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Debate: What do you think of concert performances of opera?

We'd like to hear your thoughts on opera as music. Do you miss the theatrical element?

By Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News))

23 July 2013 at 4.06pm | 22 Comments

Following recent concert performances by The Royal Opera of Capriccio and Simon Boccanegra, and Wagner's Ring Cycle opening at the BBC Proms this week, we wondered what you thought about concert performances of opera.

Soprano Deborah Voigt wrote a blog post on the subject a few years back for the Guardian from a singer's perspective, saying that concert performances are a 'hugely helpful way of getting to know a role... I'd got a sense of how to pace the role before the marathon physical demands were thrown into the mix'.

What do you think of concert performances of opera? Do they allow you to focus on the music without the distraction of a full staging or do they reduce the impact of an art form that melds music and drama?

Whatever your views, share them via the comments below.

Here are a few thoughts from our Twitter following:

 

 


 

 

 


 

By Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News))

23 July 2013 at 4.06pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged "by Elijah Moshinsky", BBC Proms, Capriccio, Concert, Daniel Barenboim, debate, performance, Production, Ring Cycle, Simon Boccanegra, Social Media

This article has 22 comments

  1. Carineh responded on 23 July 2013 at 4:37pm Reply

    I saw Thais in concert at ROH a few years back. Renée Fleming & Thomas Hampson were singing, so of course it was sublime and yet I was disappointed it wasn't fully staged. It's such a beautiful and moving opera I felt it lacked the full splendour that ROH could have given it.

  2. Opera has to work as music drama. If the opera does not work in concert it is not a great opera. Although opera audiences love fantastic productions, costumes and effects, concert performances really allow the singers, conductor and orchestra to get to the heart of what opera is about - great singing, great music and unique poetic medium of expression and story telling.

  3. Aaron Saunderson-Cross responded on 23 July 2013 at 4:45pm Reply

    It strikes me that theatre is crucial to the form of opera and to divest it of this quality is to impoverish the dramaturgy.

  4. david johnson responded on 23 July 2013 at 4:58pm Reply

    I hear opera mostly from recordings, so my take is vocal music; few of the live staged performances I have seen work at all as theatre. There are few singers who can really play a character, or who have the necessary presence to make it work as theatre, but when it does happen, its awesome---Hildegard Behrens and Waltraud Meier are wonderful, and I forever recall them, but, there are few on this level. I enjoy Joan Sutherland, without ever needing to see her act a role.

  5. Carey Coleman responded on 23 July 2013 at 5:45pm Reply

    I think opera is best enjoyed on DVD's of stage productions or LIVE in the actual opera. I think seeing the emotions on the musicians faces makes it more relatable. I can say all the operas that I've seen have given me a cathartic experience, both live and on DVD/Blu-ray. I've never seen a concert performance of them, but I can Imagine I wouldn't be terribly moved. I think that opera, like the rest of orchestral music is best enjoyed in person, but for someone who can't get out and see them it is perfectly acceptable to buy them.

  6. Andrew Brown responded on 23 July 2013 at 6:17pm Reply

    I have been to an amazing concert performances of the Ring of the Niebelungen at Opera North, well the first 3 operas anyway, Rhinegold, Walkerie, Siegfried, all outstanding performances, without sets etc, the acting has been brilliant, so I'm all for them!!

    • Robin Smith responded on 24 July 2013 at 11:23am

      I agree with you about Opera North's Ring (I heard the 2nd and 3rd installments at Symphony Hall). The shame for the ROH is that there is no world class accoustic for Opera in Concert in London as opposed to Birmingham or Gateshead (for example).

