Friday, July 8, 2011

Musicals and Opera

The New York Times has an article up about musicals and opera today. Critic Anthony Tommasini does a good job of sorting out the basic difference between them: in musicals the words come first, in opera, it's the music. As he says, it is a mistake to "merge traditions into some mushy middle ground". I think the problem with various kinds of 'fusion' is that they tend to take the superficial accidents (in the philosophical sense of things that are peripheral, not central) of a musical style or genre and try to fuse them with the different accidents of another style. What is missing is the real musical foundation. So what tends to happen is we get a collection of cliches. Why is this? I think composers escape cliches through either experimenting with something genuinely new, or by delving deep into the roots of the music. In fusions, we have the appearance of the former and none of the latter. I say 'appearance' because taking two things and putting them together doesn't create something new just by itself. Of course a lot of music thought to be a 'fusion' might not be. Take this, for example:

This is a flamenco harmonic and melodic structure, influenced by a jazz sensibility. It works well as a vehicle for three virtuoso guitarists to solo together, but I find it a little tiresome musically. The composition is rather secondary to the soloing.

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