Opera: Battleground of the arts; Modern technology in the opera house
In the years sixteen seventy eight sent every mon said Opera is a bizarre affair of poetry and music in which the poet and the musician each equally obstructed by the other give themselves no end of trouble to produce a wretched result. On the other hand one hundred years later Mozart said the best thing of all is when a good composer who understands the stage meets an able poet. In that case no fear as need be entertained as to the applause even of the ignorant Riverside radio w while they are in New York City presents opera the battleground of the arts in this series of half hour programmes Borys go to discusses some of the problems that beset operators and those who create and produce them. The programmes are produced in association with the gold of ski opera Institute for National Educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation. He is
nationally known as an innovation commentator for broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and as an opera producer to play through the productions of The Gold Opera Theatre which have been presented in about 400 communities from coast to coast. And here is Mr. Gold of skie modern technology in the opera house is used for several important purposes and Hansing the appearance of the scenery and adding to the believability of dramatic effects. Before adjusting the sound of the music particularly the balance of intensities between the stage in the pit and then for improving the mechanics of communication between the various elements of the performance. Most importantly between the conductor and the orchestra on one hand and the singers on and off stage on the other hand. And then finally technology is very useful for the purpose of shortening the time needed to change the settings and to expedite a number of other activities involved in the preparation of the music in the stage.
Let us first speak of the scenery and what is known in the theater as properties or props. A very useful modern synthetic material is so last the Silastic is quite soft and can be molded into any shape as easily as clay or wax when dipped into the proper chemical solution however so elastic becomes as hard as a rock. Since in spite of its hardness it remains very light. It is ideally suited for a three dimensional rock street drunks or even entire grottos. In my production of various Falstaff I had the stage floor in the last act practically covered with little hill locks large roots and tree trunks of all sizes all made of silastic. Then three elves appeared. One by one playing on trumpets shaped somewhat like Easter lilies and also made of silastic as Nanette that started singing all sorts of gnomes leprechauns and
elves stuck out their heads from behind this silastic forest fairy land. It all looked quite fantastic and yet lifelike and fitted perfectly with verities enchanting music. Wooden. Going to. Going to. Enjoy.
When experimenting with scenery plastic materials I found that fiberglass panels were excellent reflectors of musical sounds and this discovery led to the development of what I call acoustical scenery in the form of flats and particularly ceilings made out of fiberglass. Since my touring company has to perform in many holes that have very poor acoustics supporting delivered fiberglass ceilings have proven invaluable for the maintenance of an acceptable balance between the singers onstage and the orchestra in the pit. The ceiling reflects the sound of the voices and projects that go over the audience without creating even the slightest distortion of the sort that has made so many musicians leery of using electronics on the application for singer's electronic sound transmission nevertheless has proved to be most useful in a variety of other ways. Whenever it is desirable to give the voice of a singer
a supernatural or inhuman quality microphones and speakers come in very handily here for instance is the voice of the oracle in my performance of Mozart's accompanied by horns and drum bones the voice of the baritone has given a slight but very effective boost.
Even more important is the electronic transmission of orchestral sound from the pit to the stage. It is essential that the singer be able to hear the orchestra clearly even when it is playing very softly. Otherwise one invariably runs into problems of ensemble and off pitch singing. In my productions I always have two electronic speakers in the wings projecting the sound of the orchestra to everyone on stage. The audience in the theatre hears only the sound of the orchestra in the pit but the singers get the full benefit of the additional sound coming from the speakers. Another interesting example of the influence of technology is the use of recordings for the purpose of reproducing noises that are called for by the plots of certain operators. Of course such conventional noisemakers as wind machines thunder sheets and ratchets have been used in the theatre for centuries and there are many other noises that can be imitated by fairly simple means means that do not depend on anything as high sounding as modern technology. For
instance when in the last act of The Barber of Seville Figaro once the young lovers Rosina and the count to have a few moments of privacy. He manages to distract Dr Bartolo by upsetting at china cabinet in the doctor's apartments. At this point the noise of broken dishes coming from off stage is produced very simply by having one of the stagehands went the broken glass from one empty iron pail into another. It is. Usually however the plot of an opera calls for noises that can be imitated best by means of recordings of the most charming one actor. The comedy on the bridge for instance there is an episode where war breaks loose and where the audience is you posed to hear the most ferocious battle noises booming off cannons bursting of shells the rocket that of machine guns the whining of rockets and the roaring of attacking airplanes.
