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12/9/97: In many operas, there are passages that are often cut or not repeated, notes that are sung although not written in the score, and notes that are not sung but written in the score! [The writer gives examples from La traviata and Il trovatore.] I am wondering who makes these decisions? The conductor or the singer? Now, what if they do not agree? How do they reach an agreement? Who gets the last word? Does it create a tension between the two? Could it affect the performance negatively?

The protocol is that the conductor determines the cuts, sometimes in collaboration with the stage director. Occasionally, a singer who feels he or she simply can not do something must be taken into consideration. (The writer gives a good example: singing a repeat of Ah, fors’č lui! in La traviata.) Naturally, some singers or conductors have more “pull” than others. But, we hope, everyone’s goal is a good performance, and that leads to a compromise that all can work with. I have rarely had my choices questioned and, when it has happened, it has always been in a friendly and cooperative spirit. Here, I assume that there are no financial considerations. If management would like to open a cut, it is my job to advise the General Director about orchestra overtime costs.

Optional high notes are a matter of agreement between a singer and the conductor. (There are some theaters in which stage directors have influence in this matter, but that is not traditional.) The writer refers to a high D that is almost never sung in D’amor sull’ali rosee from Il trovatore. But in that particular instance, the high note is an option that Verdi wrote. Note there are notes below that high D in the same vocal line; and also note that Verdi probably had a lighter-voiced Leonora than we generally hear today. Whether a high note is part of the score or “only” a tradition, if the singer seems to feel, justifiably, that he or she can not reliably sing the note, I would not try to force it just because I like it. I would expect forcing such a thing to be very risky in terms of the final result.

Singers who think they do have a note that they do not have—or that they can not sing reliably—are the far more common problem. The writer gives the example of the unwritten but traditional high E flat at the end of Sempre libera in La traviata. If a note like that is in good taste and the singer can do it splendidly, I do not object on principle. But there are times when the conductor has to insist that a misguided singer desist. I, personally, do not take such a stance lightly. My job is to give the singer support to do his or her best. I really have to gauge how much I think the note matters and how much trouble it will cause if (when!) it goes badly. Finally, yes, disagreements can have a negative effect; but uncooperative singers hurt themselves in the long-run, as do intransigent conductors and stage directors.

Check the summary of subjects for related discussions of repeats and cuts and, also, ornamentation.

©1997 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.

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