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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 w while they are in New York City presents opera the battleground of the arts in the series of half hour programmes Borys gold ASCII discusses some of the problems that beset operas and those who create and produce them. The programs are produced in association with the gold of ski opera Institute for National Educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation board 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 ASCII Opera Theatre which have been presented in about 400 communities from coast to coast and now here is Mr. Gold of ski operatic life in the United States presents a confusing picture. Some of it looks very bright but there are features which are intensely discouraging. What puzzles most observers is why with our abundance. In fact our overabundance of vocal and instrumental talent we do not have in this wealthiest of nations are more widely distributed than active operatic life. Why is it many people ask that large cities such as Philadelphia Detroit Denver Boston and Los Angeles can witness up ready productions only sporadically and why we cannot have a resident opera companies in our smaller cities companies of the type that exist in such astonishing numbers in
Central Europe in Italy and in the Soviet Union. The basic reasons for this are fairly obvious. To be blunt about it Opera simply is not sufficiently popular with Americans and in its European format at least is much too expensive for general distribution. The remedy would therefore seem to be equally obvious. Let us increase the popularity of opera and decrease its cost. You know that to accomplish this however we must stop thinking of opera exclusively in terms of its European traditions our cultural inheritance is so different from that of the Europeans that we should not expect to follow their traditions and habits to begin with. We have not inherited the way the Europeans have the facilities for producing opera and it is extremely doubtful in spite of all the talk of building fine art centers if we will ever have more than two or three theatres built especially for operatic presentations. The ideal seating capacity in an operatic auditorium is about twenty five hundred
people and this is the maximum Really. Many fine European opera houses accommodate only fifteen hundred spectators and some even fewer than that in the theater seating. Many more than twenty five hundred certain operatic effect simply cease to function. It is not surprising therefore that so many Americans who have seen opera only in auditoriums seating within 5 or 9000 spectators fail to see the dramatic or musical purpose of many operatic endeavors. Even the grandest of operas has many intimate scenes. The impact of which depends entirely on discrete musical nuances on minute facial expressions and subtleties of vocal inflections. Nothing of the sort can be enjoyed in an auditorium where four fifths of all listeners and spectators sit at a distance of half a city block from the stage verities Aida is generally considered to be one of the most spectacular of grand operas but surprisingly many of its most important dramatic scenes consists of episode of
chamber music like intimacy. Listen for instance to this passage where Prince to some nearest pretends to be tenderly insinuating and even playful while trying to discover the secret of Aida's amorous involvement. This type of operatic music and drama produce its full effect only in relatively small theaters. But the trouble is that in terms of its European development
the theatre to be suitable for giving varies a must have an orchestra pit large enough to accommodate no less than 60 players. Now then theaters that have a capacity of twenty five hundred or less and yet have a large enough orchestra pits exist in our country only in about a dozen university centers where these theatres are used almost exclusively for student performances. This is more or less a permanent lack of suitable facilities. For an European style development of operatic life is a basic fact that our cultural environment and the fact that can not be overlooked or under-estimated when we plan for a richer and wider employment and deployment of our human resources we must adjust our thinking to conditions as they exist here and not keep insisting on methods and procedures that have been developed for the very different European environment to make opera more popular and less expensive. We must find ways to present it within the framework of existing facilities. But
wait a moment you will say here we do not seem to be able to pay for opera even by selling 5000 tickets. How do you expect this to make ends meet in theatres that have only half that many seats or even fewer than that. Very well let us for a moment evaluate our operatic strengths and weaknesses. Our main strength lies in the high quality of our instrumentalists and in the vocal excellence musicianship mental alertness acting ability and physical attractiveness of our singers. Our weaknesses besides the shortage of suitable theatres lie in the fact that our people are used to a higher standard of living and expect to be paid better than the Europeans. An even greater obstacle to less expensive upper comes from the high cost of labor construction and transportation. Putting all these elements together what seems to suggest itself is the use of smaller holes but also fewer instrumentalist and smaller courses or lines on artistic nuances rather than on spectacular scenery defects and on
masses of people. It is suprising how many famous operas not Aida perhaps can be presented in smaller halls perfectly adequately with orchestras numbering no more than 30 of our high quality instrumentalists modern opera composers have shown us what can be accomplished with even much smaller instrumental ensembles. Listen for instance to this excerpt from Britain's Albert Herring. Which is performed by no more than 12 instrumentalists. Thanks thanks.
You may remember that on the 10th program of the series I mentioned several ways in which modern technology can help improve the acoustics of our stages. Well then by combining the technological genius of our engineers with the technical skill of our composers and performers we should be able to find ways of converting our high school stages in our basketball courts into adequate little theaters where relatively small groups of highly efficient vocalists and orchestra players would present Opera of a musical and dramatic quality that will not only make it more popular but also save it from bankruptcy. Another very serious defect of our cultural inheritance which must be overcome before we can hope for a healthier operatic life is the habit. So many music loving Americans have of thinking of opera productions as of OK Jno exotic banquets which depend on the presence in the singing company of one or more international stars.
