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  1. #1
    Schigolch
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    Amplification

    How do you feel about amplification in the Opera?.

    I mean here, amplification of the voice, not of a particular instrument, or a sound effect for dramatic purposes.

    Personally, I'm 100% against amplification in the traditional repertoire. Mozart, Verdi, Wagner,... all wrote for the operatic voice, and (of course, as there was not this possibility in their times) never thought about artificially amplified voices.

    Sure, it's difficult to transmit your voice over an Straussian orchestra of 110 instruments, especially if the conductor don't take care of blending the music and the vocals, but this is your trade. If you are an opera singer, this is what you need to do. If you can't, it's time to look for another job. Or for another type of pieces. You can have the right voice size and projection abilities for singing Handel at Halle, but not for singing Wagner at the MET.

    But voice amplification is *always* wrong.

    I except, of course, some 20th or 21st centuries operas, were the composer wants the voice amplified, like in John Adams's works. In this case, amplification is the right thing to do.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Festat's Avatar
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    I agree.
    I've been having some issues even with DVDs and blu-rays in which the singers are individually miked with lapel microphones for recording, like some of the Liceu-OpusArte releases. The ambience and theater reverb is gone. The voices get steadier and more constant than studio recordings! Not to mention you can hear the sound editing that's typical of levalier miking, which is particularly noticeable in Jago's microphone in Decker's Otello.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Involved Member Couchie's Avatar
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    I'm not against it per say if it were to be done tastefully with state-of-the-art equipment and not absurdly overdone as is the standard in pop, rock, musical theatre, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    Personally, I'm 100% against amplification in the traditional repertoire. Mozart, Verdi, Wagner,... all wrote for the operatic voice, and (of course, as there was not this possibility in their times) never thought about artificially amplified voices.
    Irrelevant, because Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner couldn't have thought about artificially amplified voices. It's akin to saying we shouldn't use modern lighting and staging effects because they weren't available in the composer's day. Had they been able to think about amplification, what they would have thought is another question altogether. Wagner of course found the acoustics of opera houses of the day so unsatisfactory he had a new house purpose built for his works with several acoustic innovations. I think you have a difficult case to make that Wagner would have preferred his singers to be drowned out at the Met rather than be amplified given his openness to innovation and relative contempt for dogmatic operatic traditions.

  4. #4
    Schigolch
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    Lighting and staging effects are not part of the essence of Opera.

    Singing is.

    It's irrelevant if Wagner would have preferred or not something it was not available when he was alive. Simply, we don't know and we will never know. What's a fact if that he wrote for the operatic, non-amplified voice, that it was the standard in the 19th century. And this is how his operas should be always sung.

    Of course, nobody wants singers to be drowned by the orchestra. But the solution is to use the right type of voice, with the right projection technique, not to amplify and destroy, not a tradition, but part of what's opera is, the core of the genre.

    It's funny that when we are trying to use period instruments, and other ways to made the music sound as close as possible to their original period, the other part of the equation, the voice, should be amplified.... and why?. Because there are some singers that can not even approach a Wagner opera, singing roles they can not perform, ever?. No, this is not the way. If you propose that Wagner can be sung with amplified voice in a Wagnerian meeting, I think you will get few, if any, adherents.

    If you can read Spanish, try this site: http://www.wagnermania.com

    But if you plan to propose this amplification, and insists that it would be welcome by Wagner himself, please just don't reveal your whereabouts....

    Again, if the composer himself wants to amplify vocals, or just doesn't care about the use of the amplified voice (Doctor Atomic, for instance, is a very good example), this is totally different.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Involved Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    Lighting and staging effects are not part of the essence of Opera.

    Singing is.
    I can't speak for everyone, but this is at least not true of Wagner's conception of opera as a blend of music and drama. If you view his scores there are two types of text: what is sung, and staging directions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    It's irrelevant if Wagner would have preferred or not something it was not available when he was alive. Simply, we don't know and we will never know. What's a fact if that he wrote for the operatic, non-amplified voice, that it was the standard in the 19th century. And this is how his operas should be always sung.
    Wagner buried the orchestra in a pit several feet under the stage with the orchestral music rising from a narrow crevasse before blending with the vocals of the singers. I watched an interview with Meier recently and she related how it is simply much easier to project at Bayreuth than at other houses. The expectation that singers must be able to project through a full orchestra in a Met-sized auditorium if they wish to sing is not one of Wagner's. If he had tools like electronic amplification at his disposition for improved performance at other houses as he saw necessary to rectify with Baytreuth, who's to say he wouldn't have used them? Who's to say he would have rejected them?

