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Thread: The Opera In-Depth Project

  1. #1
    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default The Opera In-Depth Project

    OK, folks, thanks to members amfortas and schigolch who came up with the idea, we'll be starting a new and exciting project in our Opera forum.

    Our ambition is to study one opera at a time, as deeply as we can. We'll initially vote for the opera and the specific production we'll be studying.

    Then we'll start a thread for that opera/production (let's start by those that are readily available on DVD in various parts of the world). All members willing to participate will obtain a copy of that production, by whatever means that are at their disposition (purchase, library copy, streaming site, Netflix, etc.). We'll give the members time to watch the production.

    Then we'll start a detailed and thorough discussion of that opera and of the production.

    Members will volunteer to take care of mini-essays regarding various characteristics, and will publish these mini-essays as a post. Others will discuss the various points raised.

    For example, a member will be in charge of writing some paragraphs about the composer, his/her works, the context in his/her life and career when the opera was composed.

    Another member will address, for instance, the musical structure of the opera (hopefully, a member who is a musician).

    Another one will look into the libretto, its poetry, it's quality or lack thereof, dramatic/theatrical impact, etc.

    A member will post about notable parts of the opera - will analyze arias, ensembles, etc, or will talk about the flow of written-through operas.

    Someone will comment upon the way this opera represents a certain period - romantic, belcanto, etc.

    People will talk about the production itself: stage direction and its concept, visual arts (set design, props, costumes), acting, singing.

    Others will talk about the conductor and the orchestra.

    The end result will be a sort of accumulated expertise that will function as a reference for present/future members and visitors who want to educate themselves about that opera.

    I believe it is time to make of this forum not only a fun place to exchange pleasant dialogues and have fun with a hobby (opera), but also a quasi-academic center of learning, because I think that by now we have enough members with advanced opera expertise, and we may as well try to put all this collective knowledge to good use.

    Please reply to this post saying whether you'll be willing to participate, and making methodology suggestions if you will, as well as suggestions of an opera to start with (once we get to define that, we'll pick a production).

    I suggest La Traviata as the first one. It has a number of essential characteristics, in the threshold between belcanto and verismo, it has a very interesting musical structure, and can generate a rather interesting academic discussion.
    Last edited by Almaviva; Jul-21-2011 at 02:46.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Very interesting project idea! I'd be happy to handle the discussion of the librettos w/r/t adaptations from the source material, themes, etc. Analysis of the poetical aspects would be problematic for me outside of English or French language operas, however, and would be better addressed by someone fluent in that language. La Traviata would be a fine place to start, though my personal preference would be Lucia ... simply because I like it better and the source material is fresher in my mind.
    -Ian

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    Senior Member Aksel's Avatar
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    I'd be happy to provide the biographical and/or historic backgrounds of the operas as well as character analysis. La Traviata as the first opera sounds great, and it will give me a chance to check it off my list of unseen operas (yes, I know, I am ashamed too). Might I suggest a Rossini comedy next? Possibly Cenerentola. Or Falstaff, which is by Verdi, but it's smashing nonetheless.

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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post

    Then we'll start a thread for that opera/production (let's start by those that are readily available on DVD in various parts of the world). All members willing to participate will obtain a copy of that production, by whatever means that are at their disposition (purchase, library copy, streaming site, Netflix, etc.). We'll give the members time to watch the production.
    Good idea.

    The only part that I am not entirely agreeing with is that we also need to have a particular production of the opera. Many of us will have different versions of La Traviata for example, and unless you are indeed prepared to spend a lot of time on one opera, including say HarpsichordConcerto's shipment time from Europe to Australia of production X of La Traviata, and then finding time to view it and contribute here? It might just take too long with members dropping out/waiting. I don't think it adds terribly much to home in on one particular production of each opera. Some of us might be planning to experience the opera for the first time at a live performance, and so the production example should be minimised; it should be for a point of reference to help us understand and appreciate the opera irrespective of production version. I simply don't think it should be very production focused because we may all love the opera (i.e. the music) but not like a particular version of it (be it staged or not staged). Some folks might love avant-garde versions, others might prefer traditional versions. How do you draw in most participants?

    I will participate and note clearly at the start whether or not I based my comments on the assumed reference production. That's my take.

    La Traviata is fine.
    Last edited by Almaviva; Jul-21-2011 at 02:47. Reason: my own grammatical error in quote

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    Agreed with HC; the analysis of each opera should be focused on the work itself more than a particular production -- the platonic ideal of that opera, I guess.
    -Ian

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    First of all, thanks to Alma for the acknowledgement.

    Second, I'll express a personal preference for choosing lesser-known works rather than the standard warhorses. There is certainly value in deepening my knowledge of La Traviata, but I would find it even more helpful to add breath as well as depth by venturing out into uncharted terrain. Still, I'll happily go along with whatever the group decides.

