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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 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. War is called ASCII is
nationally known as an intermission commentator for broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and as an opera producer principally through the productions of the gold of ski Opera Theatre which have been presented in about 400 communities from coast to coast and now here is Mr. Gold ASCII on this program in our series. We come to one of the most controversial questions. Opera lovers debate whenever they get together. It is the question of operation English. Let us be very clear about what is meant by this term. It is somewhat of a misnomer because it is applied without discrimination to two completely different types of works. These two types are translated opera and opera composed to a libretto that was originally written in English. To think the last first. It doesn't seem that anyone in this country could take exception to singing in opera in English when it was written that way. I wonder Incidentally how many devotees of opera
in a foreign language know what has been happening in the field of original English language opera in the last decade. A fairly recent Handbook of opera production it was published in 1961 lists a total of two hundred fifty nine works standard and otherwise that that described as operatic material of permanent value. It comes as a surprise to discover that about 90 of these 259 operas were written to English librettos and it is even more astonishing to learn that two thirds of the 90 appeared in the ten years before the book was published. I have examined the scores of a great many of these new operas in English and I have produced at least a dozen of them. The quality of the total output is very uneven. But I'm willing to wager that a substantial number of them will remain in the active repertoire for quite a few years. The lovers of traditional standard opera may dislike modern musical idioms
and they may doubt the worth of the permanence of this new crop of operas but they must certainly be impressed with the startling vitality of this original opera an English movement. That's the only true controversy in regard to operas written to English librettos is over their musical and theatrical worth. Not over the language they use Opera translate it into English for performance in this country is another matter altogether. And other wise close friends may exchange harsh words over it. I will try to describe the two opposing points of view as fairly as I can although perhaps I should make it clear that I personally favor translations. My reasons for this will become clear I think as we proceed. Let us turn now to the pro and con arguments for translating opera. The argument can be picked up almost anywhere. Those who dislike opera in English for instance may start
out with this point. You cannot deny that opera loses its authentic sound unless it is given in its original language vowels consonants accents and other sounds of the words are essential elements of the work. To rob any opera score of the weight and sound of its original text is to change the composer's total intention almost as much as we should change it by rearranging his music. The proponent of translated opera might answer this argument as follows. What you said isn't necessarily true. The original words of the standard operas are not always arranged particularly well there are many places where the composer for one reason or another gave an entirely false musical value to words and even whole sentences. This hardly constitutes a perfect wedding of music and language. What is true is that when operas are translated We don't hear the familiar opening words of favorite Arias. But how many opera lovers can go on to quote the rest of the sentence after me comment Oh me
me don't know me will never watch a poco file and how many of them know what these words mean and what the singing is all about. Except in the Vegas tour. And how would the rosiness seeing of all Che polka in English she'd have to say or voice. A while ago or something equally unsingable all not at all she could say when he sang my heart stood still. Now what's wrong with that. Oh I admit that for a while you'd feel uneasy to hear a soprano saying I'm sometimes called me me instead of me camel NO ME ME but these unfamiliar words would soon become familiar. Given the chance and a few unfamiliar words in a familiar places a small price to pay to avoid two or three hours of unintelligibility. And it seems to me that the popularity of opera depends upon the audience's ability to understand what's being sung. The audience wouldn't understand the words anyway. The poor enunciation of opera singers makes it
impossible to understand their words in any language. That's not true. Many singers have excellent diction and the others could be trained to develop better enunciation. Besides if you're going to be so meticulous about demanding authentic sounds you shouldn't be so tolerant of the hideous mispronunciations of the original text by singers to whom the language of the work is foreign. What is there to understand anyway. All operatic stories are silly. Everybody knows that. To me opera means romance and illusion. No confirmed opera Go wants to hear Puccini in English any more than he wants to hear Wagner in Italian or Debussy in Gaelic. The magic is dispelled the romance is shattered the illusion is destroyed. But listen man opera is the theatre drama. How in the world can you expect to understand the drama and be moved by it if you don't understand what's going on. I can study the Breteau and read a good plot synopsis before I go to the opera. But what about the subtleties and the fine points.
These are in the meanings of the words that explain the details in the situations of the story. No amount of homework will make you remember every line. Let me give you an example of what I mean in the last act of Mimi lies dying in the attic room of Rodolfo and his friends when the two lovers are finally left alone. Mimi asked. Was. Already there. And there you see how tender and touching it is in a tell you tender and touching you say yes but to use an overworked word wouldn't it become ten times as poignant if you could understand just what Mimi is saying listen.
