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 Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-05-19 16:50

Of course, playing an opera is more like a marathon and a symphony concert is a half-marathon, or maybe even a sprint. But besides that, is there a slight difference in approach? Many of you out there have done both types of work. Your thoughts on the matter please.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-05-19 16:52

My topic got truncated: Does there exist a fundamental difference between playing in an opera orchestra and a symphony orchestra?

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2019-05-19 17:56

It depends on the pit, but it is cramped and really close quartered with the trumpet bell a few inches from your ear, a french horn bell next to your hip or a cello bow poking under your stand. It is dark and the acoustics can be weird.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2019-05-19 19:01

Unless the singers are really world class, you mostly play a lot quieter, and most of the solos are a lot less important than they are in orchestra music.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2019-05-19 19:30

...and as a side comment to dorjepismo's post, in one of the R. Strauss biographies, it is said the he told the singers not to sing so loud because the whole story is in the orchestra.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2019-05-19 19:39

It sometimes happens that players find their favorite clarinet doesn't project as well from the opera hall pit as it did from the concert hall stage. Sometimes the problem can be remedied only by selling the favored instrument and switching to another that will not die in the pit but sing with the other singers into the earshot of the audience. Recently a player I know experienced this problem; he had to sell his Buffet RC Prestige and find something with a more penetrating sound.



Post Edited (2019-05-20 02:37)

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-05-20 02:33

One difference (certainly not the only one) is that in an opera pit there are a lot of surprises caused by singers' inconsistency. I have no experience in the pit of a major company, but often the singers in local companies, in their expectation that everyone will just follow them no matter what, lose track of the written notation and do things that can be unpredictable. So there's more need for the orchestra players to be flexible when things go wrong between singer and score. With orchestral music a good orchestra knows by the dress rehearsal how everything fits and can trust more that what they see on the page and rehearsed is what they're going to play.

Another obvious difference, already mentioned, is between the acoustic of a hall and the acoustic of a relatively small, usually cramped pit surrounded by walls. What you hear is probably not what gets to the audience.

Karl

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-05-20 15:34

-Conductor: "OK ladies and gentleman, please make note of the following alterations in the aria: there will be a huge ritardando in bar 5, bar 6 will be played in double tempo, we'll change bar 8 into a 5/4 bar, in bar 10 we transpose up a semitone and gradually speed up and in bar 11 on the 3rd beat we'll make an extremely long fermata on the 3rd 16th, but with a lot of rubato on the previous 16ths."

-Soprano: "Maestro... should I also write these alterations into my score?"

-Conductor: "No my dear, just sing the way you always do."


You get the picture...

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-05-20 15:50

Great flexibility (as parodied above) is necessary because of the main role of the orchestra being accompaniment to the singers, whose priorities often lie with beauty of the voice and action on stage. Depending on the acoustics of the house, this also has a large effect on the dynamics. In my orchestra I play about 50% quieter than I would in a large symphony orchestra. That is not an exaggeration. The bigger the orchestra (eg. Elektra or Wozzeck) the quieter we have to play. But in Bayreuth the orchestra play like hell and they never overpower the singers because of the unique design of the house.

The vast majority of Italian operas last around 3 hours. There are other operas that last a lot longer. It is unusual for me to use only one reed for a whole performance as they usually tire out by the end of each act. But in Mozart operas you can easily sit for 25 minutes without playing a note and then have to pick up one of the 4 instruments in front of you and play the most delicate entrance. For me this was the most challenging thing about playing in an opera orchestra until I realised that I can play along quietly with the bassoon in the orchestral tuttis in the preceding number to kind of "warm up" unobtrusively before my entrance.

I disagree with dorjepismo about the clarinet solos in opera being less important. Many times the clarinet solos appear at dramatically important moments in the plot and, if played well, can add a huge amount to the overall impression. Some of the most beautiful clarinet solos ever written (in eg. Traviata, Tosca, La Clemenza di Tito, Forza del Destino) appear in the opera repertoire.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Ken Lagace 
Date:   2019-05-20 16:40

And to add to the parody above because it has happened to me,
Conductor just before the downbeat, "Take the aria down a 1/2 step because the soprano can't hit the last high note today." The strings panic, some even tuning their instruments a 1/2 step lower, but for the clarinets, not a problem.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Ed Palanker 2017
Date:   2019-05-20 16:59

In a symphony the musicans are Always the soloists, in the Opera they are mostly the accompaniment, the mood setters, the background much like in a movie. But of course, extremely important.