  7. Robert Crich responded on 23 July 2013 at 7:04pm Reply

    Concert stagings are a wonderful way of seeing a performance of a rare work that would not neccessarily get an airing otherwise. As much as I love to see staged operas and do as often as i can afford to, seeing a concert perfomance of a rare work is very rewarding for me, and you dont have to look at some awful bad staging of the piece. Recent ones have been Korngold's "Das Wunder der Heliane" Vivaldi's "Orlando Furioso" & Dvorak's "The Jacobin" bring on more concert versions of rare operas as far as I am concerned

  8. Concert performances are better than performing money-wasting, silly and stupid staged operas

  9. midsman responded on 23 July 2013 at 10:16pm Reply

    The ROH concert performance in Birmingham of "Simon Boccanegra" last month was superbly sung and played;wonderful to hear so much detail without the distractions which many present day presentations thrust on us!

  10. Ron Williams responded on 23 July 2013 at 11:56pm Reply

    A second best, of course. But sometimes one's only opportunity to hear a "live" performance of a rarely heard opera. With all of the "pluses" and "minuses" that make live performance both more exciting and more frustrating than a DVD!

    • Robin Smith responded on 24 July 2013 at 11:28am

      I witnessed three performances of Simon Boccanegra, two at ROH (where I like the staging) and the "In Concert" version at Symphony Hall in Birmingham. The performance in Birmingham was magnificent and trumped all others by a mile.

  11. Chris Pelly responded on 24 July 2013 at 7:01am Reply

    Some operas work better in concert - Duke Bluebeard's castle for example. But concert performance doesn't have to mean no drama, Opera North is in the middle of a five year long process of concert performances of the Ring cycle. These performances feature basic lighting, some movement, co-ordinated concert dress and large projections. Even in such a minimal staging you can really feel the drama and the music is just beyond words.
    Chris

  12. Alice Poulsen responded on 24 July 2013 at 12:51pm Reply

    Opera in concert form has a place - some times it is better to present something in concert than with a rubbish production (think of a few productions this season), and money could have been better spent on other main stage productions or some Baroque opera, like Platee etc.

    Also some rare operas are nice to have in concert, before they are done in full production. One can see/survey the audience for future full production requirement. Lots of possibilities ......

    Capriccio was good but they needed more stage room to interact and less focus on silly couture dresses.

    Simon Boccanegra at RAH a couple of years ago, was completely amazing in concert form - despite the space, it was utterly intimate thanks to a great cast who wanted to give us that special experience.

    Same for Thais with Ms Fleming and Calleja before that. It can be done, if the casting is right and a little room is allowed for a little dramatic interaction.

  13. John O'Brien responded on 24 July 2013 at 2:53pm Reply

    From Thursday to Saturday last week I had a broad range of musical experiences. From Don Pasquale, to Michael Kieran Harvey and the Flying Dutchman.

    Part 1 was Opera Australia: Don Pasquale
    Part 2 was Michael Kieran Harvey

    Here is Part 3

    I don’t particularly like concert versions of opera. It is musical theatre not only music, although a good production of poor music will not save it even if the music can rescue a poor production. In many ways, however, Wagner is a very symphonic composer. His music can work with minimal or no visual stimuli although the playing of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Chief Conductor designate David Robertson, was accompanied by a video display on two sails above the orchestra. The designer S Katy Tucker captured the essence of the characters of the Flying Dutchman without becoming intrusive or distracting.

    The soloists included one of the great dramatic baritones of the world Eric Owens. He adhered to the text in a very concentrated way with great articulation, but did not physically engage with the other characters, other than through his singing. In contrast, Irish dramatic soprano Orla Boylan engaged her fellow singers as well as the audience and soared above the orchestra. I could feel her passion half way back in the circle. The other four singers sang appropriately without any comparative weakness in any of them. Robertson wound up the large orchestra when required but kept it contained during the solo singing. The strings worked overtime and the horns and the brass could not have accepted unemployment benefits for this concert. The Sydney Philharmonia Symphony Chorus did not have a big workload but the women faced the men on either sides of Concert Hall. When they interacted they did it with it with passion and vigour. The final choruses matched the drama of the whole piece.

    I am recent convert to Wagner. I still prefer the smaller canvasses (if not themes) of Mozart and Britten but I am heartened that Robertson plans more concert versions of opera in the future. He has made his mark in Sydney already.

