Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Reduction

On Sunday evening, the German premier performance of Verdi's I Masnadieri took place in the Frankfurt Opera with piano accompaniment due to a strike by the orchestra.  Similar strikes are taking place elsewhere in Germany (including Muenster, Magdeburg, Dortmund, Leipzig, and Stuttgart) against plans to de-couple pit musicians from the civil service pay schedules of their employers, the cities.  This is the first strike of its kind in decades in Germany, but the generous classical music and opera landscape of Germany has been under considerable pressure in recent years, including closures or reductions in ensembles and houses, or settlement into that peculiar German legal form of "privatized", but not actually private, limbo, so action of the sort has been more or less inevitable.  In part, one can understand the position of the cities, in that they have to provide an ever-larger share of services required by higher levels of government (in the US, one would speak of "unfunded mandates"), requiring significant cuts to any budget lines that are not locked down.   A roster of city musicians, while paid like civil servants, does not actually have the protected status of civil servants, so their bargaining position is weak, and acutely so in comparison to their colleagues in the stage-technical positions.   Going forward with performanances by substituting a piano reduction for the orchestra adds insult, which becomes injurous when one reads, in this mornings FAZ, praise for the use of reductions elsewhere (in particular, an augmented three-piano ensemble for Henze's Bassariden in Paris) and suggests that "Perhaps opera theatres should, in the future, prepare emergency orchestral solutions for opera premieres from the beginning of rehearsals."  Personally, I am afraid of a slippery slope here in that the reduction of an orchestra to an expendible line item inevitably leads to the devaluation of the importance of the orchestra to the opera as a genre and perhaps, ultimately, to opera itself.  The moment we let go of the fact that orchestration and live ensemble musicianship is central to a work like a Verdi opera — and the too little-known I Masnadieri  is no exception — is the beginning of an end.

1 comment:

Paul H. Muller said...

Agreed.

How long before they play a CD over the sound system while the characters on stage lipsync the words?