This pandemonium of explosions is not as easy to duplicate as the breaking of dishes and hear a recording properly amplified so that its sound reaches the audience provides the best solution. With there exists also a new and unusual type of music which cannot be produced by the use of conventional musical instruments. This so-called electronic music is brought about by means of audio generators synthesizers reverberation units and similar outlandish mechanisms. It is particularly effective in suggesting events of supernatural origin or of the extraterrestrial effects of science fiction put on tape these sounds can be used I do separately or in
conjunction with live music which is sung or played by more conventional means. Here is an example of this novel and exciting electronic music. Even communication by means of radio waves has found a place in the technology of a Braddock performances. It has been my privilege to develop the tele tact a vibrating device that conveys the beat of the music directed to the skin of the singers the teletype liberations are of course completely silent but their sensations are roughly equivalent to zip zip zip during operatic passages where the musical rhythm is particularly complicated. These web ration service ideal unifiers of the ensemble at the end of the second scene of various Falstaff For instance there is a place where Mrs. Ford and the other
three women sing three notes to the beat. Well Mr. Ford with three men on the opposite side of the stage sings for notable to be. The tenor Fenton who stands in the middle sings a sustained melody having no more than two notes to the beat. When all the singers can feel the pulsations of the music directly on their bodies this fiendishly difficult passage becomes quite simple. Listen to how it all fits together with the vibrations of the Telapak added to the music of this ensemble.
Television has also proved itself to be very useful close circuit TV monitor doors transmit the conductor to offstage choral instrumental groups. This is particularly valuable in situations where the offstage music reverberates so loudly that the players cannot possibly hear the sounds of the pit orchestra. Case in point is the ringing of the Roman church bells in the last act of God. In the past we had to use several assistant conductors and had a lot
of trouble synchronizing the various bell ringers with each other and with the orchestra. No two or three TV mounted doors to make it a chance play to transport the image of the conductor into the remotest backstage corners of the theater. Electronic devices have been a godsend in many other unexpected ways. When I started touring the country with an opera company I ran into a nasty problem with the keyboard instruments which I needed to accompany the rest of the thieves in such operas as Mozart's don't Giovani or a senior Barber of Seville. With the daily travelling and tossing about in the trucks no harpsichord or small piano that I could take with me on the road would stay in condition. Nor was there time to adjust these instruments after they were unloaded in a theater. Bianna was available locally were invariably hopelessly out of tune. Eventually I was able to obtain an electronic harpsichord. The sound of which is indistinguishable from the authentic instrument and which never gets out of to you. As a matter of
fact it has no strings with only a whole collection of very neat looking transistors we have used this electronic harpsichord for six or seven years now and it has never given us the slightest trouble. Speaking of tuning there is one instrument in the opera orchestra that has to be tuned before each performance. It is the harp which is so essential in operas like Tosca. It used to take at least an hour and a half to tune a harp but here again electronics came to the rescue. There is now a stroboscopic gadget that permits the harpist to tune by I as well as by ear. A completely accurate tempered scale cannot be arrived at in no more than 20 minutes. All this makes a great deal of difference when one goes on the road and plays a different city each night. In spite of all these technological aids I find that the greatest satisfaction is come from the exercise of one's ingenuity which permits one to dispense with all electronics and technology.
