SanderO

Opera Ballet

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Not to mention it being extremely exhausting for the dancers.

I think this is an extremely important factor to consider. Ballet is frequently an anaerobic activity, not unlike sprinting, which is why the average classical variation rarely exceeds a minute and a half. (Shorter for very fast variations, perhaps a bit longer for adagio variations during which a dancer can actually breathe.) After that the body simply runs out of oxygen. But some arias can go on for 20 minutes. Arias are written with breaks for the singer during which the orchestra plays by itself. It would be difficult to pull off something similar in dance.

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I imagine one would have to perhaps use a soloist and small corps or something like that.

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I think this is an extremely important factor to consider. Ballet is frequently an anaerobic activity, not unlike sprinting, which is why the average classical variation rarely exceeds a minute and a half. (Shorter for very fast variations, perhaps a bit longer for adagio variations during which a dancer can actually breathe.) After that the body simply runs out of oxygen. But some arias can go on for 20 minutes. Arias are written with breaks for the singer during which the orchestra plays by itself. It would be difficult to pull off something similar in dance.

A 20 minute aria, yikes!

You're right,about the stamina for a dancer and a singer being timed differently. But a way around it would be , in say a 20 minute piece, to have the dancers used in a relay fashion. Dancer one starts, dances for a few minutes, dancer two, or a grouping of dancers, takes over, and so forth.

I just saw something like this last month in Dark Elegies. Each of the Mahler songs was asigned to a group of dancers, but within the song the dancing was divided up a bit.

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I am neither dancer or choreographer but I sense that some above are interpreting this question too literally.

Why does a choreographed aria have to be for a single dancer or a pas de deux? It could be like a mini ballet even... I would think it depends on the length of the aria... and most that I am familiar with are not 20 minutes long... In fact, they may be too short to develop something interesting for dance. (I am reminded of a Polina Seminova video I have seen of a "pop song" which was only a few minutes..)

On another "note" there was a John Rockwell review in the NY Times this morning of Richard Move's MoveOpolis which includes dance choreographed to Verdi ... I presumed his opera music. Move's work maybe far from ballet, but at least some choreographer has picked up this opera music as music for dance idea... among the ones mentioned above.

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I would think it depends on the length of the aria... and most that I am familiar with are not 20 minutes long...

Of course not. But there are far more 20-minute arias out there than 20-minute ballet solos. You were asking about ballets choreographed to operatic arias, and thus far we haven't been able to come up with many, so there must be a reason for this. The fact that the average aria is longer than the average variation is an important factor to consider. The fact that song cycles and liturgical works are used far more frequently than vocal operatic music may reflect your point about individual arias not being able to sustain a ballet from either a thematic or musical point of view. It's also possible that choreographers don't believe they can add anything to an aria by setting movement to it, just as Balanchine never choreographed to Beethoven: "Now you could dance Mozart, but Beethoven you can't, unless it's walking. The sound produces [a] certain type of enjoyment, and if anybody moves, you will just disturb and you don't add anything." Of course he also said, "Verdi: from beginning to the end you can dance his opera," yet he only choreographed to music Verdi wrote specifically for ballet. It may simply be that arias and dance aren't that compatible. Perhaps arias don't have sufficient rhythmic consistency or drive to be "danceable."

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Of course not. But there are far more 20-minute arias out there than 20-minute ballet solos.
I'm not trying to be contentious, but what arias are 20-minutes long? The longest ones I can think of are the Immolation Scene in Gotterdammerung and the final scene of Salome. Most opera arias on excerpts disks clock in at 4-6 minutes. Balanchine choreographed two versions of Variations for Orchestra as a solo for Suzanne Farrell, and that is not a short piece, nor is the opening of Tzigane, also a solo for Farrell, and there was also Pavane. None of them are aerobic virtuoso allegro pieces, but they are sustained.

There are also several ballets made from song cycles. A ballet that uses opera arias does not have to be a series of long solos; an extended adagio could match some of the long phrases. There could be room for solos, corps, pas de deux, pas de trois, pas de quatre, etc. depending on the music that was put together.

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Balanchine choreographed two versions of Variations for Orchestra as a solo for Suzanne Farrell, and that is not a short piece, nor is the opening of Tzigane, also a solo for Farrell, and there was also Pavane. None of them are aerobic virtuoso allegro pieces, but they are sustained.

Actually, allegro variations are anaerobic while slower variations are aerobic, so they can be sustained for a longer period of time. We mammals are aerobic, which is why aerobic fitness can be extended to the point where human beings can complete an Ironman race. But there is relatively little that can be done to improve anaerobic fitness. There is no way that the speeds of a 100m dash, produced in anaerobic conditions, can be sustained over 400m, let alone 800m. If a dance is slow enough for a dancer to be able to breathe properly, he or she could keep going for 20 minutes, though most choreographers don't seem to think it's worth the effort. (And, fortunately, most operatic composers didn't think so either. I mean, does anyone actually enjoy Erwartung?) But if the variation demands more oxygen than a body is capable of taking in at that level of exertion, the muscles will eventually grind to a halt. This is why the dance of the cygnets will never get any easier. (And, incidentally, why ballet class is a lousy way to lose weight.)

