Author Topic: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?  (Read 4783 times)

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Elgarian

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Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« on: June 09, 2012, 08:14:29 AM »
Thanks to erato, I've just been knocked sideways by McGlinn's recording of Showboat, having just bought this remarkable bargain box:



I started with CD1 (out of 12 plus a CD Rom); and on reaching the 10th track ('Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine') could get no further. I listened to this wonderful arrangement - sung by Teresa Stratas, Frederica von Stade etc - over and over again. The quality of singing and the generosity of melodic delight is utterly heart-warming. The development of the song - the complexity of expression that changes and grows as more and more singers are added to the mix - goes on and on inspiring more and more listenings. I can't say that listening to this is any less satisfying, any less rich, or indeed different in any way, to my listenings to my favourite operas.

So what's the difference? Why isn't Showboat considered to be an opera? And indeed, as a great opera?
« Last Edit: June 10, 2012, 12:35:23 AM by Elgarian »

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Musicals: operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2012, 08:59:46 AM »
So what's the difference? Why isn't Showboat considered to be an opera? And indeed, as a great opera?

I love all the genres you names as well as all the individual works you listed. But to answer your question, the boundry (difference) is a bit vague and unclear. I suppose the theoretical difference is that an opera is music with a story, while a musical is a story with songs. But there are lots of cases where this is not so clear cut. Of course, there are differences like opera singers are more trained in singing, and often lack the acting side (stereotypically).

Showboat is a great musical, and I think that musicals actually benefit these days by not being associated with opera, which carries certain stigmas with it. Some people look down on musicals, but I think some people feel the need to put something down to raise something else up. Operetta usually fares even worse, though they are even closer in style than musicals today.
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Offline Wendell_E

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Re: Musicals: operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2012, 09:17:26 AM »
So what's the difference? Why isn't Showboat considered to be an opera? And indeed, as a great opera?

The line can be a bit fuzzy, but what's wrong with being a great musical?  That doesn't mean it's less than an opera.  Of course, some opera companies have done Show Boat (note: two words, not one).  Last season's Lyric Opera of Chcago production is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera, and my local opera companies in Mobile and Pensacola have done it in a semi-staged version.
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Elgarian

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Re: Musicals: operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2012, 10:16:52 AM »
I suppose the theoretical difference is that an opera is music with a story, while a musical is a story with songs. But there are lots of cases where this is not so clear cut.

Immediately I think of Il Seraglio, with spoken dialogue separating the arias. It rather sounds like a more or less continuous spectrum, to me - with plays and movies at one end, and operas at the other. The ends of the spectrum being easy to define (perhaps), but in the middle it seems like anybody's guess!

Quote
Of course, there are differences like opera singers are more trained in singing, and often lack the acting side (stereotypically).

In these McGlinn recordings though, we do get classically trained singers, which blurs everything even more.

Elgarian

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Re: Musicals: operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2012, 10:24:53 AM »
The line can be a bit fuzzy, but what's wrong with being a great musical?  That doesn't mean it's less than an opera.

Nothing at all wrong with being a great musical; but then I'm not asking about whether the musical is the poor man's opera (that is, I'm not talking about the division as one between degrees of excellence), but more about what the labels actually mean. Is there actually a difference in musical structure (for example) that I, in my ignorance, am not aware of?

Elgarian

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Re: Musicals: operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2012, 11:33:40 PM »
Over in the Bargains thread, erato said this about the musical:

Quote
The current GROC issue [of the McGlinn box] doesn't unfortunately. Luckily I have the glorious LP set....:-)

And what a series; Make Believe, Ole Man River + Can't help Lovin that man as track 8, 9 & 10.

You should fastforward to Bill to one of the funniest and most touching lyrics ever (by PG Woodehouse)..., but "fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly; I'm gonna love that man till I die" - Hammerstein could write lyrics too (as he also did gloriously for Rodgers).