Many years ago when I was our assistant in Cleveland the musical effect which I was never able to duplicate with any machinery in the opening of August on hisor there is a chorus of sirens which must sound as if it came from far away and yet must produce very subtle effects of crescendo and diminuendo. I placed the entire contingent of singers on a stairwell outside the hall and closed the door that led to the stage. Then I asked the chorus to sing everything full of voice. But by opening and closing that door at the right moment I was able to make the most subtle gradations of loudness and softness.
The greatest technological boom for the modern theater however was beyond question the introduction of electricity in the lighting of the stage to begin with. It increased enormously the safety of opera houses as long as the optical illumination depended on open flames either in the form of oil or gas lamps. It was almost inevitable that sooner or later every theater would burn down and set to say most opera theatres were destroyed by fire at one time or another. One of the oldest and loveliest of all opera houses the one in Venice is actually cold. The Phoenix laughing because like that fabled bird it all rolls on the same place after each of its disastrous fires off in box a wonderful opera that they have of Hofmann became a regular jinx and was almost abandoned by producers in its early days because of several disastrous fires that occurred in Paris and in Vienna at the time when this opera was being performed in these cities.
But you aren't adding to the safety of the building's electrical illumination added immeasurably not only to the mere visibility of theatrical events but also to the creation of the different moods that are so essential in up they need theatrical illusion. The lighting of the average operatic performance depends on hundreds of lamps all of which are jelled in different colors and all of which can be deemed or Brighton that will as a result every part of the stage platform can be adjusted to have its own intensity of light and all effects of sunlight moonlight indoor outdoor light can be imitated without the slightest difficulty. Besides this normal lighting up or artist the producer also has at his disposal a great variety of additional effects in the form of projectors and other devices. I have no time to mention more than a few of these and therefore I'm going to restrict myself to a discussion of the effect that I found to be most exciting among those I used in the productions of my helpers when mounting blocks. If you deny in
tourists first in Tanglewood and later in Boston I wanted to create a particularly frightening and ghostly effect in the scene where Orestes dreams that he's pursued by Fury's Fury's that torment him for having killed his mother Clytemnestra. After Orestes fell asleep the stage was gradually dimmed to complete darkness and then monstrous looking figures that seemed to be glowing with an internal fire appeared on stage at the same time a shadowy figure that looked like a transparent and fleshless ghost a rose from the body of the sleeping Orestes. It was this figure that was too rounded and threatened by the Furys. Since there was no visible source of illumination the total effect was one of dreadful and supernatural horror. All this was accomplished by installing a set of ultraviolet lamps which gave off a so-called black light a light that is invisible to the eye unless it is
picked up by a special type of force florescent paint the faces bodies and costumes of the Fury's and of the dreamer as these were covered by this paint and gave out a ghostly internal glow at the same time an invisible chorus saying the words won't rule in or not to you or lead you to all who hear you like you're a salamander. We swear eternal vengeance remember your crime. You killed your killed your mother.
Perhaps the most spectacular theatrical site in any of my productions was the burning of the Imperial Palace at the end of the first act of Mozart's opera La claim and still the clemency of Titus when the curtain opened on the final scene of the opening act. The audience saw in the background the magnificent palace of Emperor Titus toward the end of the scene. Flames were seen emerging first through the windows and then through the roof of this immense building. A little while later the smoke began filling the stage and eventually the smoke obliterated completely the view of the palace. Then gradually the smoke began to lift and the flames reappeared but it was clear that the roof and the walls of the palace had been gutted. And when finally the fire died down completely there was nothing to be seen except the charred remains of the once proud structure. This extraordinary effect was accomplished by means of three projectors or two projectors were placed high in the air just behind the main front curtain of the proscenium
arch and the third projector was located in the wings and at the first projectors acted as powerful magic lanterns. They threw very large images on the curve then whitewashed the back wall of the stage by shooting them high above the heads of the singers and actors. One of these projectors held the slide representing the palace. Well the other projector was responsible for the flames that gradually rose through the windows in the roof. The third projector the one placed in the wings of the theater created the image of the smoke as the effect of the smoke increased. The other projectors were dim down to nothing. And then during the approximately twenty seconds when the picture of the palace was completely obliterated by the smoke the electricians substituted a slide representing the ruins of the building for the one picturing the untouched palace as the intensity of the front projectors was increased. We begin to see both the flames and the ruins and when we gradually took out the smoke and
the flames the only thing that remained visible was the slide with the burnt out palace. The ensemble of principal singers and choristers on stage who witnessed all this were just as impressed as the audience in the theatre. As they saying Oh narrow through the main door Jordan would you go along. Or would they often nameless threes and of horror and of pain. Their voices mingled with Mozart's orchestra added the proper touch of anguish and terror to this astonishing spectacle. The.
