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In the years sixteen Seventy eight percent every man 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 wrote 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 wy they are in New York City presents opera the battleground of the arts in this series of half hour programmes Boris Godunov ski 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 for a school to ASCII
is nationally known as an intermission commentator for broadcaster the Metropolitan Opera and as an opera producer principally through the productions of The Gold ASCII Opera Theatre which have been presented in about 400 communities from coast to coast. For this first program titled What is opera. Mr. Gold our skees guest is the producer of the series Walter Shepherd and now here is Boris gold of ski. Thank you ever so much for your very kind introduction. It seems to me that before we proceed with our programs it might be a good idea for us to define exactly what we mean with the word opera. Otherwise it is so easy to get lost in to the various minor differences between tragedy to recall para Kmiec round up Eros think should be music drama opera say Area opera blue far and before you know where you are you know what all these things mean but you don't know what opera means. I dilute the definition I like I like to define opera as a play
in which people instead of speaking sing with orchestral accompany me. And I like to think of our prize all these forms of art where in the theatre you have actors who sing with orchestral accompanying What do you think with the shepherd as they seem reasonable to you. It seems reasonable enough Mr. Grassley but I wonder if there doesn't need to be some amplification of this forest. Well in musical comedy for instance which seem to have included under the general heading of opera they don't sing all the time. Oh that's right they don't even sing all the time in other forms of opera. For instance and I think spiel such as the abduction of the serai or the Magic Flute Delio people speak in the Opera Comique such as the original Carmen or fall or for that matter in an mass NE's manone there are many sections where singers speak the orchestra may be playing or not playing. I agree with you let us amend my definition by saying that
opera is a play in which. The actors sing most of the time without Kestrel accompaniment would you accept that. Yes I think I will I think we also need to make clear though that it isn't just that they may speak instead of singing with orchestral accompaniment but the actors may sing with other than orchestral accompanied a piano. Once I'm gone it was somehow that I'm in the in the recitative right especially in that that that is known as the driver seat that she that he was second go a very popular form of declamation in all the opera bouffe us of the 18th century singers would then also half sing have to claim with the accompanying of a keyboard instrument. But even so most of the time they will sing with orchestral accompany and now it's my function I think to act as a kind of devil's advocate pose for you four or five
objections that many people have to opera. I will try what are those objections. Well the first one is to go and ask is that opera because the people saying is an unnatural and artificial form. That of course is perfectly legitimate. To be consistent those people who object to opera on this ground should really also object let's say two paintings because they're two dimensional. I find or I could find that it is a very artificial way of portraying a human being in two dimensions or a landscape in two dimensions. And I could very well see where people would say that one should not have oil paintings or any other kind of paintings because it is unnatural artificial to represent nature in two dimensions. I'd like to point out that all our has these what I'd like to call basic adjustments that we have to accept because if we don't accept them we simply cut ourselves loose from this form of art altogether. And it is of course quite true that if you want to stick to this objection
you would have to deprive yourself of all enjoyment of painting and sculpture and opera and if top people who want to do it are welcome to it. But fortunately for us most people have accepted singing in opera is one of those absolutely basic artistic adjustments about which there can be no argument because if you don't accept singing as a natural expression for this form of art then you can have any operate all and was good at that. I think this is a valid rebuttal to this objection. The second objection is that even if we accept that in opera people sing instead of speaking all the time that the unnaturalness is carried to a particularly peculiar point when all of the people there were at least several of them singing at the same time though we never they say talk at the same time and we cannot understand what's going on when this happens.
I would like to think the other point of view and say that this is one of the greatest advantages of opera. Some of the most glorious moments in opera all career exactly at that point when you have many people sing either on the same subject or on the related subject or even on a completely different subject. This kind of counterpoint is particularly wonderful when you deal with a great composer such as Verdi in one of his dramatic counterpoint masterpieces such as let us say the quartet from Rigoletto where you have a situation where four people you meet the same basic emotion with illuminated from four different points of view. Here we have four people saying about love the joke represents sort of animal love and motherly you know who giggles is Clark fish's love a dildo represents so young girl who sees her lover make love to another woman and then there is another love the love of a father for his daughter. And these emotions are present in not only
one by one but they're also presented similar to sle and the result of course is tremendous. You know the. You know the week we have just heard the Duke of Mantua the tenor making love to Madeleine at the metal Soprano the next voice you will hear is Madalena giggling. Then the soprano will be crying. Then her father Goleta the baritone will try to console his daughter and finally all four of them will sing together each one expressing his own emotions his own feelings of love. That.
