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What are the "most beautiful five minutes in opera"?

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This is one of those nutty threads which is fun but impossible to answer and reminds me of the threads about the most beautiful ballerina or handsome dansuer. As I stated in one of those threads there are too many extremely beautiful dancers. Their beauty is not only their form, face, musculature and so forth, but how they move on stage. The top ballerinas are all beautiful, though admittedly some have qualities which appeal to some and not others. At the ballet I am almost always in awe of how stunning the dansers are.

In opera, there are also many gorgeous moments and I am not sure if this question refers to performances or recordings. However, not all opera moments are beautiful such as the mad scenes. I won't answer this question but suffice it to say that Maria Callas never ceases to amaze me as I listen to her many recordings. I only wish I could have seen her perform. She's given me many beautiful hours!

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In opera, there are also many gorgeous moments and I am not sure if this question refers to performances or recordings.
My original curiosity had to do more with the music itself, but -- clearly -- everyone experiences this music through the medium of performance. Live or recorded? The music in general or only one particular performance? Your choice. Even though one's answer might, and probably will, change over time. :wink::)

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My original curiosity had to do more with the music itself, but -- clearly -- everyone experiences this music through the medium of performance. Live or recorded? The music in general or only one particular performance? Your choice. Even though one's answer might, and probably will, change over time. :wink::)

The music itself in the Wagner I listed, although I'm going to prefer some Sentas and some Parsifals (all important roles) to others. In the case of 'Boheme' first act, I want a sterling performance, but won't miss that the music is beautiful anyway--as in 'Marriage of Figaro', incidentally, which is the kind of thing less professional companies can do well enough, so that you don't demand perfection in the same sense. although you always aurally prefer the best. Wagner, forget it, it can't be done by anything but consummate professionals and be worth listening to; it's demanging enough as it it. 'Sempre libera' and other very technically difficult soprano arias the same for me. Yes, I'd prefer Flagstad to anybody else i have heard sing Wagner, though, even though they've been in person and she's only on recordings. And ditto Callas, on the early records. The production you can't experience so much on either recordings or even DVD's from Bayreuth all that much (although to a certain degree, as some of the Rings from there), but the music 'having to be live' doesn't really hold true so much because, even though many more dimensiona are there in live performance, all of us have grown up with recorded music, and the 'reproduced forms' are accepted after awhile. You have the classis Walter Benjamin text 'the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', which is very anti-film, and it had been even more so in earlier days. All these new forms have become accepted, but as for the music itself, you are hearing a real performance, even if it was performed in another time and place. I think this is to some degree true of dance too, but maybe less so, but those who attend very frequently don't usually agree, accept for defintiely valuing that we do, at least, have documents of Sizova/Sovoviev or Martha Graham doing a few of her own pieces. Hans mentioned Kiri, another of my favourites. I heard her several times in person, and when the voice was at its most gorgeous, I loved it either way--she was close to perfect a lot of the time, as well as being a gorgeous woman.

I would add, though, that Wagner, in particular, is infinitely more effective in live performance. I can watch the old Zeffirelli movie of 'Boheme' and be totally enchanted, just as much as in an opera house.

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Off topic, but...

You have the classis Walter Benjamin text 'the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', which is very anti-film

I don't think it's often read that way--quite the contrary in my experience--though it's characteristic of Benjamin that he can plausibly be read in very different ways.

To return to topic: when I saw the thread title I immediately thought it might be a thread on the Der Rosenkavalier trio! In the meanwhile it has sent me to youtube several times...

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I don't think it's often read that way--quite the contrary in my experience--though it's characteristic of Benjamin that he can plausibly be read in very different ways.

It is difficult with that essay -- I've never quite figured it out. But it was addressed to how the "aura" is missing in photography, in duplication and mass dissemination. Benjamin seems rather melancholy about it. A good topic perhaps -- I think Patrick's point that more is lost in reproduction of music is true -- part of its very soul. In the mechanical reproduction of ballet the mundane and and extraneous details are "noticed" and raised to the level of the good stuff. Again it's another topic.

