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In the year 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 a 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 fears need be entertained as to the applause even of the ignorant Riverside radio WRVA are in New York City presents opera the battleground of the arts. In this series of half hour programmes Borys gold ASCII 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. Is nationally known as an intermission commentator for broadcaster the Metropolitan Opera
and as an opera producer principally through the productions of The God of Opera Theatre which have been presented in about 400 communities from coast to coast and now here is Mr. Gold of ski truly fine performances of opera are quite rare. They result from the presence of three basic elements talent money and time by talent. I mean the availability of a very considerable number of exceptionally gifted people not only singers instrumentalists conductors stage directors and Seanie can costume designers but also repertoire coaches carpenters electricians and a host of other competent technicians. Money is needed not only to remunerated these often very expensive people but also to pay for scenery costumes and properties not to mention the upkeep of the Opera House itself with its endlessly complicated machinery. Even when there is ample
talent and money most of the time is usually spent on the preparation of new productions so that the bulk of the repertoire is thrown together in a hurry without the necessary rehearsals and with the resulting loss of detail and finish. And finally even in cities such as New York or London where a certain number of fine performances are given only comparatively few spectators are lucky enough to get tickets to see them. Because of this the relative rarity of fine operatic offerings many substitutes have become popular these substitutes. We can call them results. Opera can be divided into two basic groups live but in complete opera and can opera in the first group we have opera in concert form and opera in the round and in the second group. Opera on radio and film on television and finally the most popular of all substitutes opera on records.
Opera in concert form although it uses live singers and orchestra players sacrifices most of the theatrical elements of this form of art. There is no scenery or lighting and only a rudimentary amount of costuming in dramatic action. The last naturally is monumental but to compensate for it there is a very substantial saving in money and because of this opera in concert form permits the performance of unfamiliar works works and insistence on which would quickly bankrupt the impresario who would attend full productions of these operas. It is well to keep in mind that the basic international repertoire of opera consists of no more than 60 works. There are not too many opera devotees who can boast of having seen four productions of even the 60 but 60 more titles can be easily put together from among neglected works of such acknowledged masters of opera as a bloke Mozart Rossi need
only that the verity Meyer bear must a name and Rimsky-Korsakov unfamiliar operas of these and other composers could very profitably be given in concert form. This would at the very least give the opera lover an opportunity to become acquainted with their music. The great danger of this form of presentation is that in this incomplete form many operatic works make a poor impression because he sees a live performance of The Spectator often imagines that he sees a complete theatrical presentation but the total effect of such operas as Rimsky-Korsakov the Tsar's Bride or Meyer bears the Huguenots is predicated on the presence of scenery costumes lights and above all and stage movement and action. The impact of these works depends on the drama and when most of the drama is absent the listener only too often is heard remarking. Now I understand why this work has been neglected for so long. It is possible therefore that performances in concert form have occasionally done more
harm than good. In the round because of its savings and scenery is also much less expensive than the more orthodox type. And furthermore in this type of presentation one does not lose as many theatrical values as in concert performances. There is plenty of dramatic action in theaters in the round and this action is actually brought much closer to the spectator than it is in conventional theatres where the orchestra pit forms a barrier between the singing actors and the audience. This absence of an orchestra pit creates However its own special problem. The trouble is that there is no logical place to seat the instrumentalists. And as a result the number of players is often reduced to a point where musical values suffer a very substantial loss. Another disadvantage comes from the great difficulty of arranging for a proper highlighting of important characters and events. One cannot get rid of secondary characters by moving them up stage or by having them turn their backs
on the audience. There is no up stage. Strictly speaking and when performers turn their backs on one section of the audience they automatically face another group of spectators. This creates very unfortunate situations especially with choristers who constantly tend to obstruct the view of principal singers. One can sometimes remedy this by making choristers crouch or sit on the ground but I will never forget my struggles. Several summers ago when I was asked to produce verities Rigoletto in the round it did not seem possible or proper to ask the tall and proud courtiers of the Duke of Mantua to crouch or sit on the floor. And what with Rigoletto himself being a deformed dwarf like figure the problem of visibility became a real headache. As we turn to opera for the radio we observe at once that productions designed especially for radio audiences do not exist any longer in the United States.
