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In the years sixteen seventy eight sent every Malone 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. Boris gold is nationally known as an intermission commentator for broadcasts of 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 in the first program of the series. I replied to a number of general objections people sometimes raise against opera at that time. I promised to discuss in greater detail the common complaints about operatic stories. This is the topic of this week's program and as I did on that earlier broadcast I have asked the producer of the series Walter Sheppard to join me as a kind of devil's advocate to help me sift these complaints. What would you say Mr. Shepard is the most common objection to operatic stories. Well a surprising number of people who like music and opera nevertheless assert that most if not all operatic stories are unworthy of serious attention by present day audiences because they're just plain confusing childish or silly. I think this is the most common complaint mister don't ask.
Do you think it has any validity. It seems to be Mr. Shepard that people who talk this way fall into three categories. First there are those who simply don't happen to like any opera and who rationalize their dislike of this form of art by saying that all operas are silly. This endows their dislike with a reasonable explanation and gives them an easy out so to speak. Then there are those who like only certain styles of operatic music. People who all of a say like only Puccini or only Wagner for music lovers of this type of Mozart or Rossini seem to be childish or tinkly or silly. And then finally there is the third category opera lovers who like many varieties of music but who seem unable to identify the symbolic value in certain types of stories. People who simply haven't learned to think of these particular plots in terms of contemporary and vital problems you find
such listeners among most art lovers who are admired and Giovani and the Marriage of Figaro. But who throw up their hands at the Magic Flute. Because to them it seems to be a childish fairy tale. They fail to realize of course that the Magic Flute deals with very crucial matters which like all great there are matters that affect not fairy tale characters but real people who like you and me and all of us. This sounds good Mr. Gold ASCII but how does it apply to Italian opera Sarah. Those works dealt mainly with mythological characters and events which do not seem at least on the surface to have much application to modern problems. As you know Mr. Sheppard opera found its first permanent home at the court of kings emperors and dukes that is in surroundings where obedience to the will of the ruler was an extremely important principle. The article performances particularly those accompanied by music were considered to be most
important propaganda channels for the general public and also for the young princes and princesses. Thus operatic stories serve specific educational purposes indoctrinating the young and the old in various types of civic virtues. Mythological legends serve these purposes particularly well because in them everyone including the kings themselves had added to obey the will of the gods or be severely punished. We can observe this aspect of uppermost clearly in the text of Mr. Stasio who was the most admired provider of dramatic poem suitable for music. He was the court poet of Empress Maria Terry's Yeah who as you know had no less than 16 children who were made to participate in many of the house productions of these operas and thus learned the importance of obeying both the Greek gods as well as their father and mother. Take the legend of Orfeo which was one of the most popular operatic stories of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This operad demonstrates that disobedience to the gods is punishable by death. Even if this disobedience is motivated by the most sacred and tender of sentiments such as the love of a husband for his wife the same is draw Dido and Ennius another enormously popular operatic text in this opera. The nearest obeys the will of the gods even though it literally breaks the heart of his beloved Dido. Or take the blood of a nail which happens to be my favorite classical legend as it was set to music by Mozart. The menu deals with the love of a father for his son a love so great that in order to save his son's life the father tries to deceive the God of the steeple side and break his promise to him and surely the Mineo does not get away with it. Here again we have the basic ideas of the Italian opera Syria or beatings to the gods to the king and to the Father.