Now come on admit it. That's not silly is it is it. Well no it it's not but just the same. Most of the time I raps it's time for me to intervene. As we listen to these arguments we can see that some merit can be found on both sides of the question. Although I personally favor translated opera for the productions of The Opera Theatre I'm no longer as certain as I used to be that the debate has to be resolved by an absolute either or onset. It seems to me that most of the debate arises from a confusion of issues. The warring sides generally fail to notice that what separates them is not really their attitude towards language. They're separated rather by a basic disagreement concerning what constitutes acceptable opera. The difficulty is this. The term upper is applied to several types of music with the article works each having its own special appeal. If the
composers aim is limited to simple entertainment then his works most likely belong to the class of musical comedies or to give them their European name operettas works that are written in a more ambitious and distinguished musical idiom are called operas. But here again one must differentiate between the more spectacular and the more intimate operas. This distinction is reflected in the Italian terms of opera Say area and opera bouffe at the French Grand Opera and there are Kmiec and the German Grosso Opa and should be the spectacular type of opera has a specific name in English too. We call it Grand Opera. The more intimate variety of opera lacks however a generally accepted label although it is becoming more and more widely known as the opera theatre style. Each of these categories of opera has its own large and enthusiastic following the devotees of grand operate expected to be a thrilling
spectacle with lavish settings masses of participants and an orchestra of symphonic dimensions. They're not satisfied unless they hear glorious voices bearing famous names and see their favorite stars dressed in magnificent costumes performing in vast opera houses to crowds of festively dressed spectators the lovers of the Opera Theatre on the other hand prefer a smaller auditorium and a discreet orchestra surroundings that enable the audience to catch fine points of singing and to appreciate the more subtle nuances of meaning and musical expression. The high spots of grand opera come in the arias which the singers more often than not sing standing down stage center facing the audience with very little movement. The leading singers of grand opera are generally speaking less Mirabelle than their operate theatre colleagues. Most Opera Theatre singers also have a considerably why the range of expressiveness and such the article
skills as memetics gestures and body movement grand opera produces its most potent effects through vocal intensity. Well the Opera Theatre relies more on believable musical dramatic behavior. Clearly the emphasis is on different facets of the operatic the talent and each of the two genres of opera has its strengths and its weaknesses. The language preferences of the fans of the two schools are quite logically extensions of their other attitude. It's Addicks of grand opera preferred performances in foreign languages and that's really not so surprising. The impact of the voices in the orchestra does not depend upon words. As a matter of fact clarity of Annunciation may occasionally interfere with vocal intensity grand opera lovers are not concerned with the exact verbal meaning of the vocal line. A general knowledge of the situation is quite sufficient. The use of a foreign language
offers many practical advantages. The most important is that theatrical weaknesses of the performance are much less noticeable when the words are in comprehensible. The lack of meaningful action isn't too disturbing. Realistic depiction of the story would only lessen the musical enjoyment. That is a principal attraction to the opera house in the first place. English can't be recommended even by its most devoted supporters. When long stretches of a performance are given as a concert in costume against a picturesque background in this static environment an English text heard unclearly through the sound of a large orchestra distracts the audience dilutes the impact of vocal and orchestral splendor and throws a glaring spotlight on the lack of theatrical believability. And it manages to create all these negatives they think they might add without offering any of the compensating values of the Opera Theatre. Those who enjoy that the advocacy side of opera will continue to clamor for more in
English. We have discovered that the full meaning of opera can be brought out only by singers who have an intimate and immediate understanding of the text and to sing for an audience they can enjoy and evaluate everything it sees and hears not just the high points. Of course singing in English is not an automatic guarantee of good opera. Far from it. Opera can be just as stilted vague and meaningless in English as in any other language. The important thing is that opera sung in English makes good theatre a possibility while performances in a language understood by neither the audience nor the singer lead inevitably to a neglect of theatrical values. But a word of warning is needed. Even though opera in English offers great opportunities it's also replete with great dangers. When it's done poorly it's a sorry spectacle in more ways than one. Among other things if the audience can understand everything the effects in a production suddenly become intensely conspicuous. This probably accounts for a good deal of
the antagonism to opera in English. People have seen the actor equally impoverished productions that happen to have been sung in English. They would have been equally impoverished theatrically in any language but it wouldn't have been so apparent. Therefore unless a producer is able to present an all around fine performance he's much wiser to stick to opera in the original language. Many unattractive details of his production will be hidden behind a mystical veil of an comprehensibility. We compromised to which these two schools of thought leaders may be summarized this way. The great opera companies such as the Metropolitan with their emphasis upon vocal in orchestral splendor in spectacular productions cast with a small handful of international commuting star singers will probably always get their best results with the origin of languages. But the smaller flexible companies striving for Opera Theater will profit greatly from the use of an English text. Before we end our discussion of opera in English
I would like to dispose of two false notions which are constantly advanced by the adversaries of opera in the vernacular. One is that the English language is unsuitable for singing and the other is that no translation can ever be as good as the original text. As regards the first one it is my considered opinion that while Italian is unquestionably the ideal language for singing English is the next best one. It is certainly superior to French German or Russian each of which imposes very taxing problems in the handling of both of ours and consonants to prove my point. I have asked two excellent young American artists Mary Beth peel and general Sienna to sing for us an excerpt from the last act of puttin in Italian and then to repeat the same excerpt in English. I think you will agree with me that their voices sound equally well in both languages.