This type of opera still has a very great vitality in Europe where most of the great radio networks have their own very fine orchestras and where not only the standard repertoire but also many new and unfamiliar operatic works can be heard quite regularly over the radio. The last real radio productions of opera in our country were those conducted by Arturo Toscanini with the NBC symphony orchestras. Of the many operas that the incomparable Toscanini gave us I think it was his Aida that made the most unforgettable impression on me. There must be many others who will recall the thrill of hearing sounds such as these. To.
Me. Since the death of the maestro and the unfortunate the minds of the NBC symphony most of the radio operas we hear are broadcasts of recordings and these we will discuss a little later in today's program. The one great exception the feel of radio is found in the Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera Association broadcast which are made possible through the far side the generosity
of the Texas company. Heard by millions of listeners every week these programs have had a tremendous influence on the popularization of opera in the United States. Since these are broadcast of live performances the listener catches all the excitement of unpredictable and uncensored musical events and events that are actually happening at the same instant that he's listening to them. He occasionally hears young singers before they have become world famous and in this way participate in the exciting processes of music history in the making. All this of course cannot compensate him for the irreparable loss of the article values values that can be perceived enjoyed and evaluated only through one's own eyes. But here again half a loaf may be better than none. The other great disadvantage of the Metropolitan broadcast is that because of the inexhaustible economics of live opera so few novelties can be given at least 80 percent of all the operas broadcast during the season have been heard during the
preceding two or three years. The young people in the radio audience grow up under the impression that the entire literature of opera consists of a few dozen works all written by the same 12 composers. Those who become opera enthusiastic tend to turn into record collectors. And while in this medium they become familiar with many other operas they continue to imagine that opera is meant only for the ears and not for the eyes or for the enjoyment of theatrical events. Thus the substitute article airs at Opera often remains the only type of opera that the radio listeners and the record collectors know and enjoy turning to opera on film and TV. One is at first surprised that this form of presentation has not become more popular. What happens in the movies is that the defects of conventional operatic acting are particularly obvious and become doubly offensive when
they are magnified on the screen. Many attempts have been made to introduce characters who pretend tomorrow the words that are being sung by invisible operatic voices. This wedding of facial expressions and actions with super imposed operatic sounds is known as dubbing and it has not generally speaking been convincing enough. The mismatching between what one sees and what one hears is too obvious. I venture to predict however that opera in the movies will be more successful in the future when we develop more singers who managed to master the highly specialized and subtle acting techniques required in the films. If Opera in the movies is objectionable mainly because if it's exaggerated size television opera suffers mostly from the smallness of the average screen. You know some of the scenes mum naturally wants to see all those who are singing at the time. This however reduces the size
of the individual singer to the point where one cannot distinguish his facial expressions in close up shots on the other hand it is disconcerting to hear many voices while seeing only one or two faces. In my own operatic work on television I found that the BEST results are achieved with operas having very few characters and no chorus or other ills Allerdyce by your or his the Spanish power. Since it is built almost exclusively on soul and US situations is ideally suited for the small television screen and so of course is meant not these Amahl and the Night Visitors which has been commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company especially for a presentation on television. Successful television opera depends almost entirely on a closer up or between the operas musical producer and the camera director or an imaginative television director has at his disposal not only such
obvious resources as close ups and unusual and exciting camera angles but also the most fantastic tricks of super impositions split screens and other devices that do not begin to exist in the conventional theater. Here is a great only partially explored field of operatic presentation. And there is no doubt that many works both old and new are ideally suited to this medium. It is all the more regrettable that after having given us so many memorable operatic television productions the National Broadcasting Company has seen fit to discontinue this valuable public service. It is a sad reflection on our vaunted cultural explosion that when serious artistic enterprises disappear the general public does not to rise up in anger and force the networks to reconsider their decisions. Having skimmed over such a broad accepted youth as opera in concert form and in the round as well as opera on the radio
