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Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

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Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Elephone » Tue Aug 25, 2009 4:46 pm

In general, I've always disliked opera. I assume the reasons are:

1. The music in opera has 'extra-musical' dynamics. Melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, textural, and dynamic changes occur to match the story and dialogue -not because the music requires it. (If a menacing character walks onto set, the music will suddenly change for that reason, not because of musical sense). So, as a music purist, what I hear sounds a bit abstract and schizophrenic.

2. I can't stand that sweeping vibrato! Why do most singers think it sounds nice to use vibrato all the time? It sounds very unmusical to me.

I think I can justify how I feel by pointing out that vibrato is a fluxuation in pitch. It often obscures the intended tone to one that is ambigious in pitch. This is particularly true with bass voices as lower pitches are more difficult to determine anyway.

(I do really like choral music, which is often less affected by this as there is an emphasis on 'pure' voices -often even using boys instead of adult females in the choir.)

I've also noticed 'overuse' of vibrato with many string players, especially playing late 19th and 20th century compositions. Apparently, this 'constant string vibrato' technique started as a way to 'match' an equal tempered piano in the early 20th century. Since the ear naturally tries to produce pure tones according to the ear, one way to match a fixed-pitch instrument is to obscure the precise pitch.

I hate it! :protest:
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby tex » Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:09 pm

Operras a grate way of impressin yer mates wit yer culchurral integritty laike. Espeshly if youse credhenshuls is a bit dodgy laike. OR shud dat be "LaiaiaiaiaAIake!"

How do day get govenment grants if evryone hates opera?
But dats an udder conspirassy theeree.
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:10 pm

Each to their own ;)
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Guest » Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:36 pm

I must admit that I'm one of those who thinks opera would be great if only the singers didn't open their mouths!
I believe that the excessive vibrato was developed as a way to help project the voice over a 100 piece orchestra (no mics remember). Now that it's possible I would like to hear a Wagner opera performed by more subtle singers using mics.
Unfortunately there seems to be a mind-set amongst these singers that producing a nice 'tone' is most important. The concept of singing a note that can easily be recognized doesn't feature.
These 'big voice' singers are not able to 'switch off' the vibrato. I've heard stories of some going to auditions to join pro choirs, being asked to sing the audition piece again without vibrato but doing exactly the same again. Obviously they didn't get in.
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Elephone » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:02 pm

>"Each to their own"

Mmmmmmm, I've never really agreed with that philosophy. I believe art and music is rooted in nature, so I so think there are acoustic reasons behind music.
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:30 pm

It was a response to

Is-Is wrote:In general, I've always disliked opera.

and

Is-Is wrote:I hate it! :protest:

I quite like it - well, some of it....and take away the nature of the beast of, say, Wagnerian opera by giving the singers a bunch of radio mics like some of today's 'Opera Singers' or crossover artists and you'll get a bunch of people that can't sing their way out of a paper bag.

From a playing perspective, vibrato is there sometimes as a device to 'correct' the intonation issues that can occur, sometimes it's used as an effect etc etc - I certainly wouldn't argue that sometimes it's used in a disagreeable way and that a good singer / player should be able to turn it on or off...

Is-Is wrote:I believe art and music is rooted in nature, so I so think there are acoustic reasons behind music.

Fair enough....but I happen to believe rather a large chunk of music is buried within emotion...and as such sometimes it'll ring your bell and sometimes it won't....
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:36 pm

Is-Is wrote:The music in opera has 'extra-musical' dynamics. Melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, textural, and dynamic changes occur to match the story and dialogue -not because the music requires it.

....but it is telling a story...that's the whole point...
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Folderol » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:50 pm

I had the misfortune to hear a Tenor with such a severe (yes there is no other word) vibrato I couldn't understand a single word. I could follow every other singer in the performance. After about 20 minutes I got so fed up I walked out :frown:
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Elephone » Tue Aug 25, 2009 7:00 pm

>"....but it is telling a story...that's the whole point..."

Well, if story is the whole point, then why not watch a play instead?

Perhaps I've just got poor multitasking ability but I can't concentrate on a story and at the same time enjoy the abstract non-verbal world of pure music. So I'm always going to listen to the music only. I think maybe my brain is too seperated. The development of music itself is more important to me than a story. I'd rather have a crap story and excellent music and I can't see how opera can avoid compromising the musical structure to an extent.

I like choral music more than any other form of classical music. There is a fugue in 'The Magic Flute' that is really awesome and dark, but it sounds like it was intended for the requiem to me. The dialogue in that part is definitely restricted by the music, like in choral music.

I don't feel too bad because Beethoven wasn't really into opera (he only wrote one). I think maybe he was a purist in music and more interested in development sounds than in decorating stories with his music. Oops!

