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November 01, 1964 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1964-11-01
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Opera eaion in.lew o
A Story of Limitation and Success

The 'U' Orchestra
A New Building
And a Daring Conductor
Liven This Year's Calendar

NOW THAT THE School of Music has
settled into its new building on North
Campus, it is hard to imagine how it
ever overcame the physical privation of
its scattered existence on the central
campus. The new building makes life
easier for almost everybody, and general-
ly more productive as well. No part of
the school has used the new building to
better advantage than the University
Orchestra, which is now well into the
most challenging year in its history. Con-
sidering the orchestra's repertoire over
the past few years, this is saying ouite a
good deal. Professor Josef Blatt. conduc-
for of the orchestra since 1953, has al-
ways tended to center the year's work
around a few of the largest and most de-
manding masterpieces of orchestral liter-
ature rather than spread the same effort
over many smaller comonsitions.
This policy stems from the basic pur-
pose of the orchestra which is to nrepare
student instrumentalists for professional
careers as orchestra plavers. The large
orchestral works simply keen the grpatest
number and variety of players busy. In
addition,. a work such as Strauss' "Don
Quixote," which the orchestra played last
year, presents a greater range of techni-
cal problems than does, say, a Haydn sym-
phony-not that a fine performance of
Haydn is necessarily easier to achieve.
Finally, the orchestra's repertoire, taken
over a number of years, quite accurately
reflects the standard repertoire of the
major professional orchestras.
In fact, a concert by the University
Orchestra is quite likely to be rather
more substantial than a tynical concert
of a professional orchestra. For the first
half of the fall concert in 1959. for in-
stance, the orchestra played Beethoven's
Third Symphony, a work 'whose dimen-
sions alone would justify the epithet
"heroic." The second half of that con-
cert consisted, incredibly, of Stravinsky's
"Rite of Spring." One senior member of

the faculty, a man of wide experience on
both sides of the Atlantic, is quoted as
having said that he had never heard it
better performed. Last fall the orchestra
played Bruckner's Eighth Symphony and
Strauss' "Don Quixote" on one program,
which is roughly the equivalent of the
Michigan football team playing Michigan
State from 12:30 to 3:00 and Ohio State
from 3:30 to 6:00.
"THIS YEAR the orchestra is preparing
the largest repertoire it has ever at-
tempted. On November 3 it will open the
season with a performance in Rackham
Auditorium in Detroit. The program will
include Mendelssohn's "Overture to a
Midsummer Night's Dream," Dvorak's
Symphony No. 5 in E minor ("From the
New World"). and Arnold Schoenberg's
early tone poem for string orchestra,
"Verklaerte N a c h t" ("Transfigured
Night"). Three weeks later, on Novem-
ber 24, the orchestra will appear in Hill
Auditorium. The Ann Arbor audience will
have its first opportunity to hear the new
member of the string faculty, violinist
Joseph Knitzer, who will perform the
Beethoven Violin Concerto with the orch-
estra. As the strings are to be featured
in Detroit in "Verlaerte Nacht," so the
winds will be featured in Hill Auditorium
in a performance of Richard Strauss'
"Serenade for Wind Instruments," Opus
7. The cello section of the orchestra will
have a rare opportunity for display in
Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasilieras No.
5 " for cello and soprano solo. Only the
Mendelssohn overture will be repeated in
Ann Arbor.
These programs, however, are only the
lesser part of the orchestra's work. Every
year the orchestra (usually somewhat re-
duced in size) plays an opera each semes-
ter in addition to its regular concerts. In
the fall semester this year there will be
no opera, but in the spring semester there
will be two, Mozart's "Magic Flute" and
AlbanBerg's "Wozzeck."
"Wozzeck," first performed in 1925, is
commonly accepted as the greatest mas-
terpiece of twentieth-century opera. It is
certainly the greatest monument to ex-
pressionism in music. Superlatives flock
into any evaluation of "Wozzeck."
Among other things, it is probably the
single most difficult opera to perform
that has ever been written. As far as is
known, "Wozzeck" has never been per-
formed by less than a professional opera
company with virtually unlimited time
at its disposal. It is almost inconceivable
for a student orchestra and opera class
to undertake "Wozzeck." But then, it
was equally audacious for the orchestra
and opera class to present "Das Rhein-
gold" in 1960 and "Pelleas et Melisande"
in 1962.
A CRUDE IDEA of the size of the un-
dertaking may be gained from esti-
mates of the number of man-hours spent
in rehearsal. The orchestra rehearses
from 10:30 to 12:00 five days a week. The
regular enrollment of 109 students will
be somewhat reduced for performances,
but on the other hand a few extra
musicians not regularly enrolled will be
needed. Call it 100 orchestra members.
Throughout the first nine weeks of the
semester the orchestra averaged between
two and three rehearsals a week on
"Wozzeck." Nine weeks times two-and-a-
half rehearsals, times one-and-a-half
hours per rehearsal, times one hundred