The only difference will be that when you hear the second version you will be able to appreciate not only the obvious qualities of their performance but also the subtleties of meaning and inflection which are the real reasons why put Cheney went to the trouble of composing this music first in Italian.
It was a. Little. Worse. And now the same eggs are in English.
Don't. Lose. And now let us face the problem of translations. I believe that the
acid test of a good translation is not whether it is a literal rendition of the words of the libretto but whether the music sounds as if it had been originally written to fit this new English version. It goes without saying that one should remain close to the general import of the text but the accuracy of the musical meaning is infinitely more important than any question of literal correctness. And that means not only that word accents must match those of the music and the Long know truthful and syllables that can be elongated without injuring the language but also what is equally important. The entire flow of the continue ity must be made to coincide with the contour of the musical phrases and the inner structure of the sentences including the position of all rhymes must reflect every subtlety of a particular musical style. It so happens that the translator has an excellent chance to achieve a really
perfect matching up between words and musical lines. A better chance often than the composer himself. By the time a composer received the word from his libraries he usually has a pretty definite notion of the melodic shape of his vocal lines. If the composer then has difficulty adjusting the music to fit the words he may ask his librettist for changes but the librettist really understands just what lies behind his request. And there is a limit to the patience of even the most dedicated collaborator. When I translate an opera I start with an existing musical setting and I am willing to experiment with dozens or even hundreds of possible solutions before I am satisfied that the words and the music fit together in a truly unified manner. Take for instance this sequence of lines from Tchaikovsky's Eugene in which I have asked Mr Sienna to sing for us. It has phrases of four five six eight and even ten syllables
alternating in an almost random manner. The long notes fall sometimes on the third syllable sometimes on the first or the eight syllable rhymes are similarly irregular in their placement and yet when words and music are reconciled everything makes the most beautiful sense. It wasn't like he was out of his mouth was that it was kind of every bit of the way and you want to hear the side of the line for you. We had her way
and now I would like to tackle a question that opera lovers over and over. Why is it that the enunciation of so many opera singers is so poor that it is often impossible to guess even the language which is being sung by them. There are two reasons. First poorly trained singers tend to think in terms of individual notes instead of thinking in terms of a continuum of meaningful phrases and seconds. Singers have a tendency to sing as loudly as possible to prove that they have voices suitable for Grand Opera capable of feeling enormous fear hers and able to compete with orchestras of symphonic sonorities. When music and words are sung by thinking rather than by shouting singers it is usually possible to understand every word. Provided of course that both the singers and the listeners know the language which is being sung.
And so to end this program let us have a bit more opera in English again from Tchaikovsky's united but this time sung by Miss P.. Mr.. Little. And
the little. Girl is. Good. Good thing it's not a fun thing. Did you want her to. Explode.
You've been listening to opera the battleground of the arts with Boris gold off ski a nationally known operatic commentator. Producer and scholar opera the battleground of the arts is produced in association with the gold off ski opera Institute by W. R. They are the noncommercial cultural and information station of the Riverside Church in New York City. Producer Walter Shepherd production assistants and technical operations Peter Feldman and Matthew Bieber failed the pro and con arguments for opera in English were read by Walter Shepard and Robert Morris. The special musical illustrations were recorded for this broadcast by Soprano Mary Beth peel and TURNER General CAA members of the gold off ski Opera Theatre the Metropolitan Opera a national company and other leading opera companies. Portions of the script for this week's program were drawn from Mr. Gold of ski's book bringing opera to Life published by Appleton century
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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 eighteenth of thirty nine parts, presents various examples of African-American folk and jazz music.
Other 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: 67-1-18 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:36
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Chicago: “Negro music in America; 18,” 1967-03-22, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2022,
MLA: “Negro music in America; 18.” 1967-03-22. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 9, 2022. <>.
APA: Negro music in America; 18. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from