(One thing I really hate is people laughing where they're expected to. Yeah, I'm sure 18th century operas are absolutely hilarious! :D Haaahaahaha!!!! :D

Of course, I'd love to know what people like about musicals or panto. Is it the dwarves? I feel like a different species when I see people enjoying it.
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 25, 2009 7:17 pm

Is-Is wrote:Well, if story is the whole point, then why not watch a play instead?

Because some people like stories with music in / surrounding / involving them as well?
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Guest » Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:59 pm

Aural Reject wrote:
I quite like it - well, some of it....and take away the nature of the beast of, say, Wagnerian opera by giving the singers a bunch of radio mics like some of today's 'Opera Singers' or crossover artists and you'll get a bunch of people that can't sing their way out of a paper bag.

Just because I don't like one extreme doesn't mean that I'd approve of the other. I'd quite like to hear Wagner sung by 'period' singers such as Nancy Argenta. OK she hasn't got the shear dB punch to get over the the large orchestra but she can sing in tune! And please don't try comparing her and her kind to the recent growth in Popera singers. The Poperites try to imitate the big opera sound (uncontrolled vibrato et al).

Don't you ever hear the big Wagnerian climax and wonder what note is being sung?
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Aural Reject » Tue Aug 25, 2009 9:04 pm

It'd certainly be interesting - you're quite right there is, of course a potential for middle ground....

I take my Wagner as I hear it, tbh, maybe I'm just a traditionalist? :tongue:
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby David Etheridge » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:21 pm

Is-Is wrote:>

(One thing I really hate is people laughing where they're expected to. Yeah, I'm sure 18th century operas are absolutely hilarious! :D Haaahaahaha!!!! :D

Of course, I'd love to know what people like about musicals or panto. Is it the dwarves? I feel like a different species when I see people enjoying it.

Ah well, there's always the pseud factor. Isn't it brilliant that we can get the joke even when it's sung in Italian/German/Russian/Inuit and aren't we the clever ones, ducky.
Just realise that the whole question on vibrato is a fashion one. When I were a lad at music college I noticed that the top grading opera students could never hold a single top note; it would be a trill of between a major or minor third with the actual note somewhere in the middle.
Likewise, if you hear some early recordings of classical music (30s era-ish), the string vibrato and slides sound by today's standards molto cheesy, but were regarded as the real deal at the time they were played and recorded. A lot of those legendary classical folks were not really technically up to the mark by today's standards.

And panto: I've played in the pit in panto and it can be one of the most painful experiences -from laughing! :lol:
I've had sore muscles and been crying with laughter at the ad libs and stuff that goes on there. The whole point with panto is that it's designed as pure entertainment , with a dash of slapstick and satire thrown in. It's also (according to the MD of the shows I play in) the most demanding of all types of theatre: you've got dialogue, action, music, songs, graphics, FX, audience participation, and anything can happen due to ad libs or cockups, both of which are expected and encouraged. And you'll find that the folks doing the panto can be amongst some of the most versatile performers you'll ever see -apart from the Soap stars (the berk who plays a cloakroom attendant in Neighbours -that type of thing) who are booked to pull in the crowds and oftentimes can be a total embarrassment as well as a waste of space.
There's no elitism and knowing nods in panto. The kiddies wouldn't have it and they'll be making too much noise.
As an aside: the scariest audience I've ever played to was not a bunch of bikers, punks or death metal fans, it was a bunch of brownies at a panto determined to enjoy themselves.
Absolutely terrifying!! :headbang: :shock:

Best wishes,
Dave.
:lol:
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby grab » Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:28 am

Is-Is wrote:Well, if story is the whole point, then why not watch a play instead?

If it was the whole point, there wouldn't be any music in there, would there...? ;)

I totally agree on the excessive vibrato thing. My wife loves opera, so I've listened to some of her recordings. Janet Baker is apparently the peak of operatic perfection. I've got a fairly good set of ears - I can happily pick out any individual instrument in an orchestra. But I can't ever hear what vowel shape she's using, or most of the consonants, or what note she's pitching it at. Maybe it's me not being used to that sound, but honestly I suspect it's just that the information simply isn't there to be heard.

As for the music changing when someone new comes on stage - if it fits the music, then fine. No worries there, because incidental music has done that forever.

My main problem with opera is inappropriate music. For an example, The Magic Flute is IMO one of the worst things ever perpetrated - quite the worst thing I've ever had to sit through. It's not the fact it's a pantomime - I'm fine with pantomimes, although TMF is so flimsy it makes Gilbert and Sullivan look like Shakespeare. No, it's more the fact that with very few exceptions (some of Papageno's stuff) the music throughout the whole thing is totally inappropriate for the scene, singer and words behind it. If Mozart had scored a requiem mass for whoopie cushion and kazoo, he couldn't have got it more wrong.