players, comes to 3,375 man-hours of re-
hearsal, to say nothing of the countless
hours of outside practice. After the fall
concerts, the orchestra will dig in and
concentrate on "Wozzeck" alone. By the
time of the first performance in January
the orchestra may well have spent up to
twelve thousand rehearsal man-hours on
the opera Add, by a conservative esti-
mate, between two and three thousand
for the singers, and the total comes to
about fifteen thousand man-hours of re-
hearsal, all of which will be focused in a
performance time of about three hours,
or nine if you count the three perform-
anres senarately.
It would not have been possible with-
out the adequate rehearsal facilities
which are now provided in the new build-
ing. There has been an enormous in-
crease in divided and sectional rehearsals
this year, in comnarison to any previous
year. The orchestra is regularly split in-
to as many as five sectional rehearsals.
The weekly schedule posted on the bulle-
tin board is a labyrinthian affair that
has to be studied quite closely to deter-
mine where one is supposed to be. Avail-
able rehearsal time has also increased
over previous years as credit for orchestra
has increased from one to two hours.
The size and quality of the string section
is unexpectedly high this year. Doubtless
the preparation of "Wozzeck" has conse-
quently been easier, but the decision to
do it in the first place was made last
spring, long before the quality of this
year's orchestra could have been gauged.
possible for the orchestra to play
"Wozzeck" is that their conductor pos-
sesses the will and ability to do it. He is
one of a tiny handful of men so qualified.
At the beginning of every year, Prof.
Blatt gives a short talk to the effect that
he considers everyone in' the orchestra to
be a professional in all respects except
technical capacity. Far from being a
mere rhetorical flourish, this attitude af-
fects every aspect of the orchestra's
working conditions. Seating in the string
section, for instance, is not competitive;
strong players and weak and evenly dis-
tributed throughout each section to en-
sure a consistent sound. Again, in full
rehearsals there is little drill on individ-
ual passages. That sort of practice is left
up to each player on his own time or is
reserved for sectional rehearsals. Instead
of disassembling the orchestra to drill
it, he keeps the entire ensemble playing
whenever possible. When he has to stop
for a mistake he goes on as soon as possi-
ble; as soon, that is, as the spot in ques-
tion is played as nearly perfectly as he
thinks it can be on that particular day.
Sometimes, of course, it takes a long
time. No matter how long it takes he
somehow manages to keep the orchestra
conscious of thet primary musical line.
A rehearsal is thus a trial performance
of the music.
Prof. Blatt simply never makes an in-
dividual or a section play a passage over
five times perfectly in a row. For one
thing, doing so would be to concede that
there is indeed a difficulty, a concession
that Prof. Blatt is reluctant to make or
to allow his musicians to make. He treats
a mistake as if it were an incomprehensi-
ble accident, a freak, rather than an ex-
pected part of the learning process. To
a player who has muffed some fantastic
passage bristling with bizarre rhythms