film and TV we can now turn our attention to the most important form of canned opera opera on records in recent years recordings of operatic albums featuring complete operas have been sold in quite astonishing quantities and have become enormously popular. Furthermore it is quite probable that many avid collectors who are proud possessors of dozens or even hundreds of albums have never once witnessed a live presentation of their favorite art form. When one considers that the recorded opera is totally devoid of visual appeal there the characters of the plot are never seen that there is no dramatic movement and a complete absence of such essential theatrical paraphernalia as scenery lights and costumes. One wonders that in the face of these shortcomings this form of presentation commands so much loyalty and affection on the part of its devotees. The answer is that although recorded opera appeals only to her
ears it after is our ears many delights that cannot be readily matched in live full productions of opera. Before we go on to discuss the remarkable musical advantages of recorded opera a few words must be said about modern recordings as such in the past. A recording represented a record of an actual performance. But this generally speaking is no longer true. The modern recording is no longer a documentation of one single continuous musical event. It is not an aural photograph of one real happening. On the contrary it is a composite of many trials and errors. A Mozart of many photographs is splicing together of the most successful fragments of many attempts to perform separate passages of music. The performer who faces a live audience knows perfectly well that many things will go wrong and that when they go wrong he will not have a second chance. He
cannot stop and repeat the offending passage. He can only hope that his performance will have relatively few blemishes and that these blemishes will not be too apparent to his listeners. When making a recording on the other hand the performer has not only a second chance but the third fourth and if he needs it even a twentieth chance he can replay or re sing a difficult passage dozens of times and the final result can be made up of the best features of all these attempted performances. As a matter of fact it is even possible to introduce the whole voice of another singer and blended in imperceptibly to help out the performer in a situation where for one reason or another such assistance is needed. A dramatic example of a rescue operation of this type is found in the recording of Agnes Tristan and Isolde were a world famous soprano whose high notes were no longer secure receive the help of a younger colleague. The high C which you just heard was sung by another singer and the amazing
thing is that this entire substitution was performed in a manner that completely defies detection. On another recording we hear the sounds of cathedral bells which lend their majestic tolling which was recorded separately to the coronation scene of ski's Boris Godunov. There is no harm in all this provided that the listener realizes that what he is in
effect offered is not a record of one continuous single event but the new and different type of musical performance. Unfortunately listeners as a rule are not aware of this distinction and many a young musician who goes to hear a live presentation by his favorite recording artist is shocked and appalled at its imperfections and imperfections that were completely absent in the recorded version he has been playing at home on his high fidelity phonograph. This difference between the recording of a single musical event and an assemblage of several fragmentary attempts is not an academic distinction. It has a direct bearing on our evaluation of the excellence of our own performances and of the performances of others. Imagine playing golf under rules that would allow you each time to choose the best of 12 practice shots. Under these circumstances your total score would consist of nothing but birdies and eagles. A golfing enthusiast who would
become used to such scoring results would be appalled at the shamefully high scores achieved by our best champions playing under conventional rules that do not allow any second chances. Opera lover should realize that phonograph records and real performances of opera are similarly produced under very different rules of the game. To avoid confusion it would be best I believe if recording companies would label their products more accurately and distinguish between true records and the much more typical composite. So in the meantime we must realize that the composites that go into the making of the average operatic album embody a new form of art and that the advantages of this new art form come from its ability to offer the listener better vocal performances better instrumental playing and above all a better balance between the voices in the instruments. To understand why this should be so we must return to what we said at the very beginning of