There's also the problem of exposition. Someone does a bit of Sangsprach (sp?) while the orchestra adds hits on chords chosen at random and played at times which have no relation in timing or content to the words. Damn near every opera does this, and it does my nut in. If you want music then fine, and Sangsprach ain't so bad either. But randomly sticking in some inappropriate orchestral stabs that serve no purpose in musical content, scene-setting or any other way at all? There's no way around it - that's just bad.

Oh, and the problem of the "one-hit-per-album" phenomenon. How many albums have you bought for the one good song on them? Same in opera. The Flower Duet from Lakme is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but the rest of it sucks basketballs through a straw.

Personally, I'd love to go to see opera and listen to good music and good singing, and maybe even a bit of acting here and there. But I know that what I'm likely to get is badly-written music and off-pitch-vibrato'd singing, and I'm not prepared to put up with that. Nor are a whole lot of people, which is why opera needs so much government cash pumped into it - it's not of sufficient quality to support itself.
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby onesecondglance » Thu Aug 27, 2009 11:26 am

don't hold back, you know - tell us how you really feel :D
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby The Elf » Thu Aug 27, 2009 11:43 am

Obviously, opera has a lot to do with taste, and who am I to tell someone else what to enjoy?

But...

When did the trained 'operatic' voice become the 'right' way to sing - and why? That it is a skill is clear, but, at the risk of sounding like my parents, "I can't hear a bloody word they're singing!". Never had that problem with Ronnie Dio!

Give me an honest, untrained storyteller of a singer over a trained operatic walrus any day... :D
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby grab » Thu Aug 27, 2009 1:35 pm

onesecondglance wrote:don't hold back, you know - tell us how you really feel :D

Hell yeah! :tongue:
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Elephone » Thu Aug 27, 2009 1:52 pm

It's strange you should single out the Magic Flute. I think what you call "inappropriate" (amongst other things) is what is interesting about it and I'm actually not keen on the Papageno bits you mentioned (a bit sickly sweet for my tastes), but if you're "fine with panto" I can see you'd like that.

The problem with the magic flute is the inane panto-style libretto. The music itself is superb (in my opinion). The dark chorale fugue is really powerful and the overture one of the best written.

With the libretto, people only imagine the story had strange and complex masonic significance because the music has encoded entries in it. But that was really Mozart playing around with and signals (3 flats, 3 chords, etc).

It's also the only opera Beethoven is known to have liked, so perhaps it's because the music dominates.
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby grab » Thu Aug 27, 2009 3:17 pm

Hey, I didn't say I liked it, just that the music was appropriate for the scene. There's nothing inherently wrong with panto, so long as you know it's panto and it's treated as such. That's the problem with TMF - it's too badly-written to be taken seriously on the plot/libretto level, too stodgy in all the lead roles for a panto, too sickly (or plain daft) in the Papageno-related stuff to be taken seriously, and too obviously cobbled-together between the various set-piece songs (or in some cases like the Queen of the Night's aria, even matching lyric content to tune feeling in the same piece) to work as a musical whole.

That's the difference between TMF and something like the Marriage of Figaro. TMOF has a sense of fun running through it which TMF simply doesn't manage, for all that TMF is more obviously a panto. Partly that's because it's got better words, but partly it's just because the tunes are appropriate for what they're doing in the context of the opera as a whole.
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Re: Overuse of vibrato in classical music... plus opera and stuff.

Postby Haavard Pettersen » Thu Aug 27, 2009 5:33 pm

I agree completely on vibrato. One more thing that irritates me about opera singers is the tendency towards what I call vowel rationalization - all vowels are reduced to "aw", "ah", or sometimes a very dark "ee". This means that diction is ridiculously unclear, and lyrics projection (considered essential in most other forms of music) made impossible. The fact that the language is often understood by NEITHER the singer NOR the audience certainly doesn't help.

But there are exceptions, folks. Swedish tenor Jussy Björling has moderate vibrato and clear diction (and beautiful tone), same goes for Bryn Terfel (before he sold out and turned Popera). There are some others as well, even (dare I say it) Pavarotti when he was young (1970s).
Great female singers without too much vibrato or unclear diction are harder to find, but Kirsten Flagstad, Renee Fleming and Elisabeth Grümmer are three good ones, especially Grümmer.

I quite like the Magic Flute, it has some great music in it, I mean, it's hard to argue with "Queen of the night" or "Vogelfänger". It sounds lightweight (hey, it's Mozart), but I can't think of any reason to call it "flimsy". It has more musical intelligence and substance than most rock and pop artists come up with during an entire career.

For some really great opera, try Weber's Freischütz conducted by Joseph Keilberth and starring aforementioned Grümmer. Consistently tuneful and enjoyable, and almost no "recitative" passages that beg to be skipped.
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