Lisa Hirsch's Classical Music Blog. The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve. Lovers, to bed; 'tis almost fairy time.
Opinions expressed on this blog are mine and not my employer's.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Hoisted from the Comments: Amplification
A comment on my last posting from the user known as The Unrepentent Pelleastrian deserves its own discuss:
Lisa, No other issue in opera gets me more worked up than whether or not to use some type of amplification. I enthusiastically APPROVE of it. As a matter of fact nothing would make me happier than to see opera managers focus primarily on the aural experience over the dramatic. Today things are just getting out of hand with all the focus on the visual (titles, scenery, Mr. Regie whatever, 3-D.
I have also heard people complain that the voices/music often sounded like a 'distant murmur' depending on where they sat.... Now that is frustrating.
I don't know why but my hunch is that Wagner would have embraced amplification as well.
(Ah, nothing like hearingthe raspy Mimeon good volume or Siegfried pound that anvil with some good amps)
Fasolt, Fafner, Erda,Donner.. .
Hindemith'sCardillac, Verdi'sFalstaff, Pfitzner'sPalestrina, Schoenberg'sMoses und Aron, Messiaen'sSaint Francis of Assisi, Smetana'sThe Bartered Bride, Lehar'sThe Merry Widow... the list goes on.
No seriously, I think we need to understand what electro-acoustic sound enhancement systems can offer before we dismiss them.
First, you can try to figure out for yourself how much of the above is serious. I'm not going to respond to every point. I will respond to a few, though.
1. "Wagner would have...." with just about anything coming where I've put ellipses is a straw man. We just don't know and it's not useful to try to guess unless it's something he specifically wrote about.
2. I have no idea what that list of operas is about.
3. "I think we need to understand what electro-acoustic sound enhancement system can offer before we dismiss them."
Um. We know what they can do because we've heard examples of this for the last 85 years.
You can hear the effect of amplification on singing in both the popular realm, since everybody has been amplified since the mid-1920s or early 1930s, and in opera.
Before amplification, there was one way to sing and (with some national differences) all singers, regardless of what they sang, learned to sing in pretty much the same way. But the advent of amplification created a split. Microphone singers don't need to project to the back of the hall; they don't need to enunciate in quite the same way, they don't need the same support. They can whisper, croon, have a tiny voice, and still be heard.
You can hear the effects of amplification in opera by simply attending any vocal work by John Adams. Vocal perspective goes right out the door; hall resonance is eliminated as a factor; the composer doesn't need to pay as much attention to his orchestration; the musical landscape is flattened. It sounds a lot worse than naturally sung opera.
Sid Chen, aka The Standing Room, is classically trained. A few years back, he did some vocal work that was amplified and mentioned in passing on his blog that he had to unlearn an awful lot to be successful.