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Subject: Re: Operatic Aesthetics
From: London Tier <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:London Tier <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:24:55 -0700

text/plain (306 lines)

Geneviève/Eric -

I don't know whether you're in a minority, but we cannot change what we
like. It's rather like sex.

Having said that I think your list is great and it overlaps with many
operas I also profoundly love. It shows a strong interest for modernist
opera which as you know is also a passion of mine.
My own would include more Verdi, Wagner, Mozart, and possibly a Puccini or
two. I'd put Rusalka there too. But "favorite" isn't synonymous with
"greatest," and they're all worth knowing, n'est-ce pas?

On Thursday, October 20, 2016, Genevieve Castle Room <
[log in to unmask]
<javascript:_e(%7B%7D,'cvml',[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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