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Thread: To worry about the number of operagoers or about the quality of singing?

          
   
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  1. #61
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Midge Woolsey, the QXR host, touched on this topic about 2 years ago:
    Are Contemporary Composers Just Spinning Their Musical Wheels?
    Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 10:32 AM
    By Midge Woolsey : WQXR Host

    As I was prepping my radio show this morning, I noticed a quote from Pierre Boulez about Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. He said "the flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music" citing the creation of the piece as a pivotal moment in the history of music. That pivotal moment in the history of music took place 107 years ago.

    One-hundred-seven years aside, I love the sound of Boulez’s words. They speak right to the heart of a question that’s been on my mind recently: Is it important to keep creating new music? After all, there’s a lot of old music out there – centuries and centuries of it, in fact – so why not work on making good with that and forget about creating anything new? Is there really new breath to breathe into the art of music or are today's composers just spinning their musical wheels?

    The subject has been on my mind because 1) New York City Opera has just announced the casting of its 12th Annual VOX Contemporary Opera Lab and 2) I recently hosted the 10th annual From Page to Stage: New American Opera Previews at the Manhattan School of Music.

    Each year at Manhattan School – after performances of excerpts from several "operas in progress" – the performers and the creative teams gather on the stage for a panel discussion. We talk about the creative process, the effect on the performers and why it’s important to continue to this challenging work.

    This year – more than ever before, perhaps – I was impressed by the passion and commitment that the artists bring to their work. They talked about the importance of keeping the art of music alive by working together to create new listening experiences, nourishing our collective spirit as human beings and the need to bring meaning to the experience we share on earth.

    Conductor/pianist Mara Waldman has participated in New American Opera Previews for each of the ten years of its existence. This year I found her comments particularly moving. “We need this art form, as proven by its hundreds of years of existence, to remind us of our humanity,” she explained, “…to heighten our understanding of life, to thrill us, move us and ultimately to enlighten us…We need 'new' opera…. to reveal us to ourselves as our lives and our society evolves. New music is the voice of people, through the gift of the composer, that enables us to sing in ways we never knew we could.”

    Mara and the others on stage proved to me that when you consult the artists, the answer is very clear: new music definitely has the power to breathe new life into the art of music in ways that are not possible otherwise.

    But what about the audience?

    Listeners continue to have mixed reactions to “new music.” It's a well known fact that it’s extremely difficult to attract an audience for contemporary opera. And, as far as “new music” and WQXR is concerned, there are some who feel that “new music” doesn’t belong on this station – period! To make matters more difficult, these naysayers often include – even though they are far from “new” – many of the most important composers of the 20th century on their lists of “least preferred.” The likes of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg and Poulenc are persona non grata with some of our most loyal classical music consumers.

    Igor Stravinsky has been gone for 40 years. The others have been gone much longer. So, when does “new” become “old” in the world of classical music? Is a century a long enough wait? Or -- given the dwindling amount of exposure we are given to classical music these days, is it unrealistic to imagine that the average listener will develop an ear for new sounds in his/her lifetime?

    You know where I’m going with this. It’s an important topic and I’d like to know what you think when you have a minute.

    And, thanks!
    --Midge Woolsley
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  2. #62
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    I think this is more an issue of comfort zone. We all are comfortable with the familiar, and uncomfortable with change, and this becomes more true as we age. As a Met HD ambassador, I've heard complaints about staging from many people about operas which would not be considered Regieoper today. Yet when people put on business suits instead of armored suits, they are outside of their comfort zone, and feel alienated, even though, as in the case of almost all operas, the music and words remain word-for-word identical to what the composer wrote so many decades ago.

    Even classical but less common operas are like this. Witness the smaller audiences for the Met's Francesco da Rimini this year.

    Perhaps ancient Greek and Latin are a less apt analogy. So let me use one which is perhaps more relevant to music, and that of music itself and trends. While classical music hasn't changed much, consider popular music. Tastes of the masses in music has certainly changed from the music of Tin Pan Alley in the late 19th century to Big Bands and swing in the 40's to punk rock in the 70's to emo and country pop this last decade. Yet, despite how we think we are so much better and sophisticated than the succeeding generations, we are not--people have remained the same at heart, yet clearly tastes have changed with time.