For his daily operatic bread our opera lover turned to recordings which are excellent though they maybe do not build the taste for the interplay of visual and musical drama which is the essence of this form of art. In the good old days that means until the late 1920s opera in our country was based on the presence of two or three dozen sufficiently famous European singers and it was supported by an equal number of sufficiently wealthy American opera lovers. There was no need for more than just a very few companies of this type and therefore the supply and demand as well as the cost and financial support were so to speak in balance in the course of the last 40 years however the situation has changed radically. Now we have many hundreds of excellent native singers and dozens of gifted conductors stage directors and scenic and costume designers who clamor for the opportunity to express themselves in the field of opera. The number of potential supporters has also grown spectacularly but
thanks to the inexhaustible facts of taxation the size of the individual contribution has dwindled to a fraction of what would be needed for a healthy national operatic life if it hadn't been for the sudden awakening of interest in the humanities and the arts on the part of our larger foundations and more recently on the part of our federal and state legislators. Professional opera would long ago have been on its last legs. It is undeniable that grants by charitable foundations as well as by arts councils and other government agencies are helping to keep alive many of our operatic organisations. It is unfortunate however that in so many instances the assistance is hedged in by special rules of the game rules which reflect a completely unrealistic attitude to the problem. Much of the money is available only for so-called creative or innovation purposes. The term creative has become a regular shibboleth among those who pass on request for financial
support. Thus the designing of scenery and costumes is considered creative while the much more expensive construction of these items does not qualify under the usual interpretation of this term. Salaries paid to musicians or singers are singularly on creative expenditures and administrative overhead is by definition the item least worthy of support. This distaste of the foundations for anything as preservation an imaginative as suport for day to day operations and overhead expenses has been noticed also in organisations having nothing to do with upright arts. In March of 1967 the president of the Afro-American Institute Mr. Waldemar Nielsen wrote as follows in the pages of The New York Times there is a highly developed distaste for giving to overhead costs. The result is that the nonprofit organizations are forced to play the shuttlecock in a particularly brutal form of badminton. Those responsible for the
management and development of nonprofit agencies are driven to a more and more frantic search for the funds with which to pay the dismal but inescapable basic costs of any institution. The rent the light the equipment on the central staff on which the unending tasks of planning administration evaluation and development fall. Private Foundations individual donors and government agencies might recall that overhead the most commonly used as an epithet. Also signifies the vital management core of an institution without which neither its ongoing programs nor its new experiments can maintain their quality much less achieve excellence innovating. On the other hand means doing something that you have never done before. And chief among these all important innovations is an expansion into new and untried fields and the performance of new and untried
works. Thus opera companies that clamor for help in the form of daily bread are more or less forced to eat cake which gives most of them nothing with a bad case of indigestion. Instead of insisting on expansion and creativity foundations and government agency would do well to look into some of the contributing causes of opera's financial plight. Besides it's inescapable built in costliness operate in this country is plagued by two additional economic ills. One is the inefficiency and wastefulness of so many operatic producers and the other is the shortsighted attitude on the part of many unions that refuse to discriminate between profit oriented commercial ventures and deficit ridden cultural endeavors. The same identical hourly wage scale is applied to speculative ventures that can if successful produce fat profits. As to serious artistic endeavors that by their very nature can never hope to avoid
back breaking deficits nor Mt of foundation government support will suffice if it encourages the producers to be more spectacularly wasteful. And if it leads to ever greater demands on the part of organized labor the effect of these grants and unsubsidized groups is even more disastrous. Companies that have to depend for their existence soley on donations by individuals cannot possibly keep up with the general escalation in costs which is bound to result from large grants to few companies. Since the government and the foundations can support only a very small number of organisations to rapid demise of the others is a mathematical certainty and will reduce still further the opportunities available to American artists. From my own dealings with stage hands and other theatrical unions it has become apparent to me that only the government or the larger foundations and preferably both acting in concert could command enough economic leverage to persuade the leadership of the unions
that the change in their attitude to high deficit cultural enterprises would be in their own interest. Even then and quite rightly the unions will expect to be given credible assurances that the subsidies granted to the opera groups would not be reckless The squandered in poor planning and in a variety of expensive gimmicks. Similarly members of the orchestra and the chorus are not likely to feel in a cooperative mood if they have reason to believe that they are the only ones who are asked to make sacrifices in the name of culture. One way or another however the astronomic costs of life must be brought under control. If some steps in that direction are not they consume all except two or three companies will soon go out of existence and eventually most gifted conductors stage directors and senior designers of opera will seek refuge in the music departments of our universities and colleges where there are able to function in decently equipped theaters and without having to worry about meeting a payroll. The