Gosh, it's been years since I've had cause to regurgitate those old anatomy lectures!

There are also several ballets made from song cycles. A ballet that uses opera arias does not have to be a series of long solos; an extended adagio could match some of the long phrases. There could be room for solos, corps, pas de deux, pas de trois, pas de quatre, etc. depending on the music that was put together.

Song cycles are a completely different ball of wax. They have a musical and thematic unity. But precisely because audiences are expected to sit still for extended periods of time without the benefit of scene changes and intermissions, cycles have all sorts of variety built it. Each section also tends to be more sustained in a particular tempo and mood, which lends itself more readily to choreographic treatment than arias, which can include fairly radical fluctuations in tempo and dynamics. I suppose most choreographers don't think that stitching together disparate arias into some sort of coherent whole is worth the effort if a beautifully crafted song cycle already exists.

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I suppose most choreographers don't think that stitching together disparate arias into some sort of coherent whole is worth the effort if a beautifully crafted song cycle already exists.
While it is possible to create something similar through a variety of different arias and art songs, you are right that song cycles already have coherency, both in text and music, built in.

There are a number of arias that I would love to see woven into a ballet, but I think one of the other reasons vocals are rarely used is that it is always expensive to add singers, especially since they generally need to rehearse end to end.

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There was a piece in the New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/arts/music/15dica.html which reviewa a work which seems to be along the lines of what my original query was about.

The article mentions Puccini's first opera Le Villi, was conceived of first as an opera ballo. What exactly is an opera ballo?

If this piece, which did not get a stirling review in the Times, is still on, I might try to see it.

Do and BTers have any knowledge of or comments about this work?

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I suppose most choreographers don't think that stitching together disparate arias into some sort of coherent whole is worth the effort if a beautifully crafted song cycle already exists.

Oh, ye of way too much faith. Most choreographers don't think twice about disparate arias, because they don't think about structure. Beginnings, middles and ends are so 19th century.

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There was a piece in the New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/arts/music/15dica.html which reviewa a work which seems to be along the lines of what my original query was about.

The article mentions Puccini's first opera Le Villi, was conceived of first as an opera ballo. What exactly is an opera ballo?

If this piece, which did not get a stirling review in the Times, is still on, I might try to see it.

Do and BTers have any knowledge of or comments about this work?

I think Midgette is misusing the term "opera ballo". which refers to grand opera including at least one major ballet set piece. Think Meyerbeer, Verdi's French operas and those translated into French for the Paris Opera.

Le Villi is a hybrid of opera & dance (ballare: It. for dance). It's a wonderful piece for a first opera but not a wonderful opera.

The last performance at Di Capo was Sunday afternoon.

I'll post later on the Nilas Martins thread but will say a male Myrtha can work to the right music.

:clapping:

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I'm not trying to be contentious either (or rather, no more than usual), but some of the musical information offered above seems to me questionable. Like Helene, I can think of few 20-minute arias, but that could well be because an aria is often equivalent to a soliloquy in a play; it expresses a character's reactions to the action but doesn't as a rule advance the action. (Exceptions everywhere, of course: Eboli's O don fatale from Don Carlo comes immediately to mind.) Song cycles are indeed often unified in theme and some aspects of musical treatment, but they are not necessarily plotted works with clear beginnings, middles, and ends; again an exception would be Schumann's Frauen-Liebe und Leben.

Nor do I necessarily accept the explanation that "the dancers simply cannot sustain motion for as long as the singer can sustain his voice, with the result that the dancer has to perform four different steps in the time that the singer holds a single note." Many arias are of course slow with long sustained vocal lines, but by no means all, and even while the singer is holding a high note there can be a lot of subsidiary activity in the orchestra.

My surmise for why opera arias are not usually set to ballet is different, and comes simply to the fact that both the ballerina and the diva create powerful holds on audience members. When a great dancer is doing the Rose Adagio or second movement of Symphony in C, she holds the spectators' attentions undividedly. Likewise when a great soprano is singing Un bel di or Casta diva. There can be no competition or distractions; both aria and dance are too powerful emotionally to hold the stage simultaneously.

I did read that last year Nilas Martins did something with a set of Puccini arias. Did anyone see it?

Oh - and by the way, I love Erwartung. Not to mention Meistersinger and Götterdämmerung, all four hours of each of them. You guys don't know what you're missing.