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    It's funny that when we are trying to use period instruments, and other ways to made the music sound as close as possible to their original period, the other part of the equation, the voice, should be amplified.... and why?. Because there are some singers that can not even approach a Wagner opera, singing roles they can not perform, ever?. No, this is not the way. If you propose that Wagner can be sung with amplified voice in a Wagnerian meeting, I think you will get few, if any, adherents.
    I kind of feel like I could draw an eerily analogous argument that opera recordings are heresy (amplified and artificially reproduced singing), live acoustic performance is the only way to go, and you must throw out all of your 100+ recordings of Norma...

  6. #6
    Schigolch
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    Many composers (and librettists) have given stage directions, not only Wagner. And they are ignored, all of them.

    In any case, I was not referrering to stage an opera, but to lightning and sound effects, as per your earlier suggestion, that are part of the scenery. Staging, of course, is also part of the essence of Opera, along with music and singing.

    Who's to say that he will have accepted them?.

    I know many wagnerians, Some of them, the editors of the page I linked before. People that have been listening to Wagner's operas in some cases for more than fifty years. Just try to sell them this notion.... No way.

    Wagner must be performed with the operatic voice, unamplified, the way the music was written for.

    Stage performance is one thing. Recordings are another thing. Both are fine, but the true nature of Opera, of course, can only be 100% found on the theater, staged and sung with operatic voice (for 19th century opera).

    Theater acoustics can, and must, be part of designing (when building new opera houses, or multipurpose auditoriums). They are of paramount importance. Precisely, because the voice must be projected without any articial enhancement. This is what operatic singing is all about, and this was the purpose of Wagner, and no other. How to get the best possible acoustics to accompany operatic singing.

    Of course, the cavernous MET is one of the most difficult theaters to stage Wagner, Strauss, or large orchestra operas. Because it's huge and the acoustics is nice, but not top-of-the-art. But in the MET, a traditional Wagnerian power house, many singers have performed Wagner, and overcome the difficulties, to produce great art. This is the true path to follow.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Involved Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    Many composers (and librettists) have given stage directions, not only Wagner. And they are ignored, all of them.

    In any case, I was not referrering to stage an opera, but to lightning and sound effects, as per your earlier suggestion, that are part of the scenery. Staging, of course, is also part of the essence of Opera, along with music and singing.

    Who's to say that he will have accepted them?.

    I know many wagnerians, Some of them, the editors of the page I linked before. People that have been listening to Wagner's operas in some cases for more than fifty years. Just try to sell them this notion.... No way.

    Wagner must be performed with the operatic voice, unamplified, the way the music was written for.
    Seems like a double standard... we trash the composer's intentions with the staging, we translate the libretto into distant languages, we cut as we see fit, we obliterate the dramatic timing of the text by displaying translated surtitles, but amplification... NOT THE COMPOSERS' INTENTIONS!

    Ship has sailed, sir.

    Conservative Wagnerians will of course groan and moan, that is what they're best at (attend a new Bayreuth production). Progress is all about leaving such people in the dust.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    Stage performance is one thing. Recordings are another thing. Both are fine, but the true nature of Opera, of course, can only be 100% found on the theater, staged and sung with operatic voice (for 19th century opera).

    Theater acoustics can, and must, be part of designing (when building new opera houses, or multipurpose auditoriums). They are of paramount importance. Precisely, because the voice must be projected without any articial enhancement. This is what operatic singing is all about, and this was the purpose of Wagner, and no other. How to get the best possible acoustics to accompany operatic singing.