But how does this affect us today Mr Khan ask why should we in 20th century America be more than Karajan only interested in common AOL's problems. As you know Mr. Shepard I was privileged to be the first one to produce the Mineo in this country. This premiere took place in Tanglewood in the summer of one thousand forty seven. It was just at the time when the entire world was shaken by the new terror of the atomic bomb. In preparing this opera for a production we were struck by the analogy between the international situation and the plot of this opera. But the analogy between us and the cretins and Greeks in this old and seemingly so removed story. In order to save his life King at the manure promises the God of the Sidon to sacrifice the first human being whom he will meet on shore. This person turns out to be the king's own son. I meant this. Now Idomeneo tries to renege on his promise he thinks that he can get away with sending his son out of the country. Well as we were rehearsing this
operate all of a sudden dawned upon us that in exploding the atomic bomb we also had made a pact with destiny that in order to save our civilization we also had to sacrifice something that was very dear to us namely our national sovereignty. I really believe that all humanity is now facing Idomeneo dilemma. We also try to cheat the will of the gods and I doubt that we will get away with it. This is a very ingenious application of the idea of a domain they owe to our time. But how do you communicate this kind of an idea to an audience Mr. going to ask me after all the words of the Opera do say post Seiden they don't bomb their contemporary connection can be suggested in several ways. In one of my recent productions of this storm was given the shape of a mushroom cloud and the beginning of the last act was played in a cave
that suggested the fallout shelters for Humanity may have to collar one of these days and these two roundings the chorus of lamentation sung by the frightened cretins took on a new meaning. Hearing this wonderful music in these particular theatrical circumstances brought its import much closer to our audiences. Imagine a fallout shelter and listen to this chorus. The One. I missed are going to ask him this same approach be applying to the operas of a
man like look. Mr. Shepard presents an interesting problem. He believed in promoting good common sense in the theater what he called being true to nature. Nature was an important idea in the 18th century. The group wanted simplicity and characteristic utterance. He rebelled against me or prettiness rebelled against the over ornamentation which was then practiced by the all powerful singers. This conflict between what is beautiful and what is true and not true is a continuing battle in the history of opera. I think we can understand best what the group had in mind by quoting his own words from an interview he once gave to a certain Koran says a gentleman who in true journalistic fashion had it reprinted in one of the Parisian newspapers of the time. Those soldiers have left all that they hold most dear country
their wives their children in the single hope of the sack of try to be calmed in mid journey and forced to remain in the port of Alice. Suppose that a large province has a great famine. The citizens in large numbers gather together and seek out the head of the province who faces them from his balcony. My children what do you want. All replying at once. Bread. But is it thus that you are not bread. My friends they will be furnished bread bread to every remark. They will reply bread. Not only will they pronounce it simply this a conic word but they will always speak it in the same tone. Since true passions have but one voice in the opera the soldiers demand the victim all the circumstances are nothing in their eyes
they see nothing but Troy or the return home. They must offer only the same words and always in the same tone. Doubtless I could have created a better musical chorus and above all to please your ears could have varied it. But I would have been only a musician and I would have gone beyond nature which I must never abandon. I do not believe however that you would have gained the pleasure of hearing a fine piece of music. On the contrary be sure that you would have lost by it for a misplaced beauty has not only the disadvantage of losing a great part of its effect but it is harmful in misleading the spectator who no longer finds himself in the necessary frame of mind to follow with interest. The dramatic development of the passage to which Glueck refers occurs in the opening scene where the Greek soldiers surround the high priest the colored glasses saying stop all this temporizing tell us the will of the gods.
They are of the race. Right. Now don't pressure me. Don't be in a hurry says the high priest. There are poor but those soldiers won't let go or stop temporizing they insist. That such persistence of human emotions was a basic factor of luck. And he always tried to convey that when portraying greatly excited characters who were in the prey of an EDP features for which book within create a musical symbol usually in the form of an obstinately recurring rhythm.
I would like to show you another example from the same opera if you do not in all this and this occurs in an aria where Queen Clytemnestra is very upset her husband King Agamemnon had just told her that the great hero Achilles refuses to marry their daughter if you deny her and so the mother tries to persuade the daughter that to avoid humiliation they should leave the city at once. Listen to the persistence of this rhythm. And how it permeates everything that the queen has to say to her daughter. Yeah. What you have already said about the domino answers the question of relating Mozart's operas to our
own by Mr. Gold asking but I know that you are particularly fond of his works and I have another question about them. Do you think he displayed any special tendencies and librettos he chose. No shepherd. I wouldn't say so. I did not have any special tendencies. He had an absolute command over the language of music in the same sense in which Shakespeare had an absolute command over words. As a result these two men could treat any subject in any situation just the Shakespeare had an almost superhuman gift for language so Mozart could bend music in any direction that his imagination wished to take him. Both of these men could and did borrow other people's ideas and styles of presentation but they always improved on them. And for this reason it is difficult for us to listen to the music of such distinguished 18th century composers as let's say by yellow or tomorrow because Mozart did everything they did but he did it so much better.