ESP eddiesclarinet.com

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: dorjepismo 2017
Date:   2019-05-20 18:45

Ken: certainly, but if you're doing Strauss, the singers are a lot closer to world class than what I'm used to.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2019-05-21 23:44

Sometimes beats last seconds rather than beats in Opera  ;) Lots of C Clarinet, and far more cuts with Opera.

http://www.MyTempoMusic.com

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-05-22 13:05

Liquorice: What people often forget is that some opera orchestras are among the world's greatest orchestras. A cellist friend of mine says he would far rather attend a concert of the NY Met orchestra than attend one by the NY Philharmonic. Here in France, many people regard the Bastille Opera Orchestra as the best in the land. And then there's a certain Vienna Philharmonic, all of whose players play with the Vienna State Opera orchestra. Question: How strongly influenced have you been by accompanying singers all these years? It must have rubbed off on your tone, phrasing, etc; consciously or unconsciously. Thank you!

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2019-05-23 02:41

Well you have to be on your toes, with playing in assorted keys, such as for C clarinet. I've never seen it but heard of D clarinet.

With musicals it's often best to be able to play the saxes.


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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: donald 
Date:   2019-05-23 14:30

I've never been asked to play D clarinet in an opera, but I've plenty of times been asked to play "clarinet in DO"
Having a C clarinet made the last few operas much less stressful...

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: JohnP 
Date:   2019-05-23 20:03

The first Act of Rosenkavalier is written for D on the third part though I expect most people play it on the Eb, certainly in my experience.
As someone who spent 39 years in an opera orchestra I would say the worst part about it is playing in a pit, the attendant poor acoustics and noise levels and poor sightlines, i.e. sometimes you can’t see the conductor clearly enough due to other players obstructing your view. We either had the horns behind us or the percussion, the noise levels could be awful. I used earplugs a lot but of course you can’t play properly with them in so we marked the part up and put them in when necessary, sometimes there wasn’t time to get them out before a solo though. We played for the ballet too which tended to be louder and have more percussion. The side drum and cymbals were right behind, within touching distance, not nice!
The upside was the fantastic music, there is nothing better orchestrally than playing the 1st clarinet parts of Rosenkavalier, Ariadne, Salome, Parsifal, Meistersinger, Tristan, Götterdämmerung, Tosca, Bohème, the Mozart operas etc, etc. That was a huge privilege.



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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-05-23 23:02

JohnP wrote:

> the worst part about it is playing in a pit, the attendant poor
> acoustics and noise levels and poor sightlines, i.e. sometimes
> you can’t see the conductor clearly enough due to other
> players obstructing your view.

Does anyone have experience playing in an opera pit in which TV cameras and monitors are used to solve this problem?

I've seen into the pit of at least one Philadelphia theater where the conductor has a camera pointed at him from the front (he's generally also playing a keyboard part) and the players sit facing every which-way with small tablet-sized monitors mounted to their stands to see the video of the conductor. I think there may also be larger monitors mounted in front of the stage (I can't see them from our Mezzanine seats) for the onstage cast to see him. I've played in the pit for several shows in which some smaller-scale version of this was done - the monitors were larger and scattered among the players instead of stand-mounted tablets. In one case, the conductor was playing a keyboard at the back of the theater behind the audience while we were seated on a platform in one wing of the stage and had to watch a wall-mounted monitor for cues and tempos.

Have opera companies begun to try anything like this?

Karl

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-05-24 00:47

We've had a monitor I the pit for a keyboard player who, because of the various instruments that she had to play, couldn't always face the conductor. And of course there are monitors placed in various places so that the singers can always see the conductor.

Ruben, regarding your question about being influenced by accompanying singers: put in a position in which you constantly have to play quietly and maintain good intonation (i.e. don't go sharp), you inevitably choose equipment that can help you achieve this. So I think my sound tends to be more slender, with focus on pure quiet dynamics, than the more robust approach of some players in large symphony orchestras. I also spend a lot of time working on legato connections between notes, inspired by the beautiful vocal lines of good singers.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: davyd 
Date:   2019-05-28 04:31

I have never played a complete opera (unless The Gypsy Baron counts) but I've played various well-known arias and duets from various operas. With no two consecutive measures in the same tempo, we can easily spend half an hour at each of several rehearsals working on a 3-minute number, and still not be certain we have all the timing issues solved.

I marvel at how a professional opera orchestra can execute such repertoire. I'm sure they don't have anywhere near as much preparation time as a community group would need. But they always seem to stay right with the singers, and do so for hours at a time.

Learning one's part in a Bruckner symphony seems straightforward enough (not that I've ever had to). But how does one learn one's part a Wagner opera? How does one cope with the infinite number of subtleties, each of which can happen in any number of different ways?

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Simon Aldrich 
Date:   2019-05-28 04:55

>But how does one learn one's part a Wagner opera?

Wagner operas are mostly straightforward, despite their length. It is the Richard Strauss operas that are the most formidable!
For the last Wagner opera we did here in Montreal I did not need to actually sit down and practice any of the passages. Any Strauss opera, on the other hand, is full of relentlessly fast, awkward passages that never get to the point of feeling comfortable, nor stay in the fingers for any length of time.