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Klavier's point about two artists competing for focus is an interesting one. When the idea stuck me originally, I definitely envisioned the opera being subordinate to the ballet... much the way the score for the orchestra supports dance... why not have opera or vocal music since the voice is another instrument. Divas wouldn't like second billing I suppose...

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Nor do I necessarily accept the explanation that "the dancers simply cannot sustain motion for as long as the singer can sustain his voice, with the result that the dancer has to perform four different steps in the time that the singer holds a single note." Many arias are of course slow with long sustained vocal lines, but by no means all, and even while the singer is holding a high note there can be a lot of subsidiary activity in the orchestra.

OK, maybe my example was a bit one-sided - certainly not all arias are slow and sustained, but the fact still remains that few arias exist that are a comfortable pace to dance to.

even while the singer is holding a high note there can be a lot of subsidiary activity in the orchestra.

Which is probably why it is a popular practice to cut out the voice entirely and use orchestrated versions for ballet.

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Klavier's point about two artists competing for focus is an interesting point. When the idea stuck me originally, I defintitely envisioned the opera being subordinate to the ballet... much the way the score for the orchestra supports dance... why not have opera or vocal music since the voice is another instrument. Divas wouldn't like second billing I suppose...

Great instrumentalists are also extremely compelling, but choreographers don't hesitate to set ballets to all manner of concerti. Of course, at the ballet you're unlikely to hear a great violinist or pianist. The same would probably apply to sopranos.

Modern dance choreographers seem less reluctant to use operatic arias. I've already mentioned Margie Gillis' Rivers Without Bridges for Alberta Ballet and Mark Morris' Dido and Aeneas. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker certainly isn't shy about using operatic music.

Duke Bluebeard's Castle

Ottone, Ottone

Mozart / Concert Arias, un moto di gioia (okay, not exactly operatic)

April me

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Great instrumentalists are also extremely compelling, but choreographers don't hesitate to set ballets to all manner of concerti. Of course, at the ballet you're unlikely to hear a great violinist or pianist. The same would probably apply to sopranos.

Modern dance choreographers seem less reluctant to use operatic arias. I've already mentioned Margie Gillis' Rivers Without Bridges for Alberta Ballet and Mark Morris' Dido and Aeneas. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker certainly isn't shy about using operatic music.

I don't know about "all manner of concerti." There are a few - Stravinsky Violin, Prokofiev Violin 1, Tchaikovsky 2 (which I'll see for the first time later this week), the Mozart Symphonie Concertante, the three Mozarts used by Mark Morris come to mind. Are there many others, given the rich concerto repertoire? Nonetheless, there's a qualitative difference in my mind between even the instrumental soloist and the expressive power of the human voice. And I emphasize that my "theory" about operatic arias is nothing but speculation.

I saw Morris's Dido on a double bill with his version of Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts recently, and while I thought the latter was appealingly done, the Purcell struck me as just odd, and not very satisfying.

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... why not have opera or vocal music since the voice is another instrument. Divas wouldn't like second billing I suppose...
Wouldn't one -- most likely the dance -- appear to be merely illustrative of the other?

Any examples of what has been done along these lines -- or what might work?

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Of course, at the ballet you're unlikely to hear a great violinist or pianist. The same would probably apply to sopranos.
Then I've been very lucky in my ballet-going experience. While there are few famous violinists, pianists, or singers who perform with ballet companies outside of gala presentations in major cities -- Jane Eaglen, now a Seattle local, singing Wagner for Joffrey's Remembrances for PNB, Elmar Olivera for the first season of Barber Violin Concerto -- I've heard much world-class if not world-famous singing and playing at the ballet: Jerry Zimmerman's wonderful Chopin for NYCB, Dianne Chilgren's amazing work for PNB, Susan Erickson's lovely soprano in the Queen of Spades excerpt in Nutcracker and in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and National Ballet of Canada Concert Master Fujiko Imajishi's (Four Seasons and NYCB's Figeroa's (first violin in Concerto Barocco) masterful solo playing among them.

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I don't know about "all manner of concerti." There are a few - Stravinsky Violin, Prokofiev Violin 1, Tchaikovsky 2 (which I'll see for the first time later this week), the Mozart Symphonie Concertante, the three Mozarts used by Mark Morris come to mind. Are there many others, given the rich concerto repertoire? Nonetheless, there's a qualitative difference in my mind between even the instrumental soloist and the expressive power of the human voice. And I emphasize that my "theory" about operatic arias is nothing but speculation.