Both Kern and Richard Rodgers (both with Hammerstein and Hart) are a treasure trove. Bryn Terfel has a wonderful Rodgers compilation on DG. This stuff isn't staid at all, and at its best just as timeless as Mozarts operas.

I've tracked down a secondhand copy of the 2000 3-CD issue of Showboat, erato, which (according to the seller, who checked for me), does have the libretto in the booklet - so I've ordered that:



Not only have I now listened to 'Bill', I've been doing a bit of dipping into the final CD - 'Broadway Showstoppers' - and so many of the showstoppers are jawdroppers. Much is familiar, of course, but what is so startling is that these are not the tired and predictable movie soundtracks I remember from childhood, but vibrant and unforgettably fresh interpretations that demand to be listened to, savouring every moment.

Offline The new erato

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Re: Musicals: operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2012, 12:00:45 AM »
A particular favorite being Howard Dietz' Dancing in the Dark, such a desperate and intense ("time hurries by, and we're gone") celebration of the power of love and music to transcend our lives ("we're walzing in the wonder of why we're here"). Magnificent alliteration BTW, making Wagner seem definitely tired in comparison. Outstanding interpretation. This surely isn't tired and timebound music, but just as wonderful and timeless as the very best of opera.

And the disc concludes with the wonderful hymn to love; "All the things you are"; another masterpiece by the amazing Jerome Kern.

Elgarian

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Re: Musicals: operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2012, 12:34:20 AM »
And the disc concludes with the wonderful hymn to love; "All the things you are"; another masterpiece by the amazing Jerome Kern.

Yes, it's exquisite. A very fitting way to end the set.

I was looking on Youtube at the movie versions of 'Can't help lovin' dat man', first at the 1951 (Ava Gardner) version and then at the 1936 b/w. I can hardly cope with the 1951 travesty, which turns this dazzling music into a sugar-coated slice of soporific schmaltz. What they did is so awful that it hurts. By contrast, the 1936 version (for all its limitations) seems very much in the spirit of the music, with Nola breaking into that naive kind of dance towards the end.

Offline mjwal

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2012, 06:10:54 AM »
One way of resolving the opera/musical question is to see that the musical is the New World version of the old German Singspiel, which was succeeded by the operetta. There is usually less musical continuity, and the drama tends to take place between the musical numbers. However, Showboat is considerably more involving on several levels than a lot of operas I could mention and possesses considerable internal consistency. If you were to look at another Kern musical, however, you would find little apparent musico-dramatic coherence. Judging by the plot-line of Sweet Adeline, those musical numbers that have come down to us (thanks to McGlinn, mostly) do not really convey any kind of coherence, but the quality of the songs is amazing. Has anyone listened to the big ensemble number "Some girl is on your mind" (to be heard on Broadway Showstoppers)? It is stunning, but the Hollywood film of this musical simply omitted it, probably because it is so difficult to perform and holds up the action. There is a very good discussion of this number here:
http://zvbxrpl.blogspot.de/2010/01/some-girl-is-on-your-mind.html
I agree with your judgment of the two films of Showboat, Elgarian - the 1936 one, directed by the great James Whale, is far superior to the later MGMised shlock version. Typical that only the latter is available on DVD; the earlier film urgently needs a digital remastering. And don't let me get on to Irene Dunne - I could rave forever, sigh...
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but the sound of self it must depart from,
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in a vein it knows will cripple it.
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Peter Porter

Elgarian

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2012, 07:49:52 AM »
However, Showboat is considerably more involving on several levels than a lot of operas I could mention and possesses considerable internal consistency. If you were to look at another Kern musical, however, you would find little apparent musico-dramatic coherence.