    Third, I understand the concern about focusing too narrowly on a particular production. But since my background is more theatrical than musical, I'm a little leery of the notion of opera as platonic ideal. These works were written to be performed, and in many cases their stage and/or film history has shaped our reception and understanding of the works themselves. So even if we don't select a single DVD for study, may I suggest that we at least give some attention to the history of the work in production? I would be happy to contribute what I can to that aspect of the discussion.
    Last edited by amfortas; Jul-21-2011 at 01:42.

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    OK, I hear you guys, HC and amfortas, about the production aspect.

    I think the middle ground should be: we'll analyze an *opera* rather than a production. It will indeed dramatically decrease waiting time because people can just grab their preferred version to refresh their memories and start discussing the *opera* itself.

    But then, what if we end the discussion/thread by an analysis of the main different productions? Not merely a review (we have those in our subforum), but rather, also an in-depth discussion of merits and demerits of different productions, or at least of a few productions that are considered to be important or noteworthy for that opera. By doing that, we wouldn't merely review it but try to answer a few questions - did the stage director get the gestalt, the concept of the work? What factors have added to the fidelity of the version, and what aspects have detracted from it? What about the conductor's interpretation of the material? (this is where our musician members can be very helpful). Are there cuts that are not acceptable, be it libretto cuts or score cuts? And so forth, an academic discussion of the production rather than a review.

    I agree that opera exists to be performed. This is why I favor that we discuss, at the end of each thread, some productions that have been recorded on visual media. But we should also include some posts about best recordings *and why.* (Like I said, keeping up with the in-depth concept).

    Now, amfortas, about lesser known works: I disagree with you there, at least for starters. I think we need to draw participants in, but not just those with deep knowledge and extensive exposure. We need to encourage participation, and it is much easier to do it by starting with better known works. Hopefully the multiplication of the effort will contribute to the education of members who haven't had as much exposure, and will better equip them to face more advanced phases of the project in which we'll address lesser known works.

    We don't need to run the gamut of the most popular works before we aim for lesser known works. It's just that I believe the starting point should be a popular work. Let's say, after we do a few of those (4 or 5?) then we can get more ambitious because hopefully the format will catch on and people will look forward to analyzing in depth another opera, regardless of it being very popular or lesser known. Once we have a "following" for this kind of effort, then we'll move on.

    Say, if we start a rather academically-oriented project of in-depth analysis by picking Smetana's Dalibor first, we're not likely to make of this project a very successful one. We'll end up with two or three members who would have something to say about Dalibor, and we'd have a lot of trouble getting to analyze the poetic impact of the original Czech libretto.

    I'd rather do La Traviata first. We can do Dalibor later.

    Italian, French, German, English we can handle. Czech, oh boy. It may be best to reserve it to a later phase. Even Russian looks scary. After all, we have banned the only member here who spoke Russian, LOL! Hopefully someone else will join.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    I rather agree with amfortas.

    I mean, to get information about La Traviata is easy enough. With a browser and some patience, you can get tons of facts, opinions, reviews,...

    Yes, even so we can discuss a lot of things, but it will be just 'another La Traviata thread in an opera forum". Believe me, I don't have anything against La Traviata, rather the opposite. I love it very much, and is the opera I have seen on stage more often (well, if not the first, the second, it's just there along with La Bohème).

    But to get the full value of this initiative, we should try something less obvious, in my view. And something that can impact more people. Taking into account the number of viewers, it's safe to say we have a lot more readers than writers. Every single one, will know about La Traviata. That gives you exposure, but it makes difficult also to find something new and meaningful to write down.

    I also understand that some people find it hard to listen to avantgarde opera. This won't be a good choice.

    Trying to find middle ground, we can go for something like Die Tote Stadt. It's easy to pick up, there are tons of things we can comment on different aspects, it will be sort of a new thing for quite a number of people... I can help with the german if necessary, and take charge of wathever task will remain unallocated.

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    But schigolch, there are two levels of fun and usefulness to be had here.
    If we do Die Tote Stadt, some of us (me included) will have fun.
    But the majority of other members and visitors may be dramatically less interested.
    My only point in picking a popular one to *start* with (it doesn't mean we can't do Die Tote Stadt next or within the first few) is to gather momentum and establish a following. Just like when we did the Most Recommended DVDs project, there were lots of voters for La Traviata (I believe it was the one that gathered the highest number of voters), while less then a handful of people knew Die Tote Stadt (I do, and like it a lot - but it's not everybody's case).

    About information about La Traviata found elsewhere with patience and a browser - sure. This is true of every opera, though (including Die Tote Stadt). Like I said when we were voting for the list of notable operas, there are dozens of opera books and guides out there, there's Wikipedia, etc. But I was interested in what operas Talk Classical members thought to be noteworthy, not in what some guides list as the most important works. Similarly, regardless of what can be found in other sites or books, I'd still want to do it here. I actually think that over here we can do a pretty good job and will have relatively original and interesting things to say, even about such a beaten path as La Traviata. I say so because the level of discussions here is often high and many of our members are gifted writers and insightful listeners.