    So I would argue that those who think contemporary opera has no future, also may be the same ones listening to jazz and thinking that punk rock had no future. I would argue that it all primarily boils down to a matter of comfort zone and and what you have been comfortable with.
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  3. #63
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Well, the flaw in your reasoning is exactly the one of ignoring that opera *is* the most enduring, in-continuous-production form of classical music
    Well, the flaw in your knowledge is that opera *isn't* the most enduring, in-continuous-production form of classical music and this title would belong to one of sacred forms, like mass. Interesting that opera so often is claimed to be obscure and outdated while sacred music holds so well in the age of popular atheism. No other form is so often dismissed by people and academics as opera. How does that corresponding with your claims?

    Besides, if you were to really take to full consequence what *you* are proposing, you have to stop composing your own music, right? Because the great masters have already composed sonatas and so forth, so there is no need for you to compose anything else. Is this how it works for you? No? Yeah, I didn't think so.
    It does work because my music is out of context, given that it's not professional and isn't neither performed nor listened and thus is irrelevant to discussion about serious art.

    ---------------

    @tyroneslothrop - try staying away from Xavier for some time, I think you might got infected with that disease that makes people talk with quotations

  4. #64
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Very well put by Midge Woosley and Mara Waldman, thanks for posting it, Tyrone.

    Humans are creatures of habit. In all eras of music, the emergence of a new style met with the public's resistance, and what we see today with contemporary opera is no different.

    Yes, it's a matter of comfort zone, but it doesn't mean people's comfort zone can't be broadened.

    Case in point, the first time I listened to Lulu, I thought "oh my God, why would someone ever want to listen to these horrible, fragmented sounds?" But then I tried again, and tried again... and today I like Lulu very much.

    Not too long ago (a few years back) I engaged in a bitter argument with a lover of contemporary classical music (non-operatic) and had some of the same arguments we're hearing now from Aramis and Hoffmann. These pieces were not in my comfort zone and they didn't agree with my ears, at the time.

    But then I made a bit of an effort to listen more to contemporary music, and now I like it and my comfort zone grew enough that it now overlaps with it and embraces it. Because we are creatures of habit who usually - at least initially - balk at unfamiliar things, I had to *become* familiar with it. Now that I am, it pleases me.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  5. #65
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    Well, the flaw in your knowledge is that opera *isn't* the most enduring, in-continuous-production form of classical music and this title would belong to one of sacred forms, like mass. Interesting that opera so often is claimed to be obscure and outdated while sacred music holds so well in the age of popular atheism.
    I appreciate the fact that I can learn from you something I didn't know before, thank you for teaching me the point. Great for Mass form, bravo, but then at the very least opera is the second most enduring form, which in terms of order of magnitude doesn't make much of a difference, does it? In spite of our silly predilection for terms like "the most" etc., the fact remains that opera *is* enduring, regardless of it being the most enduring or the second or third most.

    No other form is so often dismissed by people and academics as opera. How does that corresponding with your claims?
    Now, your second claim that no other form is so often dismissed by "people and academics" is of no relevance to the discussion whatsoever. Artistic value has never been a consensus. Critics and academics are notorious for extremely misguided notions and rigid thinking. The history of art is full of artists who were put down by their contemporaries, including the public, the critics, and the academics, just to survive for centuries while said critics and academics became forgotten ashes. Just recently we were discussing how a top level academic with all sorts of accolades, doctoral degree in musicology, and Harvard professorship, criticized Richard Strauss' operas so harshly that it started to sound ridiculous, given that R. Strauss' art endures and survives and is highly recognized by many, while the words of this academic are destined to be forgotten.

    I work in academia as well, and I can't start to tell you how many idiots I've seen who hold university professorships (sometimes they are the very mediocre ones who couldn't succeed on their own out there in their competitive fields, and took refuge in academia). So pardon me, but I don't always put unshakable credence in what academics says. Are you familiar with the saying, "people who can't do, teach"? Some of these musicologists who put down someone like Richard Strauss wouldn't be able to compose an opera themselves with 1% of the quality of Strauss' operas. So much for their learned opinions.