You no doubt lowdown. Furthermore it is possible in opera to present even completely contrasting emotions at the same time. I'm thinking of the quartet from boy from the third act of pushiness name where you have one couple Mimi and Rodolfo who indulge in a most tender exchange of loving words and at the same time we have Marcelo and music who quarrel. We have a quarrelling to where the loved us happened side by side and then have to simmer tenuously. It was. A hero
and. We've just heard the love Jewett between Rodolfo and Mimi. The next voices we will hear will be those of Marcelo and Mozart the who are fighting and then both the quarrelling duet and the lovemaking duet will sing together and amazingly enough Puccini will be able Singleton easily to present the quarrel and the tenderness of love in the same piece of music. God was in with the.
Men when you were now. To God. Well you couldn't do that sort of thing in any other form of large except in opera and I think that instead of complaining about that people should be grateful for it. You seem to have taken care of the second objection very well. The third objection centers around another thing that people find unnatural and that is that the characters in opera repeat the words that they have to say or saying over and over and over. The thrust of the argument here seems to be that we do not in real life say goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye and then we go we say goodbye and leave. And that isn't true first of all anybody who has had friends that his home who are leaving can testify to the fact that they do exactly what you are saying they stand at the
door and they keep on saying good bye and goodbye and don't leave until about the seventh the fifth good bye. But there's something else which is even more natural and believable and that is you see that people who are under the strain of a great emotion find very difficult to discontinue this emotion. People who are in love keep saying I love you I adore you I worship you. For people who suffer keep saying how I suffer this is anguish kills me. I think that serious emotions are a little bit like a tooth ache. We can't think of anything else except it hurts it hurts it hurts. And in opera you have these wonderful laments where people constantly express their their pain or express their love in love duets. There is also another point of view here and that is that language has more than one function. That means I may tell you something that is emotionally very upsetting to me just to inform you. But then I cannot let go of this emotion I have to repeat it not so much to inform you but to
live out this effect and experts in the science of communication of languages speak of informative meaning and effect different meaning. And in opera we encounter many instances where side by side the composer will first give a sentence that has informative value and then will make the singer repeat it for affective purposes. Have you an example. Oh yes. Let me show you one. You know that lovely place in my Sky News cover letter you know stick Ana winds on top of her love affair with to do when she said. You love me. I got out there. And. Now the first time she says I love themas informative she's simply telling my mother that she loves
to read. But then the next day I loved him I loved him are wonderful examples of affective for a petition. Let's listen to the way it sounds with an orchestra and a really great singer. You love me. I love him. Was I out there are you out there. The. Lord. You polished off three of my list of five objections Mr. Gold ASCII the fourth relates to the stories of opera that first of all it's difficult to understand them. And then if you do understand them
they are silly or trite or don't relate at all to our present condition. In a later program at Shepherd we're going to take care of some of these objections particularly those that relate to silliness of operatic plots. As far as familiarity is concerned there is some truth in that. Difficulty of understanding certain types of operas because it takes longer to tell a story with music than without music music is expensive. It requires a great deal of repetition. Not everything can be set to music so that many composers prefer to use stories which are very familiar to audiences. This is the reason for instance why there are so many operas on Biblical subjects or mythological subjects after all everybody knows the story of or fail when you read this. You don't have to explain every moment of it because presumably people know what this is about and this is also the reason why so many operas have been
founded on famous plays or famous poems because the composer felt that it was not really necessary to tell the whole story the audience knew it anyway. The audience can fill in the gaps from its own know exactly. I have one last objection on this list. And then I can stop pleading for the opposition and start talking for opera and that is that operas are too long. Yes that of course is a perfectly valid objection and I must say that I also sometimes find them to be a little bit too long. The truth of the matter is that the people who say that they are too long are usually the people who also believe in those other two four objections and that makes them of course four times as long as our prez are for us who love opera. The reason why operas are long or that some operas are very long is that in the days that they were written people liked to have long entertainment operas were not given as often as they are today. And when people went to the enormous trouble of