    Anyway, this is just my opinion. I'm just one, and my vote counts only once.

    I vote for La Traviata. I appreciate your vote for Die Tote Stadt, and find it an interesting choice, but for a first one, I continue to vote for La Traviata *to start with* (nothing against Die Tote Stadt for later).

    So I propose that we continue to vote. Hey, if Die Tote Stadt wins the vote, I'll get to the task with enthusiasm. I just think it is not the most prudent initial choice.

    Here is what the count is, so far, by order of manifestation:

    Alma - La Traviata
    rgz - Lucia di Lammermoor
    Aksel - La Traviata
    HarpsichordConcert - La Traviata
    amfortas - ? No definition on a specific one yet, but would like less well known works
    schigolch - Die Tote Stadt

    Let's wait a little longer to give more members the opportunity to join the project and have their choice for the first one heard.

    @Aksel and HC - if you said "La Traviata is fine / great" just because I suggested it first but when formally consulted would rather change your vote, feel free to change it. I have recorded it as La Traviata based on your posts above, but of course you can change it if you want to.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member BalloinMaschera's Avatar
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    I probably have about 20-odd recordings of La Traviata, and have seen it performed about that many times...

    I vote Die Tote Stadt...

    A quasi-academic center of learning cannot be a popularity/enthusiasm contest, too...

    ps: thank you Almaviva for instigating innovation and stimulation on TC

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    Senior Member Aksel's Avatar
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    I agree with Alma. At least in the beginning I think it would be wise to do the standard rep, possibly with some trips to the fringes from time to time. Sure, the opera forum has grown considerably in the last months, with some very knowledgeable members, but I don't think we have enough super-hardcore opera nerds to do the more obscure pieces just yet. Also, for us with limited opera experience, it will be kind of boring to see a few members wax on about pieces we don't know, or might not even have heard of.

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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by schigolch View Post
    I rather agree with amfortas.

    I mean, to get information about La Traviata is easy enough. With a browser and some patience, you can get tons of facts, opinions, reviews,...

    Yes, even so we can discuss a lot of things, but it will be just 'another La Traviata thread in an opera forum". Believe me, I don't have anything against La Traviata, rather the opposite. I love it very much, and is the opera I have seen on stage more often (well, if not the first, the second, it's just there along with La Bohème).

    But to get the full value of this initiative, we should try something less obvious, in my view. And something that can impact more people. Taking into account the number of viewers, it's safe to say we have a lot more readers than writers. Every single one, will know about La Traviata. That gives you exposure, but it makes difficult also to find something new and meaningful to write down.

    I also understand that some people find it hard to listen to avantgarde opera. This won't be a good choice.

    Trying to find middle ground, we can go for something like Die Tote Stadt. It's easy to pick up, there are tons of things we can comment on different aspects, it will be sort of a new thing for quite a number of people... I can help with the german if necessary, and take charge of wathever task will remain unallocated.
    I think it can be fair to say, given the regulars here at the Opera sub-forum are folks who do have at least a pretty good experience of listening to a range of complete operas, that a middle ground approach edging towards the relatively less standard / familiar operas could be the guiding principle. Die Tote Stadt would suit this purpose very well. I initially thought La Traviata was ideal as a first choice to kick start this new idea and to draw in as many TC members in general, and to actually test out how this new idea could be better fleshed out once we get it all going.

    I'm happy with either, and I would certainy like to include Die Tote Stadt at some stage, if not as the first opera to analyse. So to sum up, let's just get it going with an easier one first, La Traviata? Then followed by the Korngold.

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    I have discussed for hours if we should cut or not, Alfredo's cabaletta. Or Giorgio's.

    So for me, debates on La Traviata are second nature, no problem with that.

    If you don't mind, I could take charge of a historical view of the sopranos that have sung the opera, from 1853 to our days, and the different ways of facing the role.

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    Senior Member FragendeFrau's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aksel View Post
    I agree with Alma. At least in the beginning I think it would be wise to do the standard rep, possibly with some trips to the fringes from time to time. Sure, the opera forum has grown considerably in the last months, with some very knowledgeable members, but I don't think we have enough super-hardcore opera nerds to do the more obscure pieces just yet. Also, for us with limited opera experience, it will be kind of boring to see a few members wax on about pieces we don't know, or might not even have heard of.
    I agree with this--sounds like a wonderful idea. But I don't have the budget to buy opera dvds quite often either. I vote for LaTraviata.

    And bear in mind, Giulio Caesare is "obscure" to me, for all it is well-known and loved around here.

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    Senior Member TxllxT's Avatar
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    I would suggest to start first with existing material on the internet. Wikipedia has excellent articles about operas. So for La Traviata the question is whether its Wikipedia article can be bettered, deepened, broadened....... I wouldn't like to see needless double work be done. After all for most of us (for me) Wikipedia is an important source of knowledge.

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