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Opera for the People

Opera for the People

Copyright Date: 1951
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Opera for the People
    Book Description:

    Everyone who enjoys opera will enjoy this book, and many who think they don’t like opera will be delighted to discover how they can enjoy it. As Herbert Graf points out, opera in America today isn’t all it could be, and he shows how opera can be developed into something more vital -- a real force in the musical life of communities. As the long-time stage director of the Metropolitan Opera community, Dr. Graf is a foremost authority on opera production. From his wealth of practical experience, from his careful study of what others have done, and from his creative yet realistic thinking come his challenging proposals for a new kind of opera in America -- opera for everyone. The elements of opera production -- the libretto, the music, the language, the sponsorship, the staging, the building -- are discussed. American opera as it is performed on Broadway, in community civic companies, in school workshops, in motion pictures, and in television is surveyed. In conclusion, Dr. Graf draws his exciting blueprint for the opera of the future. Illustrative anecdotes provide sidelights on many gamed musical personalities -- Bruno Walter, Kurt Weill, Benjamin Britten, Lawrence Tibbett, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Gian-Carlo Menotti, to name a few. Stories of many of the newer operas -- how they came to be written and what they are about -- are related. Music lovers who yearn for a “new deal” in opera, civic leaders anxious to develop opera in tehir own communities, and schools and colleges offering opera training will find this book a stimulating guide.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3666-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Preface
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    Herbert Graf
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  4. Plates
    (pp. [ix]-2)
  5. OPERA without top hat
    (pp. 3-16)

    WORLD WAR II was over. The first atomic bomb seemed to have brought the fighting to an end. While the iron curtain descended, the political and artistic frontiers between America and western Europe were reopened, and the ocean crossing which before the war had been particularly familiar in the world of musicians began again.

    This time, though, it was of a different kind. Before 1939 it had moved mainly in one direction, from Europe to America, but now American artists in great numbers, as well as Europeans who had found refuge in America and become American citizens, traveled eastward to...


    • The BOOK
      (pp. 19-32)

      BECAUSE grand opera is performed in America mostly in foreign languages, the American public when enjoying opera is relying primarily on its sound. Therefore, opera to its American audience is essentially a means of providing beautiful music, while the drama serves merely as a frame to make this sensual experience possible. Vocal quality and quantity, rather than their function as a means for the expression of the underlying drama, are the focal point of interest, and the meaning of the words, the acting, and the staging take a place of secondary importance. Actually, a certain exotic mystery is favored in...

    • The MUSIC
      (pp. 33-44)

      IN SETTING the book to music the composer selects the various means which musical technique offers to express the sentiments, development, and actions of the characters. He should remember that the nature of the plot ought to determine the musical style of the opera—and that not everything in opera is necessarily “grand” or must always be sung.

      Unfortunately, this latter fact has often been forgotten in modern opera, partly because of the influence which Wagner’s music dramas have exercised on his successors and partly because of the usual inflated style of opera production. It might therefore be useful to...

    • OPERA in English
      (pp. 45-60)

      NOTHING could contribute more effectively to keeping opera a mystery to its audience than the foreign language in which in America it is usually performed.

      In view of the history of opera in this country, it is easy to understand why in the past grand opera was presented in its original language, but the present interest of the American people in opera provides ample reason for revising this practice.

      The former public avoided the unmasking of opera because they enjoyed it primarily for the sensual pleasure of its music. They refrained from any real participation in the dramatic details of...

    • The sponsorship of OPERA
      (pp. 61-78)

      GIVEN the completed opera, book and music, what is the first essential for its production on the stage before the audience for whom the author and composer intended it? An organization to handle its performance, and for this purpose—money. Money or the reasonably certain prospect of it. Money to pay for the time and effort and equipment it will take to turn those black marks on white paper into the flesh-and-blood embodiment the creators imagined.

      During August 1948 I was enjoying a vacation visit in Austria and Italy. One afternoon in Arturo Toscanini’s Milan home, the ever energetic Maestro,...

    • From rehearsal to CURTAIN
      (pp. 79-110)

      A GOOD-SIZED opera company is an intricate piece of machinery, and its proper functioning depends not only on the artists whose names appear on the billboards, but equally on those numerous behind-the-scenes employees of whose work the public is scarcely aware.

      The usual form of organization in the major resident opera companies in America is that of an “Association,” represented by a board of directors, trustees, or governors. Mostly these are prominent businessmen and civic leaders. Through an executive committee and a group of officers—usually a chairman of the board, a president, two vice-presidents, a treasurer, and a secretary—...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • Buildings for the OPERA
      (pp. 111-121)

      THE HISTORY of opera parallels in time the tremendous social and technological revolution which has so drastically altered our ways of life. It has scrapped social privileges along with the horse-driven coaches and sent us traveling by railroad, automobile, and airplane; it has blown out our candles and turned on electric switches; it has broadened a vague idea of the globe as made up of unrelated, distant countries and continents into the modern concept of One World.

