14 January 2015 at 3.15pm | 22 Comments
It's a situation that many opera fans will have experienced – after an explosive series of enthralling musical acrobatics and taut drama, you find the action lulls. In some cases, these lulls do little to give us insight into the characters, and at times they simply don't match up musically to what came before. At their worst, the longueurs can leave you irreversibly switched off to an entire composer's oeuvre.
The question is – what to do about these potentially troublesome sections? Is it acceptable to make cuts and edits to the work of history’s great composers?
Cuts can and do happen, with varying degrees of obviousness. Perhaps most dramatically, Peter Konwitschny's English National Opera production of La traviata makes substantial cuts, bringing the running time down to less than two hours – approximately 25 minutes less than Richard Eyre's (uncut) Royal Opera production. Not quite as drastic, Kasper Holten's Royal Opera production of Don Giovanni makes edits to the finale, following in the footsteps of a number of famous directors and conductors – including Gustav Mahler – who've dabbled with the demise of Mozart's famous anti-hero.
Then of course there are edits that are invisible to all but the most scrutinous score-studier – tiny tweaks to single lines of recitative or snippets of arias. 'An audience must have the confidence to admit that there are structural inadequacies in the great works', Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, Jude Kelly recently told the Guardian. Away from the lyric stage edits are commonplace, with iconic works by William Shakespeare regularly subject to cuts.
All this, of course, is before we even begin to explore those composers who routinely rewrote and edited new versions of their own works.
Alternatively, should we remain strictly hands-off when it comes to the classics? After all, there's no accounting for taste – one person's 'boring' is another person's favourite bit, or for someone else it's a chance for respite from the sensory overload of an opera – after all, many of opera’s most thrilling moments come from contrast. Indeed, we may need to learn to experience them more passively rather than expecting immediate gratification. Having the music wash over you – for many – is intrinsic to the opera-going experience.
We asked our Twitter following what they think of operatic edits:
— Wendy Perron (@wperrondancemag) January 12, 2015
— Julio Sierra (@mjulio48) January 12, 2015
@TheRoyalOpera Of course they can be edited! But if it's badly done, it turns painful fast.
— Ilana Walder-Biesanz (@ilana_wb) January 12, 2015
— Mark Valencia (@MarkValencia) January 12, 2015
— Simone Camilleri (@MaltaMSimone) January 12, 2015
@RoyalOperaHouse decision needed on "edition" of Don Carlo/s Boris Godunov or Khovanschina as there are no definitive final scores.
— John Johnston (@JohnVecchio) January 12, 2015
— Hanako Dickinson (@HanakoDickinson) January 13, 2015
What do you think of operatic edits?
If the drama demands it, should passages of works be cut; or should we leave works as completed by the composer?