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In the meanwhile it has sent me to youtube several times...
Drew -- and others -- please share you links with us if you can. YouTube, when I'm guided by people I trust like those on Ballet Talk, is a source of wonderful new knowledge and experience. :flowers:

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Work_of_A...al_Reproduction

Here's the wiki entry. Yes, it is read that way by most philosophers, even if he also talks about how it leads to other political formulations and actions due to being mass-consumed. He talks about the 'shattering of the true aura' in these reproduction forms, the 'aura of the bad cult of the film star'. He disparages the editing process that makes of film a 'perfect orchid', and is being sarcastic when he says that. He cites Duhamel's loathing of the film. I brought it up because FILM is different in that it grows directly from live theater--it is still a kind of theater that is, yet, entirely different--it is a 'sleight-of-hand'. Recorded music, otoh, is an exact duplication, it is the same compostion, and we got used to that more easily, because 'recorded music' is not itself an 'art form', whereas film IS a new art form. That's it had uneasy early moments (and many still hate it, I frankly and most philosophers have long thought Benjamin misjudged film and think him wrong on this), but recorded music (or dance, as with Graham refusing any filming for most of her career, so that we're left with just a few filmed gems), is usually actually disparaged only by the performers thsmselves, at least in a very emotional way. For most people, they are getting a good reproduction of a work of music, and this is better than the one kind of filmed version of theater as well, IMO, viz., just filming a stage performance (because you know it's live, and you know you're just getting a perfunctory reproduction of something you didn't get to experience fully enough.

So again, I think reproduced piano, violin, orchestral, operatic works pretty well, and maybe once in awhile better, because you'd sometimes rather hear a great recorded performance than a bad live one. I'd certainly rather hear Maria Callas's old records than have heard her live when her voice was so harsh. I don't have much use for 'legend events' with big divas', although I do consider them a legitimate and rich form of entertainment for those who do.

But on records, you DO get the real music, even if you don't get the excitement of the occasion. There's nothing I love more Toscanini's record of 'Siegfried Idyll', and I don't think I've ever even heard it on a concert program.

I think Patrick's point that more is lost in reproduction of music is true -- part of its very soul.

Quiggin, I just saw this, so maybe this post cleared it up. I really don't think much is lost in reproduced music except the sense of the excitement of the live performance, because at least all the sound is there, so I guess, I think the best 'mechanically reproduced' works of art that are those little more than exact duplications. i mean in the one sense, because I do think there is great film art, of course.

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This is one of those nutty threads which is fun but impossible to answer....

I agree that a topic like this one is 'impossible' in a way, SanderO, but isn't it also fun to take a few minutes to think about those moments in a performing art that really take you to a different place?

'Du bist der Lenz,' is another one for me. The music just blossoms forth.

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I have e family member in the Met - so for me, the best 5 minutes would be in seeing/hearing her perform.

I remember when she chose to pursue opera as a vocation. She had been training in voice of course, doing University and post-graduate work. At some point she had what she described as an "out of body" experience - this level of emotion is what encouraged her to continue with voice over other things. More years later than we would care to acknowledge, she still seems quite content in her choice of career path. I am still looking for that level of fulfillment in my career.............

m2

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Thanks, mom2. You bring us back to how performers themselves experience this, which is a good thing. Which segments of a work are most beautiful (or gripping, involving, emotionally draining,or satisfying0 to the performing artists, I wonder? Are they the same parts that those of us in the audience finds most beautiful?

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Off topic, but following up...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Work_of_A...al_Reproduction

Here's the wiki entry. Yes, it is read that way by most philosophers, even if he also talks about how it leads to other political formulations and actions due to being mass-consumed. He talks about the 'shattering of the true aura' in these reproduction forms, the 'aura of the bad cult of the film star'. He disparages the editing process that makes of film a 'perfect orchid', and is being sarcastic when he says that. He cites Duhamel's loathing of the film. I brought it up because FILM is different in that it grows directly from live theater--it is still a kind of theater that is, yet, entirely different--it is a 'sleight-of-hand'.

