Episode #3081

“What's Opera, (Doc)?”

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

If the central idea of opera is people singing, then why are these pieces still called operas?  We’ll hear music from Laurie Anderson ’s “United States,” Robert Ashley’s “Perfect Lives,” and Philip Glass’s “Einstein On The Beach.”

Unveiled in 1976, “Einstein” is an opera in name, although not in the traditional form.  The amplified ensemble and small chorus singing a text comprised of numbers broke most of opera’s rules about singers, plots, intermissions, when and how to employ dancers.  Post-Einstein, that form has been expanded in any number of ways, especially in Laurie Anderson’s “United States” a “talking opera” from the early 1980's, maybe better described as a multimedia narrative work.  We’ll also hear from Robert Ashley's vast “American” video opera, “Perfect Lives.”  (As a really neat aside, Laurie Anderson is queen of the 2010 Mermaid Parade.)

PROGRAM # 3081, What’s Opera, Doc? (First aired on 5/27/2010)





Philip Glass

Einstein on the Beach

Act I, excerpt [16:00]

Nonesuch 79323

Philip Glass

Einstein on the Beach

Knee Play V [5:29]

Sony/CBS Masterworks M4K 38875
This recording out of print, but download from

Robert Ashley

Perfect Lives/Private Parts

"The Backyard" {23:00}

Lovely Music #1001

Laurie Anderson

United States Live, Disc 2

Let X=X [6:16] From the Air [2:46]

Nonesuch 25192

Comments [2]

I tuned in last night just in time to hear to Robert Ashley's - The Back Yard.

Having encountered his music a while back on New Sounds, I recently began searching him out unsuccessfully.

Thanks for playing his work last night. I was enthralled.

May. 28 2010 12:56 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from

OPERA means an amalgam of WORKS. Opera of the past reveled at first in the instrumental evenness and purity of the vocalized breath stream. Later came dramatic urgency, and with Wagner came epic themes and the need for powerful voices and singers with stamina to sing for hours overriding the large orchestra with ample volume and carrying power, BESIDES beauty of voice, which is to be understood. Rap opera is opera without singing .Non-singers may call THAT art, but as rock opera, though it has its own audience, it will never displace the operatic voice's league of admirers.

Richard Strauss and composers like Alban Berg composed "sprechstmme", a formalized speech on pitch at times during their operas to "enhance" the immediacy, urgency of a moment, usually where violence is in the works. My own two operas, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" have a wide "vocabulary" for the voice and the orchestra and if the occasion should warrant it I will employ any controllable, repeatable, "sound". Any "sound."
Let us not bridle imaginative creativity. But also let us encourage the development of super singers who can handle, with beauty of tone, all manner of composition.
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My website:, where one may download at "Recorded Selections" 37 complete "LIVE from Carnegie Hall" selections from my four solo concerts in the main hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium, of Carnegie Hall.

May. 27 2010 09:50 PM

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