The importance of periodic plainness in storytelling

April 18, 2012

I have never, and am still not, a scholar or expert in opera. I am fortunate to have as my librettist, one who is, and one who teaches me what I need to know when it seems I haven’t learned it.

One of my, and apparently many others’, least favorite parts of opera are the recitatives, where we keep the melody pedestrian, chord progressions and orchestration often limited [harpsichord] focusing on, instead, getting through a certain amount of information that the creators haven’t deemed worthy of an aria or dramatic scene. Recits are especially dry, for me, especially in early Baroque opera.

But recently I had a revelation. In our opera, I was starting to turn our recitatives into ariosos, because I just couldn’t help myself. But I began to realize that in an extended dramatic work, it is important to have confined stretches of plainness, where the drama profile is low — this in order to accentuate, or “pump” the following aria or scene. We are told that the old opera audiences would stand and chatter through recitatives, or leave to visit in the lobby, but racing back to their seats the moment the aria starts.

I have realized that I may need to go back and “plain-ize” some of my little ariosos that should really be recits. We’ll see.

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