    Remember our Rossini discussions? You first denied his musical merit. I affirmed it. You later got more exposed to more pieces of Rossini's serious works and came to agree with me. Meanwhile, musicologists for decades despised Rossini, and wouldn't think he was worthy of a dissertation or something - God forbid they'd abandon Wagner in their learned writings and look at lowly Rossini. Well, nowadays, musicologists are flocking back to Rossini and upholding him as a musical genius. Funny how things change.

    Besides, as much as opera's enemies love to bash it, numerous opera lovers do exist - this very community here on Opera Lively is made of such people, including you, who has reviewed favorably many operas, in posts you authored for this very website.

    It does work because my music is out of context, given that it's not professional and isn't neither performed nor listened and thus is irrelevant to discussion about serious art.
    Hey, you must be a better judge of your own art than I am, and if you say so, I'll take your word for it, but there are also cases in history when the composer was not self-confident and kept second-guessing himself and thinking of his work as garbage, while subsequent generations came to appreciate it. Case in point, Beethoven's Fidelio.

    And in addition to this, if your own art, in your words, is not serious and shouldn't be included in the discussion, you're not the only amateur composer out there; there are plenty of professional composers out there as well, and I bet *they* experience the need to keep composing, so, what I said about you can be said about them as well, making the point a valid one.

    @tyroneslothrop - try staying away from Xavier for some time, I think you might got infected with that disease that makes people talk with quotations
    Hehehe, funny, but in Tyrone's defense, I must say that while he does bring to us interesting articles he has read elsewhere (and frankly, it helps me, it keeps me informed, since I haven't had the time to explore all that is being published out there, so it's neat that we have our Tyrone to do for us a sort of digest of the most interesting pieces, which then become nice topics for conversation - if you haven't noticed, the participation and number of new posts has increased once Tyrone started fulfilling this function of diffusing here the relevant stuff he's been finding elsewhere), he does volunteer his own opinion as well.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 21st, 2013 at 06:44 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  6. #66
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Actually, I am going to bring up as analogy another artistic genre--the visual arts. When the first Impressionists were working, it was such a departure from the traditional works of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts, then none other than Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro and Morisot, names today are considered giants of the visual arts, were not invited to the Salon de Paris, and so they created their own exhibition in 1874. The noted critic, Louis Leroy declared that Monet's work, in particular, was at most, a sketch, and could hardly be termed a finished work, saying, "Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it ... and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape."

    Today, we still experience the dislocation caused by visual art which we are unaccustomed to. While most of us may feel comfortable with the same Impressionist works that gave Leroy such heartburn, and many of the genres that came afterwards, the latest trends and schools may still be uncomfortable. As it turns out, my wife's profession is visual arts. She studied art history and earned her bachelor's degree in art history at a university in Pennsylvania writing research papers on da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc. but today, she is not even working in post-modernist art. She has climbed onboard with Nicolas Bourriaud's Altermodernism and has even given interviews on this, in her role as Vice President of the Russian Union of Artists. I go with her to exhibitions and try to remain silent and just take it in--try to figure out what is going on. She goes to exhibitions and has to sit down because she feels faint because all of the emotions she feels from the works make her feel light-headed. I look at the same work and think--nice, it's a large pool of very black oil. And? (BTW, real room-size installation at the Saatchi Gallery in London, and yes, that is actually what I silently thought to myself as I regarded it!)
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  7. #67
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    @tyroneslothrop - try staying away from Xavier for some time, I think you might got infected with that disease that makes people talk with quotations
    --

    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

  8. #68
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    I look at the same work and think--nice, it's a large pool of very black oil. And? (BTW, real room-size installation at the Saatchi Gallery in London, and yes, that is actually what I silently thought to myself as I regarded it!)


