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I think it would be good to have some form of a discussion of the role of libretti in operas. The question interests me quite a bit.

In the past, when people went to the opera (i.e. before supertitles), did they have access to a libretto or did they simply experience the performance by just reading/knowing a brief synopsis of the events? Do people "prepare" for an opera by reading the libretto? Do you listen to an opera via audio without paying attention to the libretto - even if it is the first time?

I'm revisiting Wagner's ring cycle (Solti) at the moment and I had forgotten how fabulous the performance of Das Rheingold is. I realize that most of the time I never refer to a libretto. If one has read it once and/or experienced the story of the opera on stage or via DVD the events seem to remain in one's mind. I just remembered the storyline as Wagner's music progressed and visualized the scenes. Isn't that how opera lives in one's mind? How often do we as listeners refer to the libretto after our initial exposure?  People often complain about their absence in compilations of recordings. Is that because it is almost assumed that the customer already is familiar with the operas?

I'm very much text based in vocal music, be it Lieder or opera. When I listen to an opera for the first time, I definitely like to read along, libretto in hand. But I rarely make time to do sit down and do so. So most of my opera experiences are live in the theatre, or watching DVDs. When I listen to opera on mu stereo, audio only, most of the time it's a collection of aria's, or an opera I know well enough so I don't have to wonder what's happening all the time. ;)


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