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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000532.txt from 2004/10

From: Adam Michlin <>
Subj: RE: [kl] Opera productions that should be damned
Date: Tue, 19 Oct 2004 21:20:47 -0400


It is a fact opera was the closest thing in the 19th century to what we
would call "pop" (short, of course, for popular) music today. Most of the
first music superstars were opera singers. Jenny Lind (popularized by good
old P.T. Barnum), Caruso, et all.

It is a common mistake to look at the masterpieces of the past and compare
them to the art of the present. The masterpieces of the past have been
filtered through hundreds of years of natural selection. For every Mozart
masterpiece there are hundreds of lesser operas by composers still
remembered (check out Alessandro Scarlatti operas if you want to know why
Soap Operas really aren't far removed from Operas). For each of those
lesser remembered composers, there are another 100 even lesser operas by
lesser composers we don't even remember.

Opera was, in fact, popular music. I imagine much of the music literate
population in history made complaints about vapid opera (check out what
John Gay's "Beggar's Opera" did to Handel!) much as many of today's music
literate population makes complaints about modern pop music. Verdi took
popular opera to perhaps the greatest heights. I seem to recall he wouldn't
let the tenor in Rigoletto see the music to the famous "La Donna Mobile"
aria until the day before the premiere, so closely did he guard what he
rightfully realized would become a pop hit of his time (and, it seems, of
all time).

Is Don Giovanni a masterpiece? Yes. Was it intended for the public? Yes.
Was it popular? Well, if I remember correctly not initially in Vienna but
quite the hit in Prague.

There is no shame in being popular. Only history will be able to determine
the masterpieces, popular or unpopular.

I do, however, agree opera production companies should honor the works they
perform, yet I also believe some innovation is necessary. I would point out
our opera public is waning and perhaps some things do need to be shaken up.
Without doing so, there may be no opera for anyone to attend, traditional
or otherwise. Opera companies are the in business of making money (or at
least not losing an absurd amount of money in the case of state subsidized
opera). The most obvious example of successful innovation is supertitles. I
can tell you right now, as a semi-regular attendee of operas, supertitles
made the difference for me.

If an opera company does a traditional rendition of Don Giovanni and no one
is there to see it...


PS: And yes, I would put a beat to the Mozart Clarinet Concerto if I
thought it was the only way I could eventually get them to appreciate the
real thing. Luckily, I don't feel that way, but I also don't have to worry
about selling tickets to an opera house.

At 12:13 AM 10/20/2004 +0100, Matthew Lloyd wrote:
>I can't accept this. The reason for the way the production is done in a
>certain way shouldn't need to be explained.
>In addition I find your comments about "many youngsters" patronising and
>the suggestion that opera was the pop music of the day fatuous.
>Don Giovanni (to take the example I was talking about) is first and
>foremost a work of genius that deserves respect. Respect was the one
>thing that it did not have.
>Had I seen that as the first opera I had been to, rather than Karl Bohm
>conducting Cosi fan Tutti in a traditional production at Covent Garden
>would I be more or less likely to be a subscriber to Covent Garden now?
>Much less likely I would suggest.
>I have nothing against modern production - indeed I am taking my wife to
>see the current modern dress Cosi at Covent Garden on Saturday as it is
>superb (I saw it a couple of weeks ago). What I don't accept is
>productions that display no sympathy, empathy or even knowledge of the
>opera itself.
>Would you put a bit of beat to the Mozart Clarinet Concerto if it would
>make it more hip with the youngsters? If not, why do the same (or at
>least an analogous adaptation) to one of his operas.

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