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Subject: Re: When is an aria not an aria
From: Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 3 Feb 2018 13:23:53 -0500

text/plain (101 lines)

Part of my point in bringing up the gradual transition from "da capo" to 
"cavatina/cabaletta" aria forms was to say that the substance of an aria has changed over 
the years. In baroque operas, I can't reality think of any examples of the chorus being 
involved in a da capo aria, but as the cavatina/cabaletta form developed through the 19th 
century, choral participation became more common - as did the occasional participations 
of other solo singers (often the "confidante" roles like the previously mentioned Inez in 
Trovatore, etc). By the time of Puccini, he was experimenting with other ideas - what if a 
character in, say, La Boheme could actually respond to a question posed in another's aria? 
What if another character, such as the Sacristan in Tosca, could be posing asides in his 
own very different solo writing, DURING (and, notably, continuing AFTER) another's aria? 
Could it simply be that the form of what we know to be an aria was changing again, to 
allow things previously not done? After all, art is so often about breaking the "rules," and 
in trying innovations, as much as it is about carrying on traditions. 

In my view, if it's clear that the thrust of the piece in question is a solo, and is obviously 
meant to showcase that particular singer, it's most likely an aria. It's the nature of the 
solo writing more than the small interjections by other characters, or the involvement of 
choral "backup" in my view. I can't fathom not thinking of "Caro Nome" as an aria, even if 
the courtiers have some music to sing at the very end. I can't see how "Che Gelida 
Manina" is not an aria just because Puccini allows Mimi to respond to a question with one 
word. I can't see how the Italian Tenor's solo in Rosenkavalier isn't an aria, even if it 
winds up in competition with (and eventual interruption due to) Ochs' simultaneous 
argument). (In fact, being a diegetic aria - that is, music literally sung in context of the 
story, Ochs' argument is a totally separate thing. But in Bob's definition then, it's an aria 
as presented to the Marschallin, but not an aria as heard by the opera audience?? Do we 
need to go that far?)

I don't have the time to look up "aria" in MUSIC dictionaries at the moment, but perhaps 
they might have a more comprehensive definition. Maybe not. But I think this is really an 
issue of common sense, and in fact I'll relate it to the classic remark on pornography by 
Justice Potter Stewart, i.e. "I know it when I see it."

I think common sense tells us that we know an aria when we hear it, even if it may have 
tangential participation from other singers. I don't think that it's a question of vocal 
*percentages* (as Bob offers in the quite below) - I think it's pretty clear when the solo 
singer is the main event (i.e. it's an aria) and when it's clearly meant to be a more 
equitable ensemble effort. 

And I think we need to give composers the benefit of the doubt in creating arias that may 
not fit the rigid expected definition. I don't know if documentation is out there, but I 
would tend to think he certainly considered "Che Gelida" an aria, etc. Why wouldn't he? I 
can't see him sitting there, writing in Mimi's "Si" and laughing vindictively, saying "good - 
now no one can correctly call this an aria - sorry, tenors..." That's just ridiculous. 

Or basta. ;-)

On Sat, 3 Feb 2018 17:52:03 +0000, Bob Rideout <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Sorry, Kurt, I'm nowhere near finished.
>The definition is not "mine"; it is the technical and
>dictionary definition, for which I offered one example.
>An extreme example to be sure, but a correct one!
>For this I received the following - ridiculous, crazy and a
>disservice to the word "aria" as though that word had some
>intrinsic value greater than any other musical form. Let the
>pejoratives roll!
>I would ask anyone on this forum to tell me exactly when, in
>their opinion, an aria becomes a duet. Is it when each has
>50% of the music, 60-40, 90-10, when? I assure you that
>for every answer, though I suspect there will be few to none,
>there will be as many who will disagree, because it has no
>clinically correct answer. If two soloists participate, it is,
>at least by definition, a duet. That isn't going to change, no
>matter how loudly one may, metaphorically, scream or stamp
>Scream and stamp away!
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