going to an opera performers they wanted to see they there a long long time and hear as much music as possible. You must not forget that concert programs in those days also were enormously long. They may have included several symphonies and concertos and solos and chamber music and Lord knows what they usually lasted at least twice as long as our concerts. We are just not as resilient. And of course you know we do what we can to shorten them. There's no question about it. Very few of the very long operas are given in their entirety Cosi Fan Tutte is shortened to mice to sing Tristan. It is only under festival conditions that long operas are given in their entirety. But it is true that some operas are too long. But then they're so beautiful that we don't mind. Well now I have completed the bill of indictment against opera Mr Gonski and you seem to have rebutted the charges very successfully. You know if you don't mind I have some complaints myself about opera. Not so
much about the works as the bought the spirit in which people listen to them and also the way in which they judge them. I find for instance that many many opera lovers I wouldn't say necessarily all of them or most of them but many are impressed with certain values and are completely insensitive or unaware of the values that for instance impressed me. Most people for instance go to operas in order to hear famous names famous voices and they are impressed by the spectacular part of opera in the glamorous part of opera and pay very little attention to other things. Well I like great voices and great names and a spectacular part of opera but frankly this is not the criteria which I apply to either the work or its performance. Well then you must have some criteria and I can only ask you to tell us what they are. Well as a matter of fact let me tell you the story of how I came to enunciate them. Every once in a while I think a group of my friends do Europe and take them to various opera
houses and I found when I started doing it that even supposedly very learned in a sense a very experienced opera lovers really didn't have any criteria for judging a performance except those I mentioned before and I had to question myself and says well how do I get up and all of a sudden became clear to me that I apply Besides the same criteria their apply of beauty and spectacular ness. Three basic criteria which I would like to call believability collaring and variety. Will you expand only one of the time for sort of you know just a little more about what is the quality in a performance that makes me. Accept the fact that these are the people they pretend to be. The queen looks like a queen and acts like a queen and sounds like a queen and the Queen's music that she sings is Queen Lee music and the orchestra plays in the queenly
way and the servant let us say behaves like a servant and looks like a servant and the girl is supposed to be beautiful and modest she looks and acts and sings as if she were beautiful and modest. Now this kind of believability is very important. For instance in the performance of Aida I like to feel that both of them their wrists and I are beautiful so that other mass could fall in love with either one of them. If one of them looks like the other's grandmother I'll say it is not believable. If they don't do the things that they sing about if they don't act about the things which they sing then I find the situation unbelievable. And I think it is. It is the business of the producer and the singer and the conductor and the stage director to give us opera that we can believe and we get more and more of it today. In the olden days you know all we wanted are beautiful voices. But now we want people who look believable sound believable and act early. Mr. Gold Have you a musical illustration for this criterion of believability.
You know I do Mr. Shepard but I would rather illustrate not so much a question of believability as an example of unbelievability. There is a place in who knows follows when the curtain opens and we see the garden Margaret's garden and the spinning wheel usually stands in the garden. Now I cannot possibly believe that Margaret is the kind of girl who would leave a spinning wheel standing in the garden when she goes to church and that is the essence of believability that we must realize that the people on stage behave the way we would. I would never leave a spinning wheel in the garden. And besides I don't believe that God knows the kind of composer that would permit Marguerite to turn wheels unless he wrote special wheels turning music because it so happens that there is a special wheel turning music in who knows follows. For instance.
