Making Cuts In Operas - A Controversial Matter
It's long been customary in opera houses everywhere to makes cuts in certain operas for a variety of reasons. It's not nearly as common in orchestral music, although conductors have been known to makes cuts in symphonies and other orchestral works.
Not every one agrees over which cuts are good or bad in every opera; usually conductors decide before rehearsal starts, often keeping individual singers in mind. Some critics and musicologists object strongly to certain cuts in certain operas; sometimes conductors decide to use the complete, uncut version . Some complete, or more or less complete studio recordings of operas make cuts, and others don't. Some recordings even include extra music which was deleted by the composers themselves. You are more likely to get an unabridged performance of certain operas on recordings than live.
Some operas are extremely long, such as William Tell by Rossini, best known for its overture once heard on the Lone Ranger. This is a great opera, probably his crowning masterpiece, and rarely performed, and even more rarely uncut. The distinguished Italian conductor Riccardi Muti ( 1941 - ), who is set to become music director of the Chicago Symphony, has a reputation as a purist who always tries to use the most complete text possible, and avoid opera the house routine of cuts, alterations and musical expedience. The is a DVD of his complete performance of William Tell from MIlan, once available on CD too.
Wagner operas are not only extremely long, but extremely taxing for the lead singers; therefore cuts have often been made in works such as Tristan & Isolde and Die Meistersinger to avoid singer fatigue. This is unfortunate, because audiences lose a lot of great music. This does not usually happen at the Bayreuth Festival in northern Bavaria, where the operas are produced under special festival conditions with hour long intermissions.
When I used to play operas, we pit musicians often had cuts marked in our parts. In some operas, entire scenes have been known to be omitted, such as in the Gothic Scottish opera "Lucia Di Lammermoor, " by Donizetti, where a scene where the hero and villain (tenor and baritone) angrily confront each other on a"dark and stormy night". Too, bad; it's an effective scene and adds to the opera.
In operas of the Baroque period, which generally consist of an endless series of solo arias with an occaisional duet or enseble piece separated by what is called "Recitative", or a non melodic kind of singing accomapnied by harpsichord and and perhaps a stringed instrument, which represent dialogue between arias, it's not uncommon for entire arias to be omitted for time's sake.
In some cases , composers have approved of certain cuts in their operas, or at least accepted them reluctantly. In other cases, certain cuts became customary after the composer's deaths. For example, in some Verdi operas, a character will sing a lyrical aria, which is followed by what is called a "Cabaetta" or faster concluding section with galloping rhythms . In some cases, the cabalettas are omitted. In some cases, cuts have been made simply because certain singers were just not up to the techical demands of the roles.
Today, many conductors are interested in musicological research, and have opened up many traditional cuts, although it's simply impractical to expect every opera to be done note complete.