and peculiar notes he will shout, "No,"
sing the passage as it ought to be, scarce-
ly looking at the score, and ask plaintive-
ly, "What's the matter, can't you read?
Can't you count? What is so difficult
about that?"
It is fortunate for the orchestra mem-
bers that Prof. Blatt takes this attitude.
If he allowed them to realize how far
beyond their normal capacity they often
have to play, they might not be able to
do it. He pays them the compliment of
taking them seriously as potential pro-
fessionals who can play, given a little
time, whatever a composer requires of
Each member of the orchestra is re-
sonsible for his particular contribution.
Consequently Prof. Blatt leaves as much
to the individual musician as he possibly
can. Thus his beat is not primarily a
time-keeping beat. Each player must
count for himself. The beat shows what
is hapoening and what is going to hap-
pen. It is a curiously fluid, flexible, com-
plex nantomime which seems to produce
the entire musical fabric silently. in
snace. The audience sees very little of
this. It is strictly for the benefit of the
Within the limits of the composer's
secifications and the requirements of
good ensemble, players are free, further-
more. to play their own way. Prof. Blatt
does not like to have to interpret a solo
passage. A real musician should want
to do it himself.
is like that of a gardener, not that of
a mechanic. Consequently his orchestras
tend to show the health and beauty of a
well-kent garden rather than the pre-
cision and efficiency of a machine. In
the realm of music there is Perhaps room
for the kind of ensemble that produces
its music with the beautiful inevitability
of a fine motor (Rolls-Royce beauty, I
shoild call this), but that sort of music-
pinking is totally out of place in opera.
Thpre are too many independent musical
wills thp nuances of a dramatic perform-
ance are too suscentible to the unpredict-
able influence of human communication
to allow anyone the false and easy expe-
dient of mehanical nerformance. Opera
is the most demanding form of music
inst beeause it reouires the utmost flexi-
bility and adaptability from everyone in-
The qualities which Prof. Blatt strives
to bring out in an orchestra are perfectly
suited to meet the challenge of "Woz-
zeck." One of the fundamental aesthetic
premises of Berg's style, and of musical
expressionism in general, is to avoid re-
petition and pattern. What makes "Woz-
zeck" challenging, then, is not merely the
individual difficulties, but the fact that
there is a continuous supply of fresh dif-
ficulties. This is precisely the challenge
that the orchestra is being trained to
meet. Considering their progress to date,
the orchestra may well discover in Jan-
uary that it is taking part in as good a
performance of "Wozzeck" as has ever
been given.-
And then, next semester, having bent
itself under the rigors of this most fear-
ful, death-ridden tragedy, the orchestra
will turn to the celestial "Magic Flute."
In its own way, "Magic Flute" will be
equally challenging. Prof. Blatt's orche-
stra is always jumping out of the frying
pan into thb fire.

The fault lay with the heroine; neither
the first-rate Edgardo of Sandor Konya
nor the vocally reliable (though dramati-
cally non-existant) Ashton of Robert
Merrill could save the evening. Miss
Sutherland's fireworks went off on
schedule, replete with her customary
mannerisms of retarded notes, sliding,
scooping and foggy verbal emmission
which we are to accept for Italian diction
and bel canto style. The kindest thing
which can be said of her characterization
of Lucia is that she has seen Callas in
the part and pays homage to her by ap-
ing a few of her motions. Much of the
posturing which Sutherland and Merrill
substituted for acting was so amateurish
as to be really embarassing. The Metro-
politan chorus kept out of the way quite
neatly and smaller parts got by on either
being heard to poor effect or not at all.
The conductor, Silvio Varviso, could be
called a perfect accomplice for the
"diva's" "artistic aims".
For an event worthy of the opening of
the Met, one had to wait until the fol-
lowing evening when Elisabeth Schwarz-
kopf made her much belated Metropoli-
tan debut as the Marschallin in Strauss'
"Der Rosenkavalier." New York audi-
ences have inexplicably had to wait for
nearly twenty years for this first appear-
ance since the great soprano became an
international star. In fact, Mme.
Schwarzkopf made her American operatic
debut as the Marschallin in San Fran-
cisco ten years ago!
These ten years have left their mark
on Mme. Schwarzkopf's performance. She
has perfected her interpretation to the
extent that many critics have found her
too mannered. It is true that her char-
acterization of the Marschallin is not a
crowd pleaser, for it demands too great
a concentration on the part of the audi-
ence. This subtlety is something which
the average American opera-goer is in-
capable of appreciating. This Marschal-
lin is not one of colossal gestures and
stentorian vocalization. Rather, Mme.
Schwarzkopf's approach is that of a
lieder singer (which, of course, she is,
and one of the greatest). Every detail is
scrupulously worked out and every word
has its individual weight and significance.
Here is an artist who has an under-
standing of the character, as well as of
the complex means of expressing that
character, which bespeaks a mind and
dramatic sense of the highest order.
Though the production as a whole, and
the balance of the cast, was far superior
to that of the previous night, still, it was
marred by the rather sluggish and unre-
fined Octavian of Lisa della Casa. Thom-
as Schippers' conducting was somewhat
taut and inflexible, which might be par-
tially excused by the low quality of the
well-paid Met orchestra; still, it was the
Met's best version of the opera in years.
It could not compare, however, with the
productions this work has been accorded
in Convent Garden, Vienna, La Scala,
not to mention Munchen, or Salzburg.
ONLY IN THE PAST season has the
Metropolitan Opera begun to be
criticized for its policies on repertoire,
casting and production. At long last
America's most "discriminating" operatic
public has had its eyes opened to the
many shortcomings of its "greatest"

