A week or so ago I spoke with a friend of my - he is a perfectly rational and sane person. I send his some music and was asking what was he as thinking about it. He admitted that among the music I sent him he admitted that did not get opera. I was puzzled as some of the thing I sent his were one of the best performances of that given opera. Then I asked if he ever attended a live performance of a good opera production. He replied that he never attended any opera at all.
Well, stage music or even incidental music (play, film and etc….) require understanding some context, or requires from a listener an ability to extrapolate that context. I us virtually imposable to “like” opera without experience that fantastic transformation that take place with you presented in opera house. The entire definition of drama with you at opera house and you in your listening room is very deferent. It is possible to reconstruct that feeling but to do so it is not necessary to have better speaker or faster spinning turntables but it is necessary to learn about own reaction attaining live opera performances, preferable better performances. “Preferably better performances!” It is easy to say, hard to accomplish. Not a lot of people live near metropolitan centers where the “better performances” have change to show up. In addition “better performances” are rare and mostly exceptions then rules nowadays. Here is where the recordings help but the recording must follow the established self-awareness of own reaction to stage music.
In addition there is a catch with stage music. Stage music: opera, ballet and etc is written for the very specific purpose. Some compositions have more of that “purpose”, some less but that “purpose” always enriches the original musical context. It is fine to listen and to love some Stravinsky ballets but it would be useful to know that Stravinsky sometime wrote music for the redesign dances fitting his music into the slots of 3-5 second appointed for him by his balletmaster. I’m not even mention the music of Leon Minkus whom imposable “to get” without understanding the culture of dancing expressionism.
Some examples: (please, the files are large and do not run it off my server. Download them on your machine and then run them locally)
It is not enough to know the libretto but to see the actions and the acting of the singers. Sometime is helps and in case of great actors it is not only help but also hugely multiply the effect of a performance. February 9 1964, London. An unbelievable event: a live TV transmission from Covent Garden where orchestra of the Royal Opera House lead by Carlo Felice Cillario and a collection of stunning singers perfume specifically for TV cameras “live”. The second act, Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi. If you do not see it then you did not see it. If you did then you may start to listen the other Tosca….
Another example with stage music how to “be there” not only “helps” but actually defines the music. Everyone loves Tchaikovsky “Swan Lake”, everyone knows that it is a serious work but why people perform it like it is some kind of whippy, meaningless Broadways musicale? Actually with Ballet the situation is quite grim. Ballets customary played horribly and danced horribly. The ballets typically abstract into the collections of suits and then the original ballet’s intentions long forgotten. A person can get a complete recording of ballet but without watching a proper production of the peace the ballet music is worthless. It is not to mention that a proper production is imposable to find…. 1976, Russia. Guraytis leads Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in their production of the Swan Lake. The ordinal choreography of estimable Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Yuri Grigorovich. On the stage Maya Plisetskaya, Alexander Bogatirev, Boris Efimov and the rest of the Bolshoi of the 1976. You might stop be in any store any buy Plisetskaya in Swan Lake. No one other Swan Lake recording approaches the magic of that 1976 performance. Guraytis reading is phenomenal and he dose exactly what THOSE dancers need. You might run the Tchaikovsky music 24 hours a day but you would not “get” it, as it needed until you experience it as it should be. Pay attention how “different” the Tchaikovsky music sound sand how different sense it makes.
Even the “standard” famous little swans dance that every choreographer afraid to touch since Petipa, if it perfumes properly sounds completely different…
In the end, many people bitch that Tchaikovsky is too Slavic, too light and too playful. Here is a peace that would be absolutely boring and almost suitable for pop- vérité of you hear it in front of your loudspeakers but it have completely different “sound” when it perceived in the ballet. The “Black Swan” danced by the same Plisetskaya. Quite a transformation for the white swan of the second act…
So, audio freaks, get a clue what the stage music is all about… Now, will anyone teach me Wagner?
Romy the Cat
PS: Sorry for sound on the tape transfers, I really am not familiar how to do it properly
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche