“The Use of Recitative.”

This week, we read about the use of recitative in opera. As it is states in the textbook, the purpose of recitative is to replicate the rhythms and vocal inflections of speech. Primary goals with recitative are to efficiently relay information and to move the drama forward. Recitatives are not the most melodic or musically memorable parts of an opera. At the end of this week’s reading, we are given an example of early Baroque recitative – “Tu se’ morta” from Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo. Here is how this recitative is described in the textbook: “The texture is homophonic: the accompaniment simply gives harmonic support to the voice. The vocal line is rhythmically free, with little sense of beat or meter, and its phrases are irregular in length. This flexible setting of text is meant to suggest the passionate speech of an actor declaiming his lines.” After listening to this selection (while following the vocal music guide that will be attached), discuss the following: Do you agree that “Tu se’ morta” sounds like “the passionate speech of an actor declaiming his lines”? Why or why not? Do you feel that recitative in opera is capable of achieving the same emotional impact for the audience as spoken words in plays? Why or why not? In drama, the audience is asked to engage in what has been termed a “willing suspension of disbelief.” They are expected to accept certain conventions, such as the passage of time, differences of place, and the invisible “fourth wall” between the actors and the audience. In opera, the audience is asked to accept one additional convention: the characters sing their thoughts and emotions rather than speak them. (Contemporary musical theatre audiences are also asked to accept this additional convention.) Do you feel this additional requirement creates more of a burden than the other conventions involved in the “willing suspension of disbelief”? Or, does it not make that much of difference? Please explain your answer. Can you think of any examples from popular styles that seem to replicate speech as recitative does?

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