Projections however are useful mostly when one wants to create picturesque effects effects that can be placed at some distance from the singers. When the scenery has to surround the performers one is forced to turn to other means and hear modern technology has given the producer such extraordinary devices this revolving disks wagon stages and the enormously complicated and costly elevator stages where entire settings can be made to appear and disappear in a matter of seconds. In Richard Strauss us for our own for instance the humble dwelling of Bach is instantly transformed into a gorgeous oriental pavilion complete with furnishings kowtow and slaves. And are you wearing dancing girls here. Only the most elaborate stage machinery can hope to do justice to the glitter of Strauss's music.
The technical effects I have just described depend on the elaborate and often enormously expensive machinery. It is however often possible to achieve quite startling and seemingly supernatural results. But the employment of very simple means among our electrical power for an alien dial would there were two rather primitive devices known as Linda box projectors. They consist of a strong lamp placed inside a large metal box and fitted with a glass window by placing this box not too far from a back cloth and painting on the glass window one can get some very interesting reflections. One of my singers once picked up a green branch outside our summer theatre and more or less as a joke leaned on the glass of one of the larger Linna box. We suddenly saw the most beautiful image of a green forest projected on our back wall so that from then on whenever we needed a lovely landscape Vista we just went outside and broke off a nice green branch
an even simpler trick produced a staggering effect in the third act of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades in the scene where the ghost of the old Countess visits get a man and thrusts him with the secret of the winning cards after the wind blew open the door of your men's room in the barracks. We succeeded in having the ghost of the old lady creeping in the shape of an enormous shadow climb onto the wall and then materialize itself as the image of the singer who then proceeded to address Gillerman. All this was accomplished with the help of one transparent scrim one towel and two lamps. We placed a single lamp just outside the door of that room. A technical assistant time that towel around his arm and held it in front of the light manipulating it in such a manner that the shadow of his arm grew larger and larger entered the room and climbed onto the wall the wall at this point was covered with a transparent material and the singer was standing
behind it in total darkness. As soon as the shadow was safely on the wall we brought up the light behind the scrim and revealed the figure of the singer. The effect particularly when accompanied by Tchaikovsky's orchestra with its soul shaking ghost and when music was quite overwhelming and the cost of it was practically nil. You've been listening to opera the battleground of the arts with a borescope off ski. Now still you know an operatic commentator producer and scholar opera of the battleground of the arts is produced in association with the gold all ski
- Producing Organization
- WRVR (Radio station: New York, N.Y.)
- Riverside Church (New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program focuses on the ways that technology is used to enhance the opera experience.
- Series Description
- A discussion series, hosted by Boris Goldovsky, that examines the welding together of music and drama, two distinct arts, into opera.
- Asset type
- Media type
Host: Goldovsky, Boris
Producing Organization: WRVR (Radio station: New York, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: Riverside Church (New York, N.Y.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: cpb-aacip-951feebcfe3 (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Opera: Battleground of the arts; Modern technology in the opera house,” 1967-04-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 29, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-b56d6412.
- MLA: “Opera: Battleground of the arts; Modern technology in the opera house.” 1967-04-14. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 29, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-b56d6412>.
- APA: Opera: Battleground of the arts; Modern technology in the opera house. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-b56d6412