Speaking of Mozart Mr Old ask reminds me of the earlier you mentioned the fact that the Magic Flute after its difficulties to the modern opera go are what seems to be the particular problem with the story. Many opera lovers become confused a thing because in the beginning of the opera the queen of the night is presented as the virtuous and suffering mother and then later it turns out that she is the villainess of the piece that Aster on the other hand who at first seems to be the wicked magician turns out to be the normal and wise man. Music historians tried to find all sorts of explanations for this but I believe it's a perfectly logical sequence of events really. What Amino is first told by the queen of the night just does not happen to be true. And this I think is meant to teach us a lesson we must learn to discover the truth for ourselves. Just the Mina doesn't the opera what we are all this children is often incorrect in the process of
maturing. Growing up and learning we must separate the grain from the chaff. When I listen to The Magic Flute I always recall the many wrong ideas I had in the past and wonder how many false notions I may be harboring today. I think that you have successfully shown us how these stories of operas from the 18th century can be related to our own time so let's turn now to the two giants of the 19th century their early and Wagner. We better take them up one at a time I think. How about Verity. Many people have trouble relating to such operas Rigoletto life what's a D'Agostino. And of course Il Trovatore. That one seems to give trouble to practically everybody I know. The shepherd was greatly influenced by the romantic movement of the early 1900s. But the idea that people were not all good or all bad but that they were mixtures often half angels half devils. This still
makes very good sense today both in the Friday incense and I'm afraid also in the political sense the beastliness of human beings is as fascinating as their saintliness and varies Rigoletto is portrayed as part monster of wickedness and then also as the gentlest and most loving of fathers as a chain is a mixture of insane vengeance and devoted maternal love. We'll let the Valarie girl of easy virtue and promiscuous habits turns out later to be self-sacrificing and noble protectors of Alfredo the men whom she loves Verdi was always fascinated with the ethical situation where characters were torn by such conflicting passions. This is very good we're still going to ask you but you still haven't really discussed filter over Torah. It's been singled out by numerous critics as no one operative that really makes no sense. Even the brilliant white hands you know always made fun of Trovatore.
Well I'm afraid that conflict was wrong for once draw Dora makes perfectly good sense. It was hands like of course who first started making fun of their authority and insisting that no one in the world could make head or tail out of the story. I admit that there are a few peculiarities in the plot of Trovatore and it is not explained For instance how a boy who was brought up by gypsies who could then later turn into a fighter and participate in tournaments restricted basically for noble knight but. This is not unusual with operators that they lack the detailed explanation with all the music going on there is less time to present all the intricacies of the plot and I think that composers must assume that the listeners are familiar with the play or with the novel on which their operas are based. Then there is also very specifically Spanish point of view in Trovatore which escapes many opera lovers. For Spaniards of the 18th and 19th
centuries the question of the quality of a person's blood or background was a very great importance. Spaniards could get very excited over the fact that one man the recall was about to kill Count de Luna. His arm refused to accomplish this deed because something in him realized that he was about to strike his own brother. And a voice from above cried. Do not kill. Verily felt the importance of this moment and gave it the most telling musical interpretation as we can hear on this recording was a hit was a hit and run around. They were you know the
out of the way to him was the week. And I was to go on asking How about the other great giant of the 19th century opera because of Wagner. He certainly meant his dramas to have validity for the audiences that attended them first. Do they still have validity today. For us there are three types of stories in Wagner with Shepard autobiographical revolutionary and philosophic as you know. Wagner had the touch of make it all media. He was convinced that his personal affairs had a universal and supremum importance. I actually tend to agree with him because his problems were the problems of every artist of every creative personality. These personal points of view are elaborated in Wagner's