Thanks for the reference. I took a look: the wiki entry does not really say that Benjamin is anti-film--actually it makes him sound somewhat anti-aura, i.e. critical of traditional (notions of) art--but...uh...I don't suppose either of us view Wikipedia as a final authority in these matters and Wikipedia itself heads this entry up with a note saying it may not meet its own standards...

Anyway, my reading is rather different from yours and I find it in a lot of secondary literature. I think that Benjamin certainly opposes the 'aura of the bad cult of the film star' but that is very far from being anti-film -- and even if one reads the essay as 'melancholic' as Quiggin suggests (and I think many others agree) one still might have difficulty reaching the conclusion that it is somehow against film. Benjamin is diagnosing a phenomenon and trying to think through its implications.

A very "standard" scholarly book on Benjamin like Richard Wolin's makes the case that Benjamin's essay argues for the positive (for Benjamin, as you remark, that would mean political/emancipatory) potential of film and that this is not an incidental but an essential aspect of the essay, alongside the analysis of a no-longer viable notion of art as aesthetic, quasi-cult object. Right or wrong, Wolin's is not an eccentric reading, however much most readers -- myself included -- respond to Benjamin's 'melancholy' as well as the textual undercurrents that may make one dubious--such as the remarks on the 'bad cult of the film star.' (I actually hold no particular brief for Wolin--dislike certain things about his work--but cite his book as a very mainstream, standard reading.)

As I understand Benjamin he's not for OR against film--he is for what he takes to be a clear-sighed analysis of the contemporary situation of art.

I do grasp that, as Quiggin remarked and you confirmed, you were making a different point about film as an art form in relation to recorded music and I fully agree that these are two separate matters. My own relation to classical music is heavily mediated by ballet performances and recordings, but I firmly believe in the power of a live performance in which my full attention is on the music. (Later this month I hear my first live performance of the Brahms German Requiem. I consider it sort of a major event--for me.)

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As I understand Benjamin he's not for OR against film--he is for what he takes to be a clear-sighted analysis of the contemporary situation of art.

I would agree with this, and to me Benjamin seems fascinated with the medium's possibilities.

My own relation to classical music is heavily mediated by ballet performances and recordings, but I firmly believe in the power of a live performance in which my full attention is on the music. (Later this month I hear my first live performance of the Brahms German Requiem. I consider it sort of a major event--for me.)

That's true for me, as well (regarding my experience listening to classical music). I've heard many more operas on recordings than I will ever be able to do in performance. There is something special in a live performance (if it's good; nothing special in mediocre ones, IMO), but I also appreciate the intimate pleasures of listening to a great performance at home. Solti's Ring was the first Ring I ever heard, and those old recordings are theatrically exciting as well as musically so - I was thrilled by them.

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Thanks for the reference. I took a look: the wiki entry does not really say that Benjamin is anti-film--actually it makes him sound somewhat anti-aura, i.e. critical of traditional (notions of) art--but...uh...I don't suppose either of us view Wikipedia as a final authority in these matters and Wikipedia itself heads this entry up with a note saying it may not meet its own standards...

Some of these interpretations have some validity, Drew, but just to say about 'anti-aura': I think not, not really, insofar as he is talking about art apart from how it might be part of ideology, because clearly tbinks that 'loss of aura' has weakened art. The same can be found in Heidegger, when he talks about Greek statues of gods, in which he describes the statue itself as being the god. I remember being struck by that. What's important, without continuing to debate this, is that that phrase 'aura of the bad cult of the film star' was a kind of 'cheap aura' by comparison to the kind of aura more culturally immanent works once had. I often think of that phrase, because we certainly don't even have that particular 'bad aura' anymore. We still call them 'movie stars', but they are something else by now. So that what Quiggin said about recorded music 'losing its very soul', even though I don't personally think it myself to quite that degree, is valid to some degree, in that it's degraded from the aliveness of living art with a living audience, etc. Obviously the more 'aura' a work of art has, the more powerful, not the less, unless one is looking for a political or ideological 'use for art'. I need to reread the essay, it's been about 10 years.

