passions. If that's elitism, I plead
>> guilty"
>> While I recognize that not every piece on my list is absolutely flawless,
>> I
>> still believe that those who cannot get enough of my '25 Essential
>> Operas for An Introduction' have the most 'delicacy of imagination' and
>> the
>> best-calibrated aesthetic faculty when it comes to opera.
>> -Pelléas et Mélisande
>> -The Rake's Progress
>> -Falstaff
>> -Doktor Faust
>> -Hippolyte et Aricie
>> -Die Frau ohne Schatten
>> -The Trojans
>> -Mathis der Maler
>> -Boris Godunov (1908 version, ed. Rimsky-Korsakov)
>> -Capriccio
>> -Idomeneo
>> -Médée
>> -Palestrina
>> -Siegfried
>> -Lulu
>> -Castor et Pollux
>> -Oedipus Rex
>> -The Cunning Little Vixen
>> -Moses and Aron
>> -Das Rheingold
>> -Saint François d'Assise
>> -The Mask of Orpheus
>> -The Coronation of Poppea
>> -The Return of Ulysses
>> -Duke Bluebeard's Castle
>> Jon Goldberg wrote:
>> >"I do think that there are people that grab on to opera as a way of
>> showing off a sense of status, or intelligence, or "refinement." The rest
>> of us can simply be allowed to love opera - ANY opera - because it moves
>> us
>> emotionally, rather than being some sort of misguided status symbol"
>> Do you really believe that my devotion to opera / classical music since
>> the
>> age of 14 has anything at all to do with acquiring "status symbols"??
>> I adore opera because it engages and enlivens my inner experience like no
>> other art form and because it provides me with the most direct aesthetic
>> pleasures. Social factors play NO PART in any of this. It is solely
>> about a sense
>> of wonder, amazement, fascination or being moved and touched. It is
>> idiosyncratic and perspectival.
>> One more time Mr. Goldberg just so we're very clear:
>> My operatic tastes are the result of INNATE, INDIVIDUALISTIC CHOICES OF MY
>> **********************************************
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