opera house. The appearance of Elisabeth
Schwarzkopf makes these shortcomings
all the more apparent, giving some indi-
ca';ion of what the public has missed
these years.
The paucity of good casting could
have been excused if it might have been
shown that American opera houses as a
whole had been unable. to secure many of
the great performers, but this is not the
case. San Francisco, Dallas and Chicago
have all had the privilege of hearing this
artist and many others which the Met
has either inexcusably delayed hiring or
has not hired at all.
For these many conspicuous errors, the
responsibility rests solely with Rudolf
Bing, the general manager. Attempting
to excuse the long delay in Mme.
Schwarzkopf's appearance, the general
manager hasasaid that "there have al-
ways been and will be singers who for
one reason or another do not come to
the Metropolitan. Remember thecMetro.
politan is primarily an 'Italian' house
and Mmle. Schwarzkopf's repertory is
largely German. As a matter of fact, I
have invited her here one or two times in
the past." Elisabeth Schwarzkopf re-
members that she had been asked to sing
in Tchaikovsky's Eugen Onegin in Eng-
lish: "I did not think this was right for
me." This sort of offer on the part of Mr.
Bing does little to inspire confidence in
his musical .judgments and much of the
casting he has effected at the Metro-
Most singers do not sing more than
one or two roles at the Met during any
one season, unless they happen to be the
house artists who have no other engage-
ments elsewhere. Opposed to these are
the many fine singers, internationally
famous, who have never appeared at the
Met; such artists as Boris Christoff,
Teresa Berganza, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Re-
nato Cioni, Rolando Panerai, Ebe Stig-
nani, Sena Jurina, Giuseppe Taddei, Re-
nata Scotto, Sesto Bruscantini, Rita
Streich, Fiorenza Cossotto, Alfredo Kraus,
Ivo Vinco, Pilar Lorengar, Niccolo Zac-
caria and countless others who have yet
to be heard on the premises. Add to
these, singers who have made their
American debuts elsewhere, such as Maria
Callas, Tito Gobbi, Cesare Valetti, Giuliet-
ta Simionato, Renata Tebaldi, Mario del
Monaco, Eileen Farrell, Leontyne Price,
Birgit Nelsson, George London, Inge
Borkh. and you will have some idea of
the extent of the apathy of the Met's
search for new talent.
Why? I think the answer is rather
simple. The impressarios at San Fran-
cisco, Chicago and Dallas are tireless in
their search for new talent, and for
singers in general who are best suited, as
artists and vocalists, to the operas which
have been chosen. Furthermore, artists
are more anxious to sing at these houses,
because there they have a wider choice
of roles than they would at the Met.
The Met's limited repertoire and un-
concern for tasteful casting and produc-
tion work against the appearance of
these artists. For example, Callas has ap-
peared in these other houses as Mme.
Butterfly, Elvira ("I Puritani"), Leonora
("Il Trovatore") and Medea in addition
to the Normas, Violettas, Toscas and Lu-
cias to which she has been confined at
the Met. We really cannot think of any
other role for Tito Gobbi at the Met be-
sides a few Scarpias and Rigolettos,
while in Chicago he has sung in "Simon
Boccanegra," "Don Carlos," "Otello,"
"Nabucco," "Falstaff" and "Le Nozze di
Figaro," just to mention a few of the
more important roles. Thus, the reign-
ing Iago and Falstaff has given his in-
terpretations just about everywhere ex-
cept at the Metropolitan. These examples
should suffice; there are many more. One
could also write at length about the neg-
lect of American talent in favor of more
exotic Central European singers who re-
ceive contracts with the Met. The whole
casting situation at America's first opera
house is simply absurd, as many of the
longtime subscription-holders are begin-
ning to realize.