This who're of the turning spindle is heard in the prologue when the stuff of the shows follows the vision of my diary behind a spinning wheel. Now when I staged this opera I have Marguerite bring out the wheel from her house the way any decent German hausfrau and would and then when she sits behind it she may work with the flax and the spindle but she never turns the wheel. And here you see we have an example of both musical believability or other fitness and dramatic believability. We're going to ask you what is the music that's played at this point that is not wheel spinning music. Oh that goes this way. As you can see one can work through this music but no one can spin. One cannot spin possibly your second criterion was clarity will you tell us about that. Things must be presented clearly. I for instance object to it when the orchestra play so loudly that I cannot hear the singers because the balance between what should be
highlighted and what should be in the shadow is then upset. Also very often in productions one sees that the audience's attention is drawn to some entertainment which is completely unimportant. And important things are not sufficiently highlighted. It may be of interest to you that in teaching opera we have borrowed some who were herbs and some concepts from instrumental music. You see in instrumental music we know that the melody has to be played let's say louder than the company that any company is to place the company man so loud that the melody cannot be heard is simply a poor musician in modern music. People like Schoenberg speak of three levels that helped him and which they marked with an age name to me which they marked with an AN And the presumption is that if a line of music is Mark neither h nor n then it is played very softly like an accompaniment. So in staging opera we now speak of leading action supporting action and background action and in my
classes and in general I like to feel in my productions that every singer at every time knows whether he is performing a leading action a suport ng action or a background action. And this permits as you see to have a great clarity of the production. The Mr go to ask you Have you a musical illustration for this point of clarity. Again Mr Shepherd. Instead of illustrating clarity I would rather speak about a very famous section of opera that I find very difficult to present clearly and then happens in the first female of Don Giovanni when Mossad introduces a most extraordinary job by having three different orchestras play three different dance tunes in different meters. One orchestra plays the tune which of course we all know let me play it on the piano for you. And another orchestra plays the contra dance into four.
And a little bit later a third orchestra comes in playing a lend lend an old fashioned type of waltz. It so happens that it is almost impossible for the ear to hear these three meters and these Three Junes clearly unless the difference in their metrical arrangement is shown on the stage by having the three orchestras in different parts of the stage and by having peasants clap their hands so that they clap at like hear. Against the waltz clap. Clap clap. Clap. And of course the menu at the last place. I found that unless it is clarified in this particular manner by having the orchestras placed in three completely different locations on stage having it danced in three different locations on
stage and having the different peasants clap their hands to clarify the meter the audience actually cannot hear the three dances and understand what Mozart was trying to do in this extraordinary joke. Let me try to show you how it sounds usually records. And this is also incidentally the way it sounds in the opera house where even I who know these things so well have great difficulty in distinguishing the three tunes. The. Week. With. Your third criterion. If I remember correctly was variety.
That's right. It's very important that things should not be monotonous again we can speak of an analogy with music. A composer doesn't stay in the same key all the time because it would be boring it would be monotonous and he module relates from one to anality into another. He doesn't present things in the same rhythm or in the same meter. And if he does we say that this is a fault in the same way on the stage we don't want too much static visual. Grouping we want changes of grouping to occur in about the same place in the same speed the same contour as the changes in the music the changes in the drama. As a dramatist also various things he has large scenes intimate scenes. Sad scenes comedy scenes alternate and that gives it will rise. And unfortunately in opera for generations we had static looking grouping. People would come on stage and go to their war the German school shut down to what to their location and they would stand there for ever.
In a modern production we try to give an upper right. And when I go and judge a performance I judge it not only on the basis of is it beautiful is it spectacular Is it glamorous is it filled with the notables with. The series Mr. Gold on skees topic next week will be the dominance of the singer in an opera opera or the battleground of the arts is produced in association with the gold of ski opera Institute by a w r b r the noncommercial cultural and information station of the Riverside Church in New York City. Producer Walter Shepherd production assistance and technical operations Matthew Bieber feld and Peter Feldman a grant from the National Home Library
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Negro music in America
Episode Number
Producing Organization
WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the eleventh of thirty nine parts, presents various examples of African-American folk and jazz music.
Series Description
This series focuses on music created and performed by African-Americans, including folk, and jazz styles. This series is hosted by Anton Luckenbach of Carbondale, Illinois, who also gathered interviews in New Orleans for this series.
Broadcast Date
Race and Ethnicity
Media type
Host: Luckenbach, Anton
Producing Organization: WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-1-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:22
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Chicago: “Negro music in America; 11,” 1967-02-20, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 27, 2023,
MLA: “Negro music in America; 11.” 1967-02-20. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 27, 2023. <>.
APA: Negro music in America; 11. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from