    Of course, the cavernous MET is one of the most difficult theaters to stage Wagner, Strauss, or large orchestra operas. Because it's huge and the acoustics is nice, but not top-of-the-art. But in the MET, a traditional Wagnerian power house, many singers have performed Wagner, and overcome the difficulties, to produce great art. This is the true path to follow.
    It's pure dogma to reject it out of hand without trying it. Singer is still using operatic technique, we hear it louder. Perhaps with today's technology it could lead to a wonderfully more involving experiencing and circumvent the problems with the uneven acoustics of different seating sections. Perhaps more expressive singing too as a wider dynamic range will be made available to singers... as Callas said, loud singing is vulgar. No need for Isolde to scream when she's supposed to be sobbing over Tristan. A brave new world perhaps, but one full of possibilities.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    This is what operatic singing is all about
    Until we do it, then it *was* what operatic singing was all about.

  8. #8
    Schigolch
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    It's not me who doesn't take care of composers and librettists staging indications, but stage directors themselves. So, there is no "double standard" of any kind, here.

    In my mind there are not "conservative" and "non conservative" wagnerians, but people that has devoted many time, and lot of effort, putting a lot of themselves in the process, and *then* they called themselves wagnerians. And yes, they normally have heard all the operas of Wagner, many times, they know the scores from A to Z, they go to Bayreuth year after year... I'm not a wagnerian, but I respect them a lot. And of course, I know perfectly what this people think about amplifying the voice for singing Wagner.

    The operatic voice is not only a technique, is the basis of the opera, as a genre. Music, drama and voice. And this voice must be used the way it was designed for.

    This is not about ships that has already sailed. It's about ships that need to keep the route, not lose themselves in the sea.

    I think I have listened to a lot of 20th and 21st century opera, and for sure I can tell you that some of those pieces use the amplified voice. And I'm perfectly happy with this. Just evolution of the genre: some composers will use only operatic voice, others only amplified voice, others sometimes operatic, sometimes amplified. This is what *real* progress is all about.

    But singing the traditional repertoire with anything other than operatic voice, it's a different thing. Simply, it's not Opera, anymore.

  9. #9
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Yikes, a spirited discussion! But I like it! We need more debates here.
    On this, I decisively side with Schigolch.
    I'm just back from a Tosca at a huge open-air theater, the Santa Fe Opera, with the back and sides of the stage open to the mountains.
    Amanda Echalaz almost blew me out of my seat - and I was very far away from the stage, couldn't be farther away - with her powerful and well projected spinto voice. But then, she sang Vissi d'Arte in low volume, with exquisite delicacy, with the whole theater silent, glued on the introspective rendition. This is what opera is about. The pleasure of listening to an artist who is capable of doing this; the admiration one experiences, goes a long way in making opera special.
    Give some other lady a microphone and she'd be able to be heard in Santa Fe. But the pleasure would never be the same. The artistry would never be the same. A much less gifted singer would be able to be heard, but so what? We wouldn't be admiring her like we admired Amanda. Well, the one problem is that her two male counterparts were in trouble since they were unable to project as well as she was. But then, it's a question for the opera house to be able to cast the right people for the right piece. It's not easy for a regional opera company (well, Santa Fe is actually a national opera company) and sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't. But certainly what makes of this art form something so compelling, is when they do get it right and you hear the sheer beauty of a technically accomplished, well projected voice. (Not to forget that Amanda is a darn beautiful woman!)
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 14th, 2012 at 03:27 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  10. #10
    Senior Member Involved Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    It's not me who doesn't take care of composers and librettists staging indications, but stage directors themselves. So, there is no "double standard" of any kind, here.
    I'm just saying a number of 19th century traditions have gone out the window. That *this* one therefore may not has no precedent.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    In my mind there are not "conservative" and "non conservative" wagnerians, but people that has devoted many time, and lot of effort, putting a lot of themselves in the process, and *then* they called themselves wagnerians. And yes, they normally have heard all the operas of Wagner, many times, they know the scores from A to Z, they go to Bayreuth year after year... I'm not a wagnerian, but I respect them a lot. And of course, I know perfectly what this people think about amplifying the voice for singing Wagner.
    I respect them as well, but frankly these guys have not been the ones to set the direction that opera has taken for the last 50 years. Had it been up to them, we would not have Regietheatre. So why should they have authority on this issue? They don't... stage managers and directors do. That they will complain is simply doing what they do do.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    But singing the traditional repertoire with anything other than operatic voice, it's a different thing. Simply, it's not Opera, anymore.
    What is it?