Here's an excerpt from the actual essay which may shed some light on what i was foccusing on, at least:

'The situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated. This holds not only for the art work but also, for instance, for a landscape which passes in review before the spectator in a movie. In the case of the art object, a most sensitive nucleus – namely, its authenticity – is interfered with whereas no natural object is vulnerable on that score. The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced. Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.'

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So that what Quiggin said about recorded music 'losing its very soul', even though I don't personally think it myself to quite that degree, is valid to some degree, in that it's degraded from the aliveness of living art with a living audience, etc.

Respectfully, Patrick, isn't 'degraded' a little harsh? It's true that recordings generally are made for music that was originally intended for a live audience, but I would hesitate to call a carefully crafted recording with a great cast made with attention and care for the music a degradation of that music - on the contrary.

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So that what Quiggin said about recorded music 'losing its very soul', even though I don't personally think it myself to quite that degree, is valid to some degree, in that it's degraded from the aliveness of living art with a living audience, etc.

Respectfully, Patrick, isn't 'degraded' a little harsh? It's true that recordings generally are made for music that was originally intended for a live audience, but I would hesitate to call a carefully crafted recording with a great cast made with attention and care for the music a degradation of that music - on the contrary.

Dirac, I was just going along with what Quiggin said about 'losing its very soul'. I don't think it's 'degraded' myself (Benjamin uses 'depreciation', although that doesn't mean it's true either), no, just 'somewhat less' that a live performance (in important ways to most of us, although not those who think, perhaps, that technology improves everything, which is probably no one at BT), just as DVD's of ballet are less than live performance.

Edited to add: In my post #32, I think I say it more clearly.

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Recordings made in front of live audiences seem to have a different quality than mastered studio ones. It's not the same as "being there" when it was performed, but it seems to be have a more personal feel than one made in a studio setting.

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Recordings made in front of live audiences seem to have a different quality than mastered studio ones. It's not the same as "being there" when it was performed, but it seems to be have a more personal feel than one made in a studio setting.

Good point, agree, because that's the form that's 'in-between'. I think it seems to work better with just music than with opera or ballet, because live performances of opera and ballet filmed really make you want more, I find them less satisfying than recorded music, and would like to know if others feel the same. Actually, I find a recording of a 'live orchestra performance' to make me almost feel there, which I never feel with the others, but this may just be subjective, not sure. I think, though, it's because you really DO still have the full sound-world, whereas when the emphasis is on the visual and spectacle as well, you have substantially less of that when filmed.

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Fageddaboutit with recording ballet. It just is not the same experience at all. YUCK

I was not thrilled with the idea of recorded opera but finally dragged my butt to see a MET HD broadcast of Lucia and found it quite enjoyable. It was like being in the house, but it seemed to be an advancement in recording opera and I don't think this was all attributable to the HD aspect.

Since Met Opera tix are very expensive unless you go nose bleed or wait for all day for rush tix, you can use the HD showings to preview an opera / production you might want to fork over the cash for. If that were possible timing wise I might use this approach. I am not terribly thrilled by the live radio broadcasts from the Met, because I am usually only able to have them on in the background as I go about my biz, with all sorts of interruptions. Not only does this not do justice to the performers, but it turns this effort into almost elevator music in the background. I like to focus my listening with little distractions and that hard to do on a weekend afternoon except on my boat.

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Since Met Opera tix are very expensive unless you go nose bleed or wait for all day for rush tix, you can use the HD showings to preview an opera / production you might want to fork over the cash for.