Ah, now that's interesting, and thank you for the enlightenment. Because of course I speak mainly from the sudden revelatory experience of having been exposed to Showboat almost exclusively, and that coherence you speak of is one of the things that had me bounce around declaring, 'Surely this is opera!' But if, as you say, Showboat is unique in this respect, then it may be that the title of my thread ought to refer specifically to Showboat in particular rather than musical in general. (This of course being quite separate to consideration of the excellence of individual songs.)

Offline Tsaraslondon

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2012, 11:26:00 PM »
Most of Sondheim's musicals also have a musical coherence usually only found in opera, and Sweeney Todd, (not the bastardised film version) has been performed in opera houses worldwide, often with an opera singer in the role of Todd. The role of his daughter, Johanna, requires a light coloratura soprano voice, which can negotiate the difficulties of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird", and only a tenor with operatic experience can bring off the role of Pirelli. As in many operas, the chorus, ommitted from the film, are extremely important, and almost a character themselves.

What about Bernstein's Candide and West Side Story? Candide may be a flawed masterpiece, though more often now performed by opera companies, but West Side story must surely lay claims to be one of the most perfect stage works musically in any genre, its score often symphonic in its sweep.

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Offline mjwal

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2012, 04:09:38 AM »
Most of Sondheim's musicals also have a musical coherence usually only found in opera, and Sweeney Todd, (not the bastardised film version) has been performed in opera houses worldwide, often with an opera singer in the role of Todd. The role of his daughter, Johanna, requires a light coloratura soprano voice, which can negotiate the difficulties of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird", and only a tenor with operatic experience can bring off the role of Pirelli. As in many operas, the chorus, ommitted from the film, are extremely important, and almost a character themselves.

What about Bernstein's Candide and West Side Story? Candide may be a flawed masterpiece, though more often now performed by opera companies, but West Side story must surely lay claims to be one of the most perfect stage works musically in any genre, its score often symphonic in its sweep.
Just noticed this - I quite agree about what I know of Sondheim, particularly Sweeney Todd, which is simply an operatic masterpiece to me; my comparison was with other Kern and "golden age" musicals. I loathed the film of Sweeney Todd, by the way; omitting the chorus was a dumb tin-eared thing to do. As to Bernstein - you may be right, I have just become indifferent to his work in general, with the exception of Trouble in Tahiti, which is a superbly coherent masterpiece (unlike the farrago he later incorporated it into).
The Violin's Obstinacy

It needs to return to this one note,
not a tune and not a key
but the sound of self it must depart from,
a journey lengthily to go
in a vein it knows will cripple it.
...
Peter Porter

Offline wagnernn

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #12 on: July 06, 2012, 05:19:04 PM »
How about Kurt Weill's Street Scene?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUyCU9nGMxY

Offline Elgarian Redux

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #13 on: September 13, 2018, 06:02:15 AM »
Been having a bit of a Show Boat resurgence recently, went exploring on You Tube, and came up with this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKdZjP60XRg

I have often wondered how on earth you get a recording like 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man' to sound as if it's bursting out of the speakers, full of fun and frolics. Now I know. They filmed the recording, and here it is. They were having a whale of a time!

(Keep playing when the music appears to stop after 2 or 3 minutes. There's a bit of chat, then the music continues.)

Offline Wendell_E

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2018, 01:55:29 AM »
Been having a bit of a Show Boat resurgence recently, went exploring on You Tube, and came up with this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKdZjP60XRg

I have often wondered how on earth you get a recording like 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man' to sound as if it's bursting out of the speakers, full of fun and frolics. Now I know. They filmed the recording, and here it is. They were having a whale of a time!

(Keep playing when the music appears to stop after 2 or 3 minutes. There's a bit of chat, then the music continues.)

I'd never seen that. Thanks for sharing!
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Offline knight66

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #15 on: September 17, 2018, 09:11:19 AM »
Alan, I had a look for that big McGlinn box you mentioned at the head of the thread. It seems pricey, until you see how many CD's are in it. It doesn't matter to me what the categorisation of the piece is, if it works, it works.

