Old news about dead opera...

After writing and working on a couple of operas the things that I was seeking to overcome still remained an obstacle.  A production or any presentation is a single item that should be looked after as a whole by all involved no matter what their particular field of excellence.  The tendency for most is to just attempt to do their "job" and if there are things amiss they pass the buck in a few ways that undermine the coherence of a work--at least those kinds of work that are produced by a multiple number of people.  Often, after they have done their "bit" (acting, singing, playing, directing, or lighting) they neglect other shortfalls they observe as if it wasn't their department.  The mistake is, that in a larger work, the final work, as a whole, is every contributor's department.  Otherwise the work remains in pieces and, the work of each contributor, is looked at as deficient regardless of skill level.

From different backgrounds and diverse training experiences or modes of apprenticeship come different ways of working.  Certain artforms make action in different ways- for example the inner workings of opera singers tends to be different than actors and others from more "straight" theater.  Where there would be benefit from both exchanging, learning, and translating each others methods the default is to recoil into what is easy, and then compete for dominant view in a production.  If dominance isn't obtained then variations of the line, "well...I've done my job." emerge, and a production is on the way to fragmented compromise and egotistical stagnation of the various artisans.


It is like Franklin's revolutionary observation- "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Most good theater has a certain air of revolution about it anyway, and this starts early in history.

(Note to hipsters and group musicians: when you perform it is a kind of theater ritual whether you like it or not.  The tendency is to imagine that you have a heady and less pretentious mode of performance...but you don't!  Audiences still respond as if it was a dramatic performance with another kind of content. Poor music performance often hangs on a lack of attention to this.  Muddy Waters's band had a look and a stance on stage where another could have been used, and a lot could be derived and realized from that stance.  So, he projected the real, or similar values even before any music was played.  Archie Shepp wrote for the theater and there is probably much underlying knowledge there that reveals itself in the power of his stance and presentation when he performs.  Arts separation is a bit deadly!)

Perusing Peter Brook's (wish I'd read it sooner) classic, The Empty Space,I came across this passage which even more articulately states the problem.

"Closely related to this is the conflict between theatre directors and musicians in opera productions where two totally different forms, drama and music, are treated as though they were one.  A musician is dealing with a fabric that is as near as man can get to an expression of the invisible.  His score notes this invisibility and his sound is made by instruments which hardly ever change. The player's personality is unimportant; a thin clarinettist can easily make a fatter sound than a fat one.  The vehicle of music is separate from music itself.  So the stuff of music comes and goes, always in the same way, free from the need to be revised and reassessed. But the vehicle of drama is flesh nd blood and here completely different laws are at work.  The vehicle and the message cannot be separated.  Only a naked actor can begin to resemble a pure instrument like a violin and only if he has completely classical physique, with neither paunch nor bandy legs.  A ballet dancer is sometimes close to this condition and he can reproduce formal gestures unmodified by his own personality or by the outer movement of life. But the moment the actor dresses up and speaks with his own tongue he is entering a fluctuating territory of manifestation and existence that he shares with the spectator.  Because the musician's experience is so different, he finds it hard to follow why the traditional bits of business that made Verdi laugh and Puccini slap his thighs seem neither funny nor illuminating today.  Grand opera, of course, is the Deadly Theatre carried to absurdity. Opera is a nightmare of vast feuds over tiny details; of surrealist anecdotes that all turn round the same assertion: nothing needs to change. Everything in opera must cange, but in opera change is blocked."