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Subject: Re: "Superficial Allegiances"
From: Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 23 Jun 2017 13:10:04 -0400

text/plain (113 lines)

Mr. Tomlinson is absolutely right. For better or worse. 

Opera and musical theatre alike - many people who claim not to like the forms point to the 
fact that "people don't just break out into song in real life." They can't bring themselves to 
accept that such use of sung expression/sung thought is a viable form of purely theatrical 
language. I tend to think that, more than just the singing itself, it's the unabashed size and 
scope of that expression. Particularly in American society, where as a culture, singing as a 
form of public expression is not valued. I think people tend to be embarrassed by someone 
"breaking into song" - so it's easy to transform that even to a stage performance and feel 
that the event is too "melodramatic" (in a negative way). 

I would imagine that for many people it's the same with, say, a Shakespeare soliloquy. 
When characters stop "naturally" interacting and speaking to each other, and one 
character stops to address the audience directly in that "poetic" language, I tend to think 
some people see it as being an unnatural moment, too lofty and artificial. In many ways 
that's the equivalent of an operatic aria, or a solo turn in a musical. 

We who love these art forms understand, and in fact, live for, those moments where the 
human singing voice gives us a heightened, ultra-dramatic sense of emotional outpouring. 
And I'd like to say that really most people love that kind of moment in *some* form and 
venue - hearing a dynamic rock singer seem to bare his or her soul singing their songs is 
really no different - and a good many rock performers have made sure, through 
sophisticated lighting, pyrotechnic effects, and eye-popping outfits, etc - that their "show" 
is just as "theatrical" as an opera, lol. But somehow, for many people, there's a huge 
difference between the raw directness of a popular singer doing this in concert, and the 
more "refined" situation of characters on a stage warbling their emotions in song. While I 
don't agree that the distinction has to be there, I do understand why some people feel that 

I still remember, as an elementary school student, going on a field trip to see the film of 
"1776" - an entertaining but educational supplement to classwork on the Revolutionary 
era. When a song started, you could hear some predictable groans or laughter from some 
of the class - as if to say "oh geez, here they go again" - but I know that I was far from the 
only kid who loved those songs because they seemed to give the scene an extra jolt. 

Working as a musical director and coach, and teacher in a college musical theatre 
program, I always talk to my students about the reasons for singing in a musical. (Or, one 
could compare this to why arias happen out of secco recitative, or how one gets from 
secco to the more dramatic accompagnato recit.) The basic answer is that one sings 
because mere speaking doesn't convey enough for the emotion of the moment. That's the 
"theatrical language" of it. But really, it's based in everyday truth. When we speak, and we 
need to hit an emotional point, our voices will naturally tend to get a little higher, maybe 
we hold words a bit longer, and maybe we subconsciously/unconsciously find ourselves in a 
somewhat "sing-ier" place in our speaking range. We do the same thing naturally if we 
need to be heard above a crowd or to try to dominate a conversation, etc. It's only natural 
then, that the *theatrical* equivalent of this is actual singing. 

And some people just don't feel comfortable with that. Their loss, lol - but that's a lot of 
what I think Mr. Tomlinson is getting at. They see it as some sort of embarrassing and 
superficial grandstanding, instead of the next most natural step in vocal expression. 

The only "smart-ass" "posturing of an academic" I see here is from the poster. (Sorry, 
Eric, but you truly set yourself up for that. Better luck next time, lol?)

On Fri, 23 Jun 2017 00:44:21 -0400, Genevieve Castle Room 
<[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Gary Tomlinson from Yale University wrote:
>>"Of all our dramatic arts, opera demands the most of us. It asks us to
>accept it as dramatic representation, to immerse ourselves in a sequence of
>imitated actions far more specific and complex than those offered by the
>gestural arts of dance or mime. Yet because it is sung it requires, if it
>is to be taken seriously as drama, a leap of imagination longer than that
>needed for spoken theater, a suspension of disbelief more uncompromising.
>Perhaps this explains why opera is so often not taken seriously: we have
>all encountered the superficial allegiances of opera buffs, their cults of
>divas and heldentenors, and we all have also known people who on some
>visceral and unselfconscious level reject altogether the notion of sung
>drama. But difficulty in appreciating opera as serious drama is not the
>burden of sycophants and the naïve alone. Instead we each contend with it,
>reaching our own more or less uneasy compromises with the genre. We
>struggle in some part of ourselves to restrain the skepticism that can
>shatter the spell of its music drama. We strive to accommodate the breach
>of verisimilitude inherent in its singing talk"
>How do you interpret his comment?
>The posturing of an academic? A sneer?
>As far as make believe and realism in the theater, does anyone else think that
>most of this guy's smart ass arguments are founded on a false conception of
>reality *qua *naturalism and are therefore pseudo-problems?
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