I have performed several concerts of songs drawn from these shows. I was in my 30s and knew the songs from various recordings. One aspect that came as a surprise to me was how foresquare a number of classics are if performed as written. For example, ‘I get a kick out of you’ by Porter. I had never understood it was so....well foresquare. It is performed as composed on McGlinn’s recording. But years of Ella and others swinging it and frankly making it more ear catching makes the original sound quite staid.

Although I initially thought this might help to lay a line in categorising the difference between musicals and opera. I then thought about Baroque opera, Handel for example, where the ABA arias are sung straight in the first run through the A section. But then the singer can extemporise, often substantially when it is recapitulated.

It seems to me that singers and conductors over the last 50 years have been much more inclined to stick with what the composer wrote and be reticent about decorating or inventing when sections of the music are repeated. Listening to material that was recorded as 78rpm discs, it can often be startling to encounter radical departures from what we are now used to hearing. Performance practice changes, fashion and style influence the performers.

Ultimately, none of this therefore offers anything useful over how we manage to categorise these stage works. Opera singers can sing the musicals music, but many who are successful in musicals cannot approach full blown opera. But I think that is a red herring.  Many opera singers should never attempt musicals, it often sounds gruesome. Horses for courses.

Mike
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Offline Elgarian Redux

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #16 on: September 20, 2018, 12:45:31 AM »
Alan, I had a look for that big McGlinn box you mentioned at the head of the thread. It seems pricey, until you see how many CD's are in it. It doesn't matter to me what the categorisation of the piece is, if it works, it works.

I have performed several concerts of songs drawn from these shows. I was in my 30s and knew the songs from various recordings. One aspect that came as a surprise to me was how foresquare a number of classics are if performed as written. For example, ‘I get a kick out of you’ by Porter. I had never understood it was so....well foresquare. It is performed as composed on McGlinn’s recording. But years of Ella and others swinging it and frankly making it more ear catching makes the original sound quite staid.

Although I initially thought this might help to lay a line in categorising the difference between musicals and opera. I then thought about Baroque opera, Handel for example, where the ABA arias are sung straight in the first run through the A section. But then the singer can extemporise, often substantially when it is recapitulated.

It seems to me that singers and conductors over the last 50 years have been much more inclined to stick with what the composer wrote and be reticent about decorating or inventing when sections of the music are repeated. Listening to material that was recorded as 78rpm discs, it can often be startling to encounter radical departures from what we are now used to hearing. Performance practice changes, fashion and style influence the performers.

Ultimately, none of this therefore offers anything useful over how we manage to categorise these stage works. Opera singers can sing the musicals music, but many who are successful in musicals cannot approach full blown opera. But I think that is a red herring.  Many opera singers should never attempt musicals, it often sounds gruesome. Horses for courses.

Mike

Well Mike, when I wrote my original post six years ago (SIX??) I was operating in wow-listen-to-THIS mode, baffled by the sudden collapse of a (chiefly internal) defining barrier that perhaps never should have been there in the first place. I think as I get older I'm losing patience with those kind of barriers - as you hint, it doesn't actually matter how we categorise such things - except in so far as it might help us to talk about them.

The McGlinn recordings demonstrate how at least some performers can simply trample over the dividing lines without noticing they're there. In both the recording, and thrillingly in the video (link in my previous post), Stratas and Von Stade are blisteringly fine rock and rollers.

Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Musicals: Operas? Operettas? Or something else?
« Reply #17 on: September 23, 2018, 10:53:39 PM »
Been having a bit of a Show Boat resurgence recently, went exploring on You Tube, and came up with this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKdZjP60XRg

I have often wondered how on earth you get a recording like 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man' to sound as if it's bursting out of the speakers, full of fun and frolics. Now I know. They filmed the recording, and here it is. They were having a whale of a time!


Is it already 30 years since they made that recording? Unbelievable! I love Stratas' speaking voice and her facial expressions as well.
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