OMETHING MIGHT be said, as well,
about the Metropolitan orchestra.

Though comparison with other "great"
opera-house orchestras, such as the Vien-
na State Opera Orchestra or the Bay-
ruth Orchestra, exposes (if it were not
already apparent) the utter lack of polish
and style of the Met group, it is rumored
that these musicians will strike again for
higher wages.
As to the criticisms of the Met's pro-
gramming, one really should not look
forward to great repertoire changes and
new productions for the next two sea-
sons. In 1967 the Met will move into
Lincoln Center, and most of the com-
pany's funds will be saved for new pro-
ductions there; let us hope that these
promises come true.
Opera-goers would, however, not mind
the long-standing lack of variety in the
repertoire. if the productions which Mr.
Bing did choose were intelligently cast
and staged and the conductor well
chosen. Leonie Rysanek as Lady Mac-
beth, or Abigaille ("Nabucco"), or Elisa-
beth de Valois ("Don Carlo"), or the
forthcoming "Tosca;" or Birgit Nelsson
as Aida or Lady Macbeth or Robert Mer-
rill as Iago, Scarpia and half a dozen
other roles he has done for the Met-this
kind of casting combined with a "war-
horse" schedule makes a dull opera sea-
son in New York.
Mr. Bing is receiving criticism from
several quarters for these deficiencies,
which are indeed so great that even his
apologists often condemn him with their
own words. Martin Mayer, in an article
in the October 11 issue of The New York
Times Magazine, admits that "artistic tal-
ent was often put in the wrong place,"
that "the (Metropolitan) conducting has
only rarely struggled above the level of
the routine" and so on. He adds that
"Bing does all the casting himself (con-
ductors are not encouraged to make sug-
gestions. . .)" Yet all this is in an article
entitled, "Mr. Bing Makes the Met Go."
The question is, go where? Though the
repertoire may be shaped up in the new
quarters, and though Bing may argue that
increased receipts prove that productions
are of a high quality, it is obvious that
casts and orchestra are usually far be-
low the standards which a top opera
house should set for itself.
THE METROPOLITAN, by and large
having abjured its responsibility for
exoanding the repertoire, other various
oeratic groups and societies in New
York have been and will be supplying
operatic life for the next two seasons:
the American Opera Society, the Concert
Opera Association, Friends of French
Opera (which has not yet announced its
schedule) and, of course, the New York
City Opera. These groups neither can,
nor do, compete with the Metropolitan;
but for the time being they are essential
as a supplement to it. Most of their per-
formances are concert versions, and
among them have been presented Bel-
lini's "I Pirata," Donizetti's "Anna Bo-
lena" and Maria di Rohan," Spontini's
"La Vestale," Cherubini's "Medea," Mon-
teverdi's "Il Ballo delle Ingrate," Strauss'
"Intermezzo" and Rossini's "William
This season the news for Strauss lovers
is that "Elektra" will be heard with
Astrid Varnay, Regina Resnik, Gustav
Neidlinger, Phyllis Curtain and Arturo
Sergei, with the New York Philharmonic
under William Steinberg, on the week-
end of December 10-12. The New York
City Opera will launch its spring season
on March 4 with the east coast premiere
of "Katerina Ismailova," the revised ver-
sion of Shostakovitch's "Lady Macbeth of
Mzensk," sung in English.
A rarity of sorts, Busoni's "Doktor
Faustus" will launch the American Opera
Society season at Carnegie Hall on De-
cember 1, an occasion marking the New
York opera debut of Dietrich Fischer-
Dieskau. The next evening will be given
to Handel's "Alcina" with Miss Suther-
land. Rossini's "Il Turco in Italia" will
be given on February 23 with Judith Ras-
kin as Fiorilla; Gluck's "Iphigenie en
Aulide" with Christa Ludwig and Walter

Berry will be heard on March 23 and a
performance of Donizetti's "Lucrezia Bor-

gia" will be
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