    I hope you don't say it to the missus, right? Or else, you'll be sleeping on the couch.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  9. #69
    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    Remember our Rossini discussions? You first denied his musical merit. I affirmed it. You later got more exposed to more pieces of Rossini's serious works and came to agree with me. Meanwhile, musicologists for decades despised Rossini, and wouldn't think he was worthy of a dissertation or something - God forbid they'd abandon Wagner in their learned writings and look at lowly Rossini. Well, nowadays, musicologists are flocking back to Rossini and upholding him as a musical genius. Funny how things change.
    In his book, Divas and Scholars, Phillip Gossett tells how hard it was to do his dissertation on Italian opera because all the musicologists of that era that he was in graduate school wanted to study was medieval music. So I ask you, what is the popularity of medieval music compared to opera? How many people have heard of Hildegard von Bingen versus Rossini?
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

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    Opera Lively Coordinator - Donor Member Top Contributor Member tyroneslothrop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post


    I hope you don't say it to the missus, right? Or else, you'll be sleeping on the couch.
    I did say "silently" didn't I? Actually, I nod a lot at her galleries. (I say "her" because I feel like a stuff animal that is transported to those places.) Nods are good because they can be interpreted many ways.
    “The hand of Providence creeps among the stars, giving Slothrop the finger.”
    ― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tyroneslothrop View Post
    I did say "silently" didn't I? Actually, I nod a lot at her galleries. (I say "her" because I feel like a stuff animal that is transported to those places.) Nods are good because they can be interpreted many ways.
    Very true! You can nod and think to yourself "Yep. I knew it. Yes, piece of crap!"
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  12. #72
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I'll admit those are three good examples of interesting scenes - none of which is an opera I know other than by name. I can't see that I'll ever become an advocate for contemporary opera, but it may be that I will come to appreciate one here and there. I suppose you and TL will just have to keep working on me...

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    Now, your second claim that no other form is so often dismissed by "people and academics" is of no relevance to the discussion whatsoever. Artistic value has never been a consensus. Critics and academics are notorious for extremely misguided notions and rigid thinking(...)
    I didn't mean the theory but the general feeling that exists both among academics and non-academics. For many reasons opera is considered as relict of the past more than symphony or anything else. Whatever you may say about how it still has potential and can be successfully adopted to modern times, this fact remains and people with your beliefs have to fight it all the time. I don't belive it myself but this common association is meaningful, in a way.


    Remember our Rossini discussions?
    SURE DAD...... I MISS OUR ROSSINI DISCUSSIONS WHEN WILL YOU TAKE ME FOR FISHING AGAIN..............

    I bet *they* experience the need to keep composing, so, what I said about you can be said about them as well, making the point a valid one.
    I don't bet about that. Need to compose, that's like call, vocation, isn't it? Amazing how many composers don't have anything like that. And I'm almost certain that today, there is no composer that truely loves and understands opera and is entirely comitted to contributing to the genre. They venture into opera but rarely you can find somebody who it OPERA COMPOSER in the way that Bellini, Verdi, Wagner or Puccini were.

  14. #74
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Interesting comment regarding Rossini. A friend of mine, with a PhD in Music, was a real fan of Rossini. We would have the great old Wagner vs the Italians discussion on a regular basis. He's the one who suggested we go see Il Viaggio a Reims when it came to the Kennedy Center a number of years ago. I spent a lot of time turning up my nose at poor old Rossini. Since I retired, I've had a lot more time to listen to operas, and sort of ran out of German opera. I have always loved Bellini, so Rossini seemed to be a natural, and it's been like discovering someone new.

    So, I will try to keep that argument in mind when this subject comes up again.

    I also just watched the link to Elektra that Sospiro provided. It's hard to believe that was composed in 1909 - and, I suppose a case in point to what we have been discussing on this thread. It's not an easy opera to love - but what a cast and performance! Waltraud Meier just gets better and better.

    Annie said she's not sure how long the link will last, so would suggest that anyone interested take advantage of it soon:


    [Video no longer available - link deleted by Admin]
    Last edited by Ann Lander (sospiro); January 7th, 2018 at 07:01 PM.

  15. #75
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    I'll admit those are three good examples of interesting scenes - none of which is an opera I know other than by name. I can't see that I'll ever become an advocate for contemporary opera, but it may be that I will come to appreciate one here and there. I suppose you and TL will just have to keep working on me...
    See? I showed you three scenes and went three out of three in your admiration. I could show you many more. There is plenty of good music out there in contemporary opera. You said you'll appreciate one here and there - sure, like in all of contemporary art, the good pieces are here and there since the junk hasn't been separated yet from the good ones, by failing the test of time. But the good stuff does exist.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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