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Subject: Re: Operatic Aesthetics
From: donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:37:40 -0400

text/plain (313 lines)

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
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


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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