today's program. In the restate the essentials of superior operatic performances there dependence aren't enough talent money and time. Well then the recording companies have more money more time and since they do not have to worry about the visual side of opera they can quite often assemble at a greater number of gifted vocalists and instrumentalists and in trusted direction too particularly gifted conductors making it possible for all these talented people to work together under conditions that permit the careful assembling of composite performances. Another enormous advantage of phonograph performances lies in the electronic control of musical intensities in the real opera house most singers wonder whether their voices are voluminous and resonant enough to be heard in the vast spaces of the modern of the two rooms and in their desire to compete with a symphonic sonorities of modern opera orchestras the singers usually aim for maximum vocal
intensities. When he stands behind the microphone from the singer can sing as softly as he wants to and he never has to force his voice. He can pay much more attention to nuances of phrasing to the coloring of his voice and can thus act with his voice much more freely than his colleague in the opera house. The conductor similarly does not have to worry about drowning out the singers and can therefore permit his orchestra musicians a much wider range of dynamics. Not satisfied with these inherent advantages of their new musical art form recording companies are becoming more and more intent on giving their product a semblance of the optical realities to achieve this they're introducing sound effects that are calculated to evoke and heighten those events of the plot that can be made or double by other than strictly vocal orchestral means. A recent recording of Wagner's Ring of the needle features a number of such special
effects that will give our listeners an idea of the variety and scope of these attempts to make recorded opera more vividly dramatic and theatrical. Listen to the howling of the new belongings as they are pursued and mercilessly whipped by the invisible Albury. Yeah. Yeah. And here are those female warriors out here then hello as they arrive at their meeting place on top of the valve gear Iraq. Notice the effect of
distance and spaciousness as these Amazons approach and come gradually nearer and nearer. Thanks. Was. And here is vote on who was about the sit around the sleeping Brunhilda with magic fire striking the rock with his beer. This is the sound you are not likely to hear in the opera house.
The. Goal. And striking the final hammer blows in fashioning the mighty sword with which he will slay the dragon Fafnir. And here is Hofner is the voice booming from the deep recesses of his dragon like body. The next illustration is particularly interesting because it shows how the art of recording
can help to solve certain difficulties of acting with the voice. The plot of the go to them indicates that at a certain point in the drama Zeke freed must pretend to be there and must sound like. Since Siegfried is a tenor and winter a baritone this poses problems in Coloring the voice so as to achieve the proper impersonation in the recording this change of time or is achieved by purely electronic means. Here is the phrase a voice in its Fulton Auriol splendor. And he disguising his voice to sound like a baritone. Another interesting recording novelty is the sound of an actual song
which is supposedly played by Haagen as he calls his men to assemble in front of his mansion. And here to finish our program is the catastrophic ending of the Great that Nemuro with the flooding and destruction of the whole of the home. You've been listening to opera the battleground of the Arts where the Burra scrolled
off a nationally known operatic commentator producer and scholar author of the battleground of the arts is produced in association with the gold osteoporosis Institute by WRVO. The noncommercial cultural and information station the Riverside Church in New York City. Producer Walter Shepherd production assistants on tactical operations. Peter Feldman and Matthew Bieber felt it. Next week Mr. Gold off topic will be discussions so pinions and judgments. Two weeks from now for the final program in this series he will talk about opera in our time. A grant from the National Home Library Foundation has made possible the production of this program for national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
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Opera: Battleground of the arts
Opera in our time
Producing Organization
WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Riverside Church (New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on the elements necessary for a good opera performance.
Series Description
A discussion series, hosted by Boris Goldovsky, that examines the welding together of music and drama, two distinct arts, into opera.
Performing Arts
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: 67-11-14 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:52
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Chicago: “Opera: Battleground of the arts; Opera in our time,” 1967-05-03, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
MLA: “Opera: Battleground of the arts; Opera in our time.” 1967-05-03. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 23, 2024. <>.
APA: Opera: Battleground of the arts; Opera in our time. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from