Simon

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: JohnP 
Date:   2019-05-28 13:22

Learning a Strauss opera from scratch is a daunting task from the technical point of view but musically they are mostly straightforward. For a newcomer I would say that Puccini and particularly Bohème and Tosca are some of the most difficult operas to learn or at least to fit into the first time you play them. A top opera orchestra knows these pieces backwards, the conductors expect that and don’t always beat as clearly as you might want. They probably won’t beat the silent bars for instance, some will conduct the music rather than beating time so there might not be any clues as to which beat of the bar you’re actually on and there are tempi changes or rubati every few bars.
"How do you cope with the infinite number of subtleties?" Experience, knowing what happens in every bar and having those pieces in your bones!

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: JTJC 
Date:   2019-05-28 20:26

My first opera was Tosca, followed by Bohém. I’d echo JohnP’s points about being difficult ones to start. Those parts certainly got into my bones, as did the music. The conductor gave every beat. He had to otherwise we wouldn’t have been there as we were mostly near first timers with opera. I’d just moved to my first set of varifocal lenses and discovered they weren’t quite right. That didn’t help!

Doing Basset Horn 2 in Electra was an experience. What a clarinet section that has - 2 on Bb, 2 on A, 2 on Basset Horn, one Eb and one bass, all separate parts. Taking JohnP’s point about Strauss’ technical demands, I’d love to know how pros prepare for that piece. Do you have an additional sectional rehearsal(s) for clarinets? I don’t think there’s anything in the orchestral repertoire to match that for size.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: JohnP 
Date:   2019-05-28 20:43

We only once had a wind sectional scheduled for Elektra, when Solti conducted it, then he didn’t show up for that rehearsal! You need to be able to play the part at the first rehearsal, so I’d be looking at the part for a few weeks before and if the piece was new I’d listen to it. Such preparation is so much easier these days with Imslp, YouTube and Spotify etc.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-05-31 01:09

Opera orchestras are frequently required to execute cuts in the score, usually because of the stage director's "concept". Some of these cuts can be quite painful musically.

But even worse are transpositions sometimes required by singers. Some operas have arias in two different keys printed in the musicians' scores, one higher and one lower. One fateful evening at the Zürich Opera, for some reason only half of the orchestra parts were marked to play the lower version. So at that crucial moment, half of the orchestra were playing in a different key. The experienced opera players quickly realised what was going on, assumed that they were wrong, so jumped to the other key. But so did the other group, so the cacophony continued. In a mad frenzy everyone tried to figure out what was going on, until the conductor finally gave a sign for the lower key. The whole catastrophe lasts less than 20 seconds, but they are possibly the most excruciating 20 seconds of opera ever to make it onto Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUGfUPe8gWw

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-05-31 04:02

Were you a part of this or actually witness the performance? Sounds apocryphal to me unless this is a first-hand account.

Didn't they rehearse, even once? Was the change made on the fly because the soprano/tenor wasn't in good voice that night (in which case why would any of the parts have been marked beforehand - the pit would probably have been told orally (by the concertmaster?) or with printed notices on the music stands before the performance began)?

Karl



Post Edited (2019-05-31 06:51)

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-05-31 10:44

Karl- unfortunately I was playing that night. Boheme is a repertoire piece. Once a repertoire piece is running in the season we don't have rehearsals between performances. Different singers can be brought in for different performances. They would rehearse only with the conductor and pianist and be taken through the stage direction. The parts are marked by our librarian before the show, or a small note is put into each pad before the start. How it happened that not all of the parts were marked I'm not sure, but this certainly felt like the longest 20 seconds of my life!

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: JohnP 
Date:   2019-05-31 11:30

That hilarious clip has been widely circulated but it’s definitely been a case of ‘there but for the grace of God........’

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-05-31 16:40

Liquorice wrote:

> Karl- unfortunately I was playing that night. Boheme is a
> repertoire piece. Once a repertoire piece is running in the
> season we don't have rehearsals between performances.

> How it happened that not all of the parts
> were marked I'm not sure, but this certainly felt like the
> longest 20 seconds of my life!

So this was a one-off in the middle of a run. Now it makes more sense - someone on the company's staff just didn't do his job. I guess it's one of those experiences you'll never forget and hope never to have again. :)

What did the conductor do during or after?

Karl

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: Liquorice 
Date:   2019-05-31 21:49

The conductor just carried on conducting the music and making some other highly emphatic but incoherent gestures. In retrospect I realise that it could have been quickly resolved if the conductor had just pointed a finger upwards or downwards. We would have all immediately understood which transposition to play then.

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 Re: Does there exist a fundamental difference between plaing in an opera orchestra a
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-05-31 22:41

Liquorice wrote:

> In retrospect I realise that it could have been quickly resolved
> if the conductor had just pointed a finger upwards or
> downwards. We would have all immediately understood which
> transposition to play then.

He probably realized that, too, later. It's amazing how much apparent common sense goes out the window when we're under pressure and panicked.

Karl

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