Lohengrin and in his masters sing in Lohengrin Wagner deals with the basic loneliness of the man of genius with the fact that there are certain matters that he cannot share with anyone not even with the woman he loves. In Meister singer Wagner deals with the academic world and with the plight of the original thinker Wagner identifies himself with both camps. Part of him is represented by the radical musician by out of control to the other part with one sucks the wise man who is able to reconcile the conflicting tendencies of both camps. So here we have a perfectly understandable and valid story dealing with the meaning of artistry. Wagner's revolutionary ideas are portrayed in the ring of the Knievel Wagner shows us that our traditional laws and customs are not as respectable as we may think in the ring Bagnet deals with the idea of evil particularly with political evil with cheating politicians with broken pacts with the see it's thievery and murder committed under the guise of political necessities. It is also full of
rebellion against official morality. It introduces the idea of the Superman who is above the law. It deals with incest and with all sorts of forbidden topics. To us who see the old order of morality and decency crumbling about us. These are very life topics. We read about them daily in the newspapers. And then finally we have Tristan and Parsifal which deal with eternal philosophic problems and which were influenced by the writings of Schopenhauer behind the facade of old legends Wagner probes into such matters as the meaning of life and death and into the foundation of ethics which Chokmah How are found in the idea of compassion. The hero of Parsifal for instance is described as the. If you are a fool tour the pure fool who has moral understanding is based entirely on his ability to feel compassion. And as we hear his description rang the door how resigned in the war.
It gives us an idea of Schopenhauer's point of view. All these are matters of great importance and we do not have to be students of our to appreciate their validity Wagners power of projecting both musical and intellectual ideas were so great that his works still function and his concepts reach us whether we want to or not. It seems to me that you have been successful in dealing with the question of operatic story
validity by composers. Now Mr. Gold ASCII by birth you're a Russian. Can you make any generalisations on operatic plots by country or national characteristics. Yes Mr. Shepard I do believe that there is something special about Russian Our person particularly about such work says Boris got enough brain cigar or the Golden Cockerel. You must remember that the Russian intellectuals of the 19th century were inwardly enormously antagonistic against the government of the Tsars since they could not express their rebellion openly. They did it through the art store novels paintings and also through operas. In Russian operas the rulers the Russian rulers that is the Tsars and princes are usually presented in very unflattering terms. Prince Igor is a loser who as a prisoner of war breaks his word and escapes from the Han Khan jock who although he is the enemy of the Russians is presented as a real gentleman and as the man
of virtue and decency side the dawn in the Golden Cockerel is a regular moron. Boris got enough of course is a murderer who has bangs of conscience as we will hear in the next recording are driving him to insanity. And as we listen to these Russian operas we relate them to our own rebellions which may take different forms but which to us on or less are real and valid. The God Particle. Was the. The. The.
Mm hmm. 1. You've been listening to opera the battleground of the arts with Boris Skee nationally known operatic commentator producer and scholar. Mr. Gold also he's a guest for this broadcast was Walter Sheppard producer of the series the topic of next week's program is the great opera in English controversy. Opera the battleground of the arts is produced in association with the gold off ski opera
Institute by 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. I don't know from books in all those was especially recorded for this program by Nancy Williams. So Soprano of the Metropolitan Opera Association. The quotation from Gluck's interview with quote on says was read by Kenneth James a member of the Barnard College Theatre Company a grant from the National Home Library Foundation as made possible the production of this program for national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
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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 seventeenth of thirty nine parts, presents various examples of African-American folk and jazz music. A discussion of the blues.
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: 67-1-17 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:29
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Chicago: “Negro music in America; 17,” 1967-03-22, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
MLA: “Negro music in America; 17.” 1967-03-22. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 23, 2024. <>.
APA: Negro music in America; 17. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from