      But of all these changes the opera building seems to have taken little notice. Whether in Milan, Naples, Vienna, Paris, London, or New...

    • Training the ARTISTS
      (pp. 122-130)

      THE PICTURE of the elements of grand opera and its production would not be complete without a brief survey of the conditions for training those young artists who, be it as composers and librettists, or as singers, directors, designers, teachers, and critics, are to be the builders of the opera of tomorrow.

      In Europe their study and development is integrated with the well-established system of grand opera itself and takes place in three phases: first, schooling with private teachers or at conservatories; then engagements at one of the many smaller government-supported opera companies, where they can gain practical experience; and...


    • OPERA on Broadway
      (pp. 133-150)

      TO AN AMERICAN, “Broadway” means the legitimate theater and musical plays. It does not include the Metropolitan Opera, although the Met’s main entrance is located at 1417 Broadway.

      But “Broadway” has its own opera. Not the pretentious grand opera of the European tradition, associated with the Met, but a sort of American folk opera. The wordopera, though, is often avoided on the programs and a variety of ruses are used to disguise the actual nature of the offerings. To such an extent is Broadway afraid of losing its audience if it appears to go “highbrow.” Or, more accurately perhaps,...

    • Community OPERA
      (pp. 151-186)

      IN 1936 I returned with my family from Europe to America to begin my first engagement with the Metropolitan Opera Company. On board theNormandiewe moved slowly up the Hudson River toward the pier, looking at the always fascinating New York skyline. We were being interviewed by newspaper reporters, and my boy, then three years old, was eager to demonstrate his knowledge of the New World. Pointing to Manhattan on the right, he explained, “This is New York,” then turning to New Jersey on the left, “and this is America!”

      The newspapermen agreed laughingly with this distinction, but it...

    • OPERA in the schools
      (pp. 187-206)

      THE GROWTH of a truly American opera has been fostered in decisive fashion by the development of music schools throughout the country. And this, as we have pointed out, was in large part the result of the opportunity and the need for training at home created by World War II. By the end of that war the number of music schools in the United States had risen from fewer than twenty-five to some three hundred. About eighty of these schools give opera performances every year, and some sixty have regular opera departments.

      With these schools has originated a new teaching...

    • OPERA in motion pictures
      (pp. 207-218)

      ON BROADWAY, in the community, and in the schools, even with modern production methods and contemporary works in the repertoire, opera still remains within the traditional theater concept of legitimate opera as our fathers and forefathers knew it: the audience goes to attend the performance in the opera house. But in the new media of motion picture and television this tradition is being reversed: the opera comes to its audience, in or near their homes.

      This development carries within itself social and economic implications of tremendous import. The privileges of wealth and education, formerly preponderant in the world of opera,...

    • OPERA in television
      (pp. 219-232)

      RADIO, unable to transmit the visual with the aural, can do only half a job or less in broadcasting any form of musical drama, but it has proved an ideal medium for the popularization of concert music. Television, on the other hand, necessarily combining sight with sound, scarcely knows what to do with music alone.

      So far the chief purpose of the concertgoer, listening to the inner content of the music, has largely been frustrated in telecast performances. In the concert hall the listener observes orchestra, conductor, and soloists from a distance and so the gestures of the artists who...


    • Toward a people’s OPERA
      (pp. 235-244)

      OUR SURVEY in preceding chapters clearly demonstrates that America has made significant strides toward bringing opera closer to the people.

      True, the number of major resident opera companies has not increased, nor have they, beset with continual struggle against inadequate financing, departed to any appreciable extent from the old standard repertoire or from traditional and routine methods of production. But in the decade following the outbreak of World War II the number of smaller community opera groups doubled to reach one hundred and fifty, and more than fifty opera workshops came into being. And of about one hundred operas presented...

    • Patterns for a people’s OPERA
      (pp. 245-265)

      THESE local and regional opera centers we hope to see come into being all over the country—how are they to solve their problems of support and efficient operation in order to present performances of increasingly high artistic quality?

      In the first place, they may extend their conception of what it is legitimate for them to produce. They need not limit their programs to any one segment of the operatic repertoire, which may be divided according to its styles and production elements as follows:

      1. Grand opera. This is the oldopera seria, which includes the works fromOrfeotoTristan...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 266-270)

    MY BLUEPRINT for our people’s opera of the future was finished. And I could see professionals shaking their heads at such lofty dreams. I wondered at them myself, tired as I was from a season’s work at the Metropolitan, with all its headaches and heartaches about changing casts and limitations on rehearsal time and budget. I almost, as several times before, lost courage about the possibility of ever realizing such golden hopes. My only consolation was that I had just received a contract from Rudolf Bing for the next season calling for my services as stage director of eleven operas...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 271-275)
  11. Index
    (pp. 276-289)