Thursday, June 30, 2005

A glimpse of the future

Despite some hyperventilating on Opera-L, there's been little reaction to this interesting article in Tuesday's NYT. Extracts below as I can't find a permalink.
The Metropolitan Opera, as part of the labor agreement with its chorus and orchestra announced Monday, said it would stage a limited run of its new production of "The Magic Flute" reduced to about 90 minutes.

The short version [...] is a test of what could become a new way of attracting audiences, said Joseph Volpe, the opera house's general manager. The performances, to take place in the winter holidays of the 2006-7 season, will be aimed at both children and adults.

The shortened production is part of a broader focus on building audiences, an effort that the Met began only several years ago, Mr. Volpe said.
Next season, the house will be dark for over two weeks in January, an innovation that began this year. Interestingly, the break will be interrupted by a broadcast of the Flute. Are holiday performances the season after that to shorten (and move into December) the break, or -- for those of us who care about full performances -- to extend it? If, as I suspect, it's the former, the innovation makes sense.

The model here is surely City Ballet's Nutcracker, a tradition -- and first exposure to ballet -- for countless kids of the tri-state area. At the moment, school groups attend dress rehearsals (after, apparently, much in-class study of the piece), but that probably can't establish the same sort of comfort and sentimental attachment that family ritual might.*

[* My parents took me to the Met at a very early age. I wonder how many of my readers had this experience?]

Peter Gelb, the record company executive who takes over as general manager at the end of next season, was more circumspect about the possibility of other abridged operas. He said he endorsed the condensed "Magic Flute" as a holiday production aimed at families but had no specific plans for other shortened operas.
I'm sure there's a Kremlinological angle here somewhere... Gelb is at least deferring the notion that he'll be as gung-ho a popularizer as his crossover projects at Sony might have suggested.

And as to the new media future,
the parties put off deciding on how the musicians and chorus would be paid for broadcasts and potential recordings or Web-based streaming audio. The issue has become difficult as the market for recordings has dried up while new possibilities are being raised by the Internet.
*     *     *

Incidentally, despite this blogger's concerns, the notion that we 'have to' do works uncut is quite a recent one. Indeed, despite Toscanini's pioneering efforts in this vein, last century's interwar Golden Age showcased some truly butchered performing editions. Not that this is exactly the same, but cuts have a long and sometimes distinguished history.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Naumburg 2005

On Anne-Carolyn Bird's tip I attended the finals of this recital competition. Four singers each did a program of about 40 minutes.

The blogger -- Tom Meglioranza, who's been competition-blogging all month, starting with this hilarious anecdote about one of my favorite singers -- finished second, deservedly so. He has a sweet lyric baritone that worked well over a varied repertoire (which to my personal taste nevertheless had a bit too much of the cutesy).

The winner was soprano Sari Gruber, whom I last heard five years ago at Weill. This time I wasn't so impressed with her sometimes-strained-sounding vocal production, but her command of time and feeling was remarkable.

Tyler Duncan, whose rich baritone was the most impressive instrument of the evening, was third. (He was also the first man I've ever heard do Bolcom's "Amor" -- a bit jarring, even in the third person.) Soprano Amanda Forsythe got Honorable Mention. She seemed to have difficulties adjusting her voice to the resonance of near-empty Alice Tully Hall, but did show a fine feeling for French song.

The audience seemed to be an afterthought, with no programs (one of the judges did read each recitalist's name and program to the audience before he or she started) and everyone restricted to the loge and box sections far in the back. Still, an interesting evening. Thanks, Anne-Carolyn.

Giulini dead


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A recorded voice

Wondering about the effect of recording on music-making is interesting enough, but what is a recording? To a listener, anyway.

The recording itself, that physical object (if only patterns on one's hard drive) and one's property rights over it, is a commercial thing, foundation -- in other genres anyway -- of vast fortunes and all sorts of economic activity. But so, in the same way, is a ticket; one would have to go back a long time to find a commerce-free manifestation of art. The content, however, is another thing. Like any night at the Met (or in the dreadful heat of the Great Lawn), one's experience listening to an opera recording is that of a performance, with all the aspects mentioned in the early post here on taxonomy. Let's look at it that way.

(1) Opera on record gives a vastly different sensory experience than its live counterpart. Visuals, obviously. Even the best home imitation -- DVD (or some HD derivative) on a large HD monitor with surround sound -- is far from what one sees from any particular seat of an opera house. There are cuts, close-ups; the action's surrounded by living room decorations; and watching in the dark is rarely practical. With CD one's left with no visual at all; just the living room and perhaps a libretto or score. Or not even these, if one listens over headphones on the street or subway.

But sound, too is different. Even now, with high-end equipment and realistic miking, the recorded sound of a voice is not its live sound. And most producers seem not even to try for realism -- most prominently in Met broadcasts, where a very close miking (at the edge of the stage) inflates vibrato, squashes big voices, and assists little ones. (Not to mention what the dynamic compression of most radio stations does on top of it all.) It seems to me that even sonically, where the things are at their closest, a recording and a live hearing of one night at the opera should be evaluated as two different performances, with what might as well be two different singers (Fleming-disc and Fleming-theater, say).

More about the other aspects of performance, plus general thoughts, in another post.


What, if anything, might this mean?
The classical world needs to show somehow that all the great composers are kindred spirits.
Boldface mine.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


After season's end: a slight readjustment, now that events are all going on elsewhere.

In South Carolina, for example, the Spoleto Festival is sufficiently large to have two well-updated blogs now covering it (via All About Opera)! That is the universal measure of significance, right?

Mind you, at least some of the coverage seems to be by an imported New Yorker.

UPDATE (6/3): "Elsewhere" apparently also includes Morristown, NJ.


I have added two buttons on top of the right sidebar to toggle the blog's colors. I hope this helps. The toggle setting is saved via cookie; future pages should turn white automatically until un-toggled, though they'll load in black (not sure how to fix this).

Those who like the original white-on-black color scheme will see very little difference, though if this template change has broken anything on your browser (I've only tested Firefox) please tell me.

Oh, yes... more content? I'm working on that too.

UPDATE (6/3): Also added a shortcut icon to the site.