proliferation of large scale operatic events in our more ambitious music departments is not an unmixed blessing however many thoughtful educators doubt whether continuous involvement in public performances of difficult operatic works is compatible with the educational needs of the music students. It is also rather frightening to contemplate a future where large numbers of exceptionally gifted instrumentalists and vocalists are trained to excel in an art form for which there is no existing public outlet. Perhaps we are facing a time when Opera will be performed only by students for other students and where the only professional outlet for opera graduates will lie in the teaching of the coming generation of undergraduates who will again perform only for other students and hope only for a career of teaching. And so the infinite. In this survey of our present their product condition we cannot overlook what too many opera lovers seems to
constitute the alienation of many a serious modern composer from his audience. In our free and open society no one would dream of setting up a rigid artistic rules or suggesting to composers in which style they should clothe their creative thoughts. Since however operate cannot survive without the support of very large numbers of music lovers it would seem logical to presuppose that opera composers would make an effort to please more than a handful of listeners. Strangely enough this does not seem to be the case. Many composers seem to delight in antagonizing their audience and they do it frankly not so much by writing dissonant or complicated scores as by restricting their musical style to a very narrow range of expressiveness. In this age of anguish and travails it is to be expected that artists would want to deal predominantly with the ugliness corruption and absurdity of
contemporary life. The successful opera composers of the past however were always able to furnish some strongly contrasting elements anguish appeared side by side effects to see horrible events were relieved by happy ones or at least by some glimpses of happier ones drawn says Electra. We hear many ear splitting sounds such as. And around. Midnight. And right and. And. But in the same Electra. We are also regaled with contrasting sections of great lyrical tenderness such as.
The. Why. Would. A higher they were there. The bigger the depiction of human the gradation in Alban Berg's of what like is conducted generally speaking in a sternly out tonal musical language. But this depressing atmosphere is relieved by many passages couched in the warm and appealing
idiom such as this episode dealing with Marie's religious devotion was. Born. We'll. See how we've dreadful feet of what sic who is relentlessly driven to despair murder and self-destruction evokes near the end of the Opera an orchestral response where in the composer and the listener's commingled their feelings of human compassion in this grandiose orchestral corroboration. And the.
And the. As we come to the close of this series of programs and as we get ready to say farewell to their battleground of the arts that is known as opera. We have time for one final observation. The purpose of all art is to unfold before us a new and unexpected vision of human truth in a different aspect of eternal beauty. In the immensely complicated organism that we call opera the composer is the deciding element the ultimate catalyst. It is the composer who wields the mysterious power of taking us out of our narrow selves of
extending our knowledge of the world and of life. Some people say that music has reached an impasse that everything worth saying has been uttered long ago. I do not believe that this is true or that it will ever be true. The inspired composer will always find ways of creating novel musical ideas even out of the oldest and seemingly most outworn materials. Listen to and true love in the Rake's Progress by mixing in an unusual and very individual manner. The most common chords of the C major tonality strivings key has created a highly personalized and expressive idiom. Is it old fashioned. Is it modern. Who cares it is convincing and it shows us a new way of understanding love and life.
In a. Whole. New Level. It doesn't really matter whether music be opto Nole or tonal. What matters is that it be personal and convincing tonality is capable of adjusting itself to new ideas and absorbing the most advanced musical developments. Here is a baseline of an audio and yon model with his opera Esther. It consists of a series of
non-repetitive dome. Which is again hold the roll and some of the well known system of composition. And yet it is adapted here to a perfectly normal feeling of tonality. This audio also demonstrates that in the middle of the 20th century the still possible to invent unforgettable operatic melodies melodies that express eternal longing for a better world for the ever old and ever a new homeland of life and art.
God. The.
You've been listening to the final broadcast of opera the battleground of the arts with Boras called ASCII a nationally known operatic commentator producer and scholar opera of the battleground of the arts was produced in association with a gold dusky 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 assistance and technical operations Matthew Bieber feld and Peter Feldman the aria I dream sometimes of the land so fare from Esther by yon Meyerowitz was recorded especially for this program by Soprano Mary Beth peel a member of the Metropolitan Opera national company the gold off ski opera theatre and other leading opera companies. Members of the trio singing with her were Judith Allen Elizabeth farmer and Karen Roe Wade all from the gold off ski Opera Theatre a grant from the
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Opera: Battleground of the arts
Discussions, opinions and judgments
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 variety of opinions that exist about opera.
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: 67-11-13 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:28
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Chicago: “Opera: Battleground of the arts; Discussions, opinions and judgments,” 1967-04-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 6, 2023,
MLA: “Opera: Battleground of the arts; Discussions, opinions and judgments.” 1967-04-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 6, 2023. <>.
APA: Opera: Battleground of the arts; Discussions, opinions and judgments. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from