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Thread: Favorite / least favorite operatic languages?

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    Default Favorite / least favorite operatic languages?

    Curious as to others favorite and least favorite languages for opera -- disregarding the operas themselves, which language do you like to hear sung most and least. I'm sure Italian will be the runaway winner for favorite, and I'll concur with that, with French being a very close second. Those languages (Italian in particular) seem almost custom designed for opera -- very musical and flowing. Least favorite would be English, not that there's a great many of them I have to suffer through I guess it's because English has so many dip- and tripthongs, making it very difficult to sing operatically ("Summertime" usually comes out "Sew-more-tome"). English is just not a very pretty language -- the 'a' in the (American pronounced) "bathroom" is a very ugly sound when sung, and "i" ('eye') is extremely difficult to sing since the "eye" sound is a glide between 'ah' and 'ee' and impossible to hold on its own.

    I wonder if the ill-suitedness of English for opera is the reason there are so few English-language operas.
    -Ian

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    But there are some 10,000+ recognized operas, no? I'd say that's a pretty small percentage there
    -Ian

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    Of course Italian. So mellifluous.

    French is second, but because I'm a native speaker I'm incredibly fussy about who sings it. I saw the "alternative" Fille du regiment with Ciofi yesterday and I could hardly bear to listen to the Italians massacring the language in the spoken dialogue.

    I'm quite fussy about Italian too, so people like Jennifer Larmore and Eric Cutler are on my no-no list for Italian Opera.

    I love Russian, such a sexy language, and I have the added advantage of not noticing bad accents.

    German is fine for sounding angry. Just listen to Albericht when he can't get his hands on those pesky water-maidens.
    Natalie

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    Quote Originally Posted by rgz View Post
    But there are some 10,000+ recognized operas, no? I'd say that's a pretty small percentage there
    Good point. Actually I read the number 40,000 once. It seems too big a number. I don't remember the source.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post

    German is fine for sounding angry. Just listen to Albericht when he can't get his hands on those pesky water-maidens.
    German is fine for more than that. Just think of the Presentation of the Rose scene.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post
    French is second, but because I'm a native speaker I'm incredibly fussy about who sings it. I saw the "alternative" Fille du regiment with Ciofi yesterday and I could hardly bear to listen to the Italians massacring the language in the spoken dialogue.
    Still had to be better than my mom's preferred version, the NYCO Beverly Sills English language Fille du Regiment. While it was better than expected, it was still rather disconcerting.
    -Ian

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    Senior Member Meaghan's Avatar
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    Even if German isn't necessarily the most singable language, I still find it a beautiful language and love hearing it sung. More so than Italian, actually. There's just something very satisfying about German, and I wish I knew more of it.

    I don't really like the sound of English, but a bunch of my favorite operas are in English anyway (mostly Britten). English dipthongs are a little silly to sing, but it is usually accomplished by sustaining the first (usually more open) vowel and singing the other just briefly. In my voice lessons and choir, when singing "eye" sounds, I'm usually told to sing "ah" and then tack the "ee" on at the very end. It's the excess of S's that makes English seem a little ugly to me.

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    Italian is, by far the best language for opera, at least for me. French is not bad. I don't like either German or English for opera. The only German operas I love are those from Mozart. I guess I would have loved Wagner if he was Italian. It is true that he should have changed the mythology also. Otherwise, his music itself is wonderful.

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    English is just not a very pretty language --

    And yet in spite of being such an "ugly" language, English has produced what is quite likely the greatest body of literature and poetry.

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    I love English (though it's a second language for me), only I don't like it in opera. But I guess that between German and English for opera I'd go for English. German is not melodious enough. I have the same feeling with Russian or some other Slavic languages. That has nothing to do with literature. Both Russian and German literature are awesome.

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    I like French, Finnish, and German sung quite a lot. The issue I have with sung Italian is that it feels very capricious and jumpy, so I just don't like it as much.

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    German, then Italian...and, well..as far as the least favorite...English

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    favorite : Italian , Spanish

    less : French, Russian, Czech

    least favorite : German , English


    But don't forget that a good opera composer has to study so carefully the poetic of the language he/she is going to set in opera, whether the language supposed to be musically beautiful or not. In addition there are problems such as tonic accent, the number or the position of vowels in a definite stanza, combination between musical rhythm and strophe accents, etc ... Therefore It's been usually better for libretto to be written by a musician or composer (Remember Arigo Boito, one of the best librettists in the history of opera).
    Last edited by Il_Penseroso; Jun-11-2011 at 10:55.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StlukesguildOhio View Post
    English is just not a very pretty language --

    And yet in spite of being such an "ugly" language, English has produced what is quite likely the greatest body of literature and poetry.
    Oh don't get me wrong, I love English for its incredible versatility. The advantage of being a mongrel language is that you have an incredible wealth of words with subtle variations in connotation to choose from in writing or speech. Snicker, snigger, chortle, guffaw, titter, chuckle, giggle -- they all basically mean laugh, but each one has its own subtle flavor. But, in my opinion anyway, it's not an inherently beautiful sounding language ala French. But at least it's not as ugly as Dutch! My ex was Dutch and when she'd talk to her mom on the phone it always sounded like she was bringing up phlegm.

    Now I'm curious -- are there any Dutch-language operas?
    -Ian

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