That's a good point, but it's only applicable to people who live in the area, and who could ever hope to fork over hundreds of dollars for a ticket (not everyone can, no matter how devoted to opera they are).

The fact that these broadcasts are available nationwide, in places that may get little or no opera, or opera rarely of the quality the Met can (but maybe doesn't always) provide is, I think, the main advantage. And it's great that the controversy over this Tosca doesn't seem to have hurt the broadcast sales in the least (added encore performances) is encouraging.

Edited to add: Sorry, I thought this was the Tosca thread. Well, it's 7 am and I'm not quite awake...

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PeggyR, it's not the early time, it's that the thread has gone adrift.

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PeggyR, it's not the early time, it's that the thread has gone adrift.

I apologize in advance.

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I don't think it's 'degraded' myself (Benjamin uses 'depreciation', although that doesn't mean it's true either), no, just 'somewhat less' that a live performance (in important ways to most of us, although not those who think, perhaps, that technology improves everything, which is probably no one at BT), just as DVD's of ballet are less than live performance.

I do see what you mean, but for me a closer analogy to ballet on DVD is watching an orchestra perform on television and watching it live. Recordings are far better than that. Technology doesn't always improve everything, and then again sometimes it does help. :)

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There's still time and space to add to our "most beautiful five minutes in opera" theme. :)

One of the qualities that most of our choices share is that it is sung by the female voice, or is orchestral. (The duet from Otello involves male and female.)

Is there something about the female voice that tend more easiliy to fit into our conventional views of "the beautiful"? Our choices so far seem to express humanity, thoughtfulness, trying to understand, trying to accept: all qualities which we have grown up associating with the feminine influence. (No mad scenes mentioned so far as far as I can recall -- also no villainy, ambition, greed, or the desire to possess. :wink: )

Are there no such passages sung by men? One of my favorite arias in opera might qualify: Lensky's farewell just before the duel, from Eugene Onegin. A heart-breaking piece: but something holds me back from entering it in the "most beautiful" competition. I have no idea why. :)

(On the other hand, I can easily see how some might consider something like "Senza Mamma" (Suor Angelica) to be extremely beautiful, even while recognizing its sentimentality.)

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bart--that just brings up something interesting to begin with. I think I do cherish female opera singers more than I do the men, which is not quite the same with ballet, which is about equal for me. I also like many more female movie stars than I do male ones, although not better than the male ones I do like, Cooper and Mitchum, Delon, Rosanno Brazzi, a few others.

Our choices so far seem to express humanity, thoughtfulness, trying to understand, trying to accept: all qualities which we have grown up associating with the feminine influence.

Well, I don't think mine do, although they probably ought to more. I just think about the sound, although 'humanity' is definitely one of the things Callas is just overcome with every time she sings 'Tosca', which I didn't mention yet. And I love any number of 'five minuteses' in Callas's best Toscas. With Flagstad, it's just the best voice I ever heard in the peak period, I get knocked out by it every time I hear the early recordings. I don't know about 'Sempre Libera', that's a bit courtesan, but still very human, I just love to hear if perfectly sung, it's pure champagne.

Well, I adore Cavaradossi in the early part of Act I, it is ravishing, so yes, there are beautiful men's things too. And in 'Meisteringser', there is Hans Sachs's gorgeous singing, but mainly Walther's conterst-winning song, and by the way, I must be senile, 'Meistersinger' is, if I have to choose one, my very favourite opera, and the Overture alone has enough 'five minuteses' of perfection in it to last me a long time, not to mention the whole opera. I LOVE this piece, because it's an opera about musicians of an era we wouldn't really know that much about if Wagner hadn't made it. And it's a happy Wagner opera. The Met production back in the mid-90s one of greatest things I've ever seen and heard. I also like a lot of 'Don Carlo' and also the corny things in 'Rigoletto' and 'Trovatore' when you've got a real virtuosos and ham to do them.

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I would say my the most beautiful however many minutes are when Alfredo Kraus is singing.

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