  11. #11
    Senior Member Involved Member jflatter's Avatar
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    Do you think that amplification is wrong for the spoken parts of opera like Opera Comique roles? Am I right in thinking that Joan Sutherland admitted doing so for these types of roles?

  12. #12
    Senior Member Involved Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    The artistry would never be the same. A much less gifted singer would be able to be heard, but so what? We wouldn't be admiring her like we admired Amanda. Well, the one problem is that her two male counterparts were in trouble since they were unable to project as well as she was. But then, it's a question for the opera house to be able to cast the right people for the right piece.
    I think we could still admire the singers and difference in singing ability will still be apparent much as it is on recording. If it isn't, well then maybe we can focus on admiring the music and drama rather than treating the performance as an American Idol competition.

    I'm probably playing devil's advocate here more than being a serious believer that amplification will be better, but it would be a very short thread otherwise.

  13. #13
    Schigolch
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    I think amplification is ok for spoken parts of opera comique,singspiel and zarzuela. It's an option, you can use it or not.

    Again, the operatic voice is not a "tradition", it's simply the way to sing Opera, up to well into the 20th century. The *only* way to sing Opera.

    About wagnerians being against Regietheater you are flatly wrong. I know some of them that are really hot on the subject, and enjoy those stagings (well, some of them more than others, of course) immensely. Then again, some of them don't really like Regietheater. But *all* of them we will just laugh at the notion of singing Wagner with amplified voice.

    It we ask stage directors... well, I don't really think they have a say on this. If we ask the conductors, and the vast majority of singers, the answer will also be clear: amplification should not be used to sing Wagner.

    I remember one survey being conducted among Spanish fans, related to amplification of the voice. There were 3 options, namely:

    1.- I won't accept amplified voice. The use of amplified voice means there is no opera.

    2.- I accept the use of the amplified voice, for those works written by the composer as such, but not for singing the traditional repertoire.

    3.- I'm fine with using the amplified voice in any kind of repertoire.

    The result was: 1.- 48%, 2.- 50%, 3.- 2%.

    On the other hand, this was mostly answered by people with an extensive exposure to live Opera, in a theater.

    My feeling is that fans using mainly recordings, especially DVDs, will not really give the same percentage. The reason is clear, many people will need a live Opera experience, to really understand how the operatic voice is the right way to sing the traditional repertoire.

    I've watched, for instance, a performance of Aida, by a company from Eastern Europe in a big sports center, and with amplified voice. This was not Opera, only a sad travesty.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Involved Member Couchie's Avatar
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    You seem very all over the place. Unamplified is the *only* way to sing opera, yet you say some 20th century operas are amplified, ergo it's clearly *not* the only way to sing opera. There are "not conservative and non-conservative Wagnerians", yet you say some are for regietheatre while others don't like it. I was under the impression the thread was asking how I feel about amplification of opera, not what Spanish fans, conductors, or Wagner societies think.

    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    I've watched, for instance, a performance of Aida, by a company from Eastern Europe in a big sports center, and with amplified voice. This was not Opera, only a sad travesty.
    This is a straw man because I've already said I'm not talking about rock concert style amplification. More like enhancement and reinforcement to create a louder, richer, sound than what is possible acoustically. My understanding is most opera houses already use artificial enhancement systems although they don't increase the volume.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Top Contributor Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    If you take Baroque and Classical operas, they were premiered in smaller opera houses (compared with a modern one) that required no extra-loud singing but a more natural and hence intimate flow of the music. In most cases, that is what I prefer. Amplification, which I take to mean increasing the volume; in this case the singers only, if it might address balancing problems in a very large concert hall or an outdoor performance, then I am open to it cautiously. But if it is the scale of the performance that needs amplifcation on the singers' voice, then perhaps there is an imbalancing problem to begin with regarding the scale of the production itself. Using artifical enhancement systems to increase the acoustics is a different matter, and I am open to the work done by acoustical engineers.

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