Monday, September 18, 2006

Scholarship vs Tradition

Philip Gossett in his book Divas and Scholars talks quite a bit about the war between tradition and scholarship or the conflict between what we are used to hearing vs what the original sources say. He cites a lot of examples.

The Il Trovatore example is interesting. We will posit that Jean de Reszke or one of his imitators needed a high note to show off his pushed up chest high c, and the rest was history. So should every tenor be required to do a high c there in order to remain competitive, even though Verdi didn't write it? Important critics at important newspapers like La Stampa or the New York Times want to hear the opera exactly as they have already heard it.

If Richard Bonynge decides to spare his wife Joan Sutherland a death scene, perish the thought she should have to get down on the floor, and changes the ending to Semiramide to one where Arsace kills the bass Assur instead, should future producers be required to defend changing it back to the original plot? The film with Montserrat Caballe uses the original ending.

If Cecilia Bartoli decides to do different arias in Le Nozze di Figaro, even though she can fully justify the changes all the way back to Mozart himself, should we continue to make an endless fit over it, effectively driving a major artist out of New York?

When crunch time comes, decisions are made. There are two pieces to the argument: 1. What should the score contain? 2. What should the performance do? Controversy is the mothers milk of opera, as I have written elsewhere, and we should not be put off by it.

First question, what should the score contain? It is not possible to justify issuing printed scores and published materials that do not reflect the highest scholarship. If the composer wrote alternate versions, all should be included. Any other answer is nonsense.

Second question, what should the performance do? Opera is still show business. If you can make it work in the theater, you can do it.


Paul said...

One excellent example of this is the scholarship Opera Rara performs in researching the operas they revive. A monumental task in many respects, one cannot help but be amazed at the definitive productions they've done in the world of bel canto - everything from rare Rossini and Donizetti to Pacini to Meyerbeer's Italian period. Providing the most historically accurate version from start to finish is only one aspect of the job they do. They often include supplemental music such as alternative endings, originally composed arias subsequently jettisoned, and printed dialogue (in italics) that did not become part of the performance itself for whatever reason. While their CDs are pricy (three-disk sets are US$65-plus), their production values are first-rate and their stable of singers include many names (Elizabeth Futral, Annick Massis, Renee Fleming, Bruce Ford) who are already acclaimed singers or are beginning to emerge as some of the most exciting in opera. Alas, if they only did fully staged performances and recorded them on DVD!

Dr.B said...

I just bought a new computer and have attached my giant stereo speakers to it for showing opera DVD's, which makes me even more inclined to watch videos. However, if I'm really going to get into this bel canto thing, I'll have to hear some of their stuff.