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Opera Boffo

Regarding “Lights . . . Aria . . . Action,” by Mark Swed (Feb. 13):

Your essayist speaks from the viewpoint of “singer-based” operatic staging, which is to say someone who believes that every element of the drama must be subordinate to the singer’s craft. While this is the traditional stance (and a position held by the vast majority of operaphiles), it is by no means indicative of opera’s true nature. Nor can it hope to shed more than a pale light on opera’s best possible future.

Modern artists are drawn to opera because, thanks to the Wagnerian revolution of the last century, its potential for becoming “total art” now has a chance to realize itself. This can only happen if the “singer-based” doctrine cedes to the ideals of “music-based” staging; that is, dramatic techniques that free every element of the music to perform its storytelling function on an equal footing with the singer.

Your essayist made one particularly glaring error. Opera is not primarily “psychological”; it is “narrative” in the most inclusive sense, every detail, internal and external, etched in music. For this to be evident, indeed for it to function at all, a production’s timing must be flawless.

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Stage opera simply hasn’t displayed the right stuff. Film, with its ability to synchronize sight and sound to the microsecond, is the ideal medium in which to harness this vast power. No wonder filmmakers have been fascinated with opera from the beginning.

JEFF G. F. WATKINS

Palm Springs

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I very much enjoyed the article on opera and film. One point that I felt worthy of a mention is that Francis Ford Coppola’s use of “The Ride of the Valkyries” is a cinematic quotation.

It was used in D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (on the orchestral track added to the original silent release) when the Ku Klux Klan rides into town to save the Southern whites from the “evil” emancipated slaves. This reference has two functions: It links the American invasion of Vietnam with the racism of the KKK; furthermore, it shows how cinema and music both are a politically potent force.

One powerful piece of music can, in these two circumstances, raise a show of emotion that supports politically incorrect acts. Reason is subdued and a passionate, even primal, response is evoked.

CHRISTOPHER BARNES

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Beverly Hills


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