Off the top of my head I can think of ballets set to Ravel's Piano Concerto, Brahms' Second Piano Concerto, the Barber Violin Concerto, Bruch's Violin Concerto, Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 9 and Concerto for Flute and Harp, Gershwin's Piano Concerto, Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Winds and Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Martinu's Double Concerto for Piano, Two String Orchestras and Timpani, Bach's Double Violin Concerto, Brandenburg Concertos and several of his piano concertos, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto no. 2, Adams' Violin Concerto and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no. 5. Allegro Brillante is set to Tchaikovsky's incomplete Third Piano Concerto, and Chopin's piano concertos form the basis of the score to John Neumeier's The Lady of the Camellias, though they're not necessarily played in order. [Correction: the complete Second Piano Concerto is used as the score to the first act, and the second movement of the First Piano Concerto is used in Act 3.] I'm sure there are others I've forgotten and many more I haven't seen.

And although I agree that there is a difference between the voice and other instruments, this hasn't stopped choreographers from using song cycles and vocal liturgical works. Neumeier has choreographed Bach's Magnificat and St. Matthew Passion, Handel's Messiah and the Mozart Requiem. Other ballets set to vocal religious music are MacMillan's Gloria and Requiem, Kylián's Symphony of Psalms and Soldiers' Mass, and Uwe Scholz's The Great Mass. In recent years Alberta Ballet, my local company, has performed Jean Grand-Maître's Celestial Themes, set to Tallis' Spem in alium, Edmund Stripe's Unquiet Light, set to some of the longer sections of Tchaikovsky's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and Emily Molnar's Portrait of A Suspended Grace, set to Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. Many of these works are heavy on choral music, but song cycles are used also. Think of Tudor's Dark Elegies, Balanchine's Liebeslieder Walzer and Seven Deadly Sins, MacMillan's Song of the Earth, Béjart's Song of a Wayfarer, Rudi van Danzig's Four Last Songs and Neumeier's Winterreise. I don't know whether anyone's ever attempted to choreograph a ballet to the complete Des Knaben Wunderhorn, but William Forsythe set a pas de deux to "Urlicht." Glen Tetley choreographed a couple of ballets to vocal works for the National Ballet of Canada: Alice, to David Del Tredici's Child Alice, Part One: In Memory of a Summer Day, and Tagore, to Alexander Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony. Alexei Ratmansky's Russian Seasons would be another recent example. Among other vocal works, Stravinsky's Les Noces and Orff's Carmina Burana have been tackled more than once.

So while I do understand Leigh Witchel's point about structure or lack thereof in contemporary choreography, previous generations of choreographers apparently did like to rely on the structure provided by symphonies, concertos, song cycles and liturgical works.

Of course, at the ballet you're unlikely to hear a great violinist or pianist. The same would probably apply to sopranos.

Then I've been very lucky in my ballet-going experience.

Perhaps you have been lucky, or perhaps I have been unlucky. I can't think of a performance of Swan Lake during which the playing of the "White Swan" pas de deux hasn't made me cringe. In my North American exprience, the sounds coming out of the pit are usually inferior to the quality of the dancing on stage. This probably wouldn't be the case at the Paris Opera or Vienna State Opera.

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Then I've been very lucky in my ballet-going experience. While there are few famous violinists, pianists, or singers who perform with ballet companies outside of gala presentations in major cities -- Jane Eaglen, now a Seattle local, singing Wagner for Joffrey's Remembrances for PNB, Elmar Olivera for the first season of Barber Violin Concerto -- I've heard much world-class if not world-famous singing and playing at the ballet: Jerry Zimmerman's wonderful Chopin for NYCB, Dianne Chilgren's amazing work for PNB, Susan Erickson's lovely soprano in the Queen of Spades excerpt in Nutcracker and in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and National Ballet of Canada Concert Master Fujiko Imajishi's (Four Seasons and NYCB's Figeroa's (first violin in Concerto Barocco) masterful solo playing among them.
I must add ABT's brilliant pianist, Barbara Bilach to Helene's list. Also the artist who played the violin solo for the Kirov's new-old Sleeping Beauty. I still hear it -- what? five? six? -- years later. And didn't Flicka von Stade sing the premiere of Martins' Songs of the Auvergne?

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SanderO, I may have found a piece that fits your bill. I was watching L'Amour, la danse on television, a show that strings together excerpts from many of Maurice Béjart's ballets. Among them was a dance for about 12 women to "Casta diva." Since it was identified in the credits simply as "Casta diva," I don't know whether it's part of a longer ballet or a freestanding piece. Given the nature of the performance and the venue, all the music was canned, so diva egos didn't factor into the equation.

And in case we're still counting concertos, we can add Béjart's Concerto 21 to the list, set to Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 21 with an approach that is anything but neoclassical.

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the sounds coming out of the pit are usually inferior to the quality of the dancing on stage. This probably wouldn't be the case at the Paris Opera or Vienna State Opera.

I don't know about Paris, but I've seen a really trashy ballet in Vienna which was made quite bearable because of the playing by the Vienna Philharmonic.

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