  14. Rosamund Illing responded on 24 July 2013 at 11:37pm Reply

    Concert performances of Opera YES PLEASE
    Why, I am so tired of going to the opera and being upset by the staging visions that distract from the beauty of the music . Recently in one production of a Verdi Opera I was shocked that the staging manipulated the story in a way that the librettist and composer had not intended , the result was ridiculous and irritating for the informed opera goer , but for the uninformed was "ok" to quote some patrons that are not regular opera aficionados.
    If Opera in Concert gives us the opportunity to see great artists who are still singing wonderfully , that for one reason or another managements may consider to be not suitable to appear on "stage" in staged performances , then please let us hear them . How best do younger artists learn their craft than by rubbing shoulders with the great artists , listening and talking to them . Singing is an art form where knowledge transfer from one generation to another is vital , if that stops , the art from is poorer .
    .

  15. Peter Tucker responded on 25 July 2013 at 10:47pm Reply

    Hi this is an interesting question.

    I would say that on the one hand the composer of an opera usually composes their work as a Gesamkunstwerk i.e. an audio-visual-somasensory experience. So in this sense a staged performance is what he or she intended to present.

    However at least three points suggest this is not the whole picture:

    A. A concert performance is usually a fraction of the cost of producing or attending one staged (a case in point is the BBC Proms performance of the Ring Cycle which can be heard/seen for as little as £5 per opera).

    B. A good concert performance is, in fact, staged in the sense that the drama is physically presented on stage (the quality of this presentation depends on the acting ability and stage direction available).

    C. For years people have bought audio recordings of operatic works without the debate that they are inferior to visual recordings having any semblance of credibility. I think most people would agree they are just different expressions of a work.

    To conclude though, as this is the ROH website, if you offered me a ticket in the stalls at Covent Garden to hear and see Bryn Terfel sing Wotan in Die Walkure for £5 I'd say you're nuts but alright then if you insist!

  16. Peter Erdos responded on 29 July 2013 at 10:44am Reply

    With today's highly paid producers at large and most of them delighting Opera Managements (never mind the paying audiences). In view of this fact I enjoy immensely superbly cast concert performances, despite the fact that opera IS and SHOULD BE the amalgam of theatre and music, totally inseparable (see CAPRICCIO)
    I may be old fashioned in my taste but I like to see operas performed on stage when the production is in the spirit of the Composer's thoughts and intention

  17. Barry Muzzeroll responded on 29 July 2013 at 2:18pm Reply

    If it weren't for concert performances, fans of early/baroque opera would rarely ever hear let alone see Handel, Rameau, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, et al. As I cannot rely on the ROH to even stage one early/baroque opera per season, I have to depend on concert performances at the Barbican and other venues, or travel to the continent or the US to see fully staged productions or watch them in a cinema. That said, the answer to the question is a resounding no, as the theatrical element can be conveyed effectively by talented artists. Marc Minkowski's Alcina at the Barbican in December 2010 was as enthralling and powerful as any production of early/baroque opera I've seen at the ROH.

  18. james responded on 5 August 2013 at 4:54pm Reply

    Have been seeing the Wagner concerts at the proms this year. The semi-staged versions are surprisingly effective. The music takes centre stage and is not drained by the all too common Eurotrash style productions, i.e no copulating crocodiles.

  19. Alastair responded on 10 September 2013 at 7:06pm Reply

    Personally I think that from an audience point of view, musical theatre and opera are total theatre, and to take one element away is to lessen its impact and possibilities. No element is greater than the sum of its parts. Hopping over to the other side of the fence I have heard some wonderful concerts but possibilities and impact are often, but not always, lessened.

  20. Patricia Davidson responded on 4 January 2014 at 6:46pm Reply

    Opera without the staging depends too heavily on the quality of the voices and frequently misses. Opera is about a combination of music, singing and drama. Take one of those elements away and you reduce the impact.

    That's not to say there aren't some truly dreadful productions of glorious operas, of course there are, but opera is intended to be theatre and is best that way.

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