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Misconceptions about the Lloyd-Webber musicals


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Initial post: Apr 12, 2008 6:00:34 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 14, 2008 5:06:35 PM PDT
Yi-Peng says:
I'm sorry I have to post this in the Broadway forum, as it might not get much exposure in the opera forum. But I would like to get this concern about the Lloyd-Webber musicals off my chest.
I am confronted by people's misconceptions that they are real operas. Yes I know that Lloyd-Webber's music borrows from Puccini at times, and I know that Phantom has some operatic tendencies. I also know that the Lloyd-Webber shows are sung-through scores, but the hard truth is that sung-through pieces of music theatre doth not an opera make. The Lloyd-Webber musicals are most definitely not operas, even with the rock-opera tendencies of Superstar and Evita. His music is written in a more popular style than real opera.
I sense that my arguments might not have much grounding, but yet I'm aware that even classical performers have included the Lloyd-Webber show tunes in their repertory. I know that Kiri has sung some Lloyd-Webber, and so have the Three Tenors, most notably the songs from Phantom and Cats. I also do not deny that one of the singers associated with his music, Sarah Brightman, played a role in the genre of operatic pop. So while I do not deny the classical appearance of Lloyd-Webber's musicals, they are inherently not classical.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2008 6:15:36 AM PDT
Melisa says:
you are quite justified in saying that Lloyd-Webber is NOT opera, its not even LIGHT opera. however some of the songs he has written and co-written are very good pieces of music, and demanding enough that "classical" singers can use them to gain a wider popular audience. they are songs that people know, and hum along to, and be entertained without getting bored with the (sometimes) heavy classical style

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 19, 2008 7:15:38 PM PDT
Perhaps you need to consider the conception of opera as a form, that it was, perhaps, a type of modern music of its time, having just moved out of the Baroque era which was noted for its block dynamics and more religious focus. The composers were really beginning to write for the masses (being the general population as opposed to the religious service).

Those who wrote 'classical' opera didn't know that what they were writing was classical. One could argue that only operas written in the 'classical' era (a specific space in time) can be considered classical.

That being said, there is a difference between opera (largely elitist and removed from the general public) and musical theatre (a more popularised theatrical form). Lord Lloyd-Webber writes musical theatre, which borrows from operatic form in places (yes being through-sung rather than wedging songs into a play). Requiem is the closest Lord Lloyd-Webber gets to 'classical' form.

Certainly one could argue that the Lloyd-Webber musicals (which is always the term used to promote them) are closer to opera than anything by Gilbert and Sullivan (which are most often promoted as comic opera, light opera or operetta).

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 19, 2008 7:37:36 PM PDT
N. Carlisle says:
I agree that his musicals are not opera, but I very much have to disagree with your arguements getting to that point. As a music student studying opera I can very confidently say that an opera doesn't have to be wagner and puccini, an opera can indeed be created using popular styles of music, it is the form not the sound that makes an opera.
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2008 12:47:59 PM PDT
lloyd-weber musicals can easily be confused with musicals by someone with very little knowledge 0f either catagorie, which is why lloyd-weber stinks

In reply to an earlier post on May 27, 2008 3:44:39 PM PDT
Natmama says:
The greatest misconception about the Lloyd-Webber musicals, in my opinion, is that they ARE musicals. They are Vegas extravaganzas, with boring, self-referrent music. Other than "Cats" (which had an exceptional "book" writer in TS Eliot), they add nothing to the musical theatre canon.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2008 10:00:38 AM PDT
Charles Mann says:
I'll expand upon NC's point here.

If the technical definition of opera is a piece of music theatre that is through-sung, then many of Lloyd-Webber's shows are indeed operas. Where most people take contention with this definition is that the word "opera" connotes large-scale, intricately constructed works of musical theatre written by composers who are at the top of their form and know exactly what they're doing. Which is not quite the case with Lloyd-Webber. He's a barely-talented hack who can spin out a good tune every once in a while, but never gets very creative with it: he repeats it rather than develops it, accompanies it with very basic, repetitive chordal figures, uses it over and over again in the show long after it's overstayed its welcome, et cetera. Still, that doesn't mean he's not writing opera.

He's writing *bad* opera.

Lloyd-Webber's a crappy composer, sure, but the quality of the music isn't what determines the form. Touchdown Jesus in Monroe, Ohio is a tacky eyesore and the Statue of David is a great work of art, but they're both sculptures. Like it or not, bad opera is still opera, folks.

In reply to an earlier post on May 31, 2008 7:26:57 PM PDT
This is weird, because I really am not an ALW fan, in any sense of the word. But I would have to say that Jesus Christ, Evita, Starlight Express, Aspects of Love and Sunset are probably operas. There are important works that are not quite opera and not quite musical comedy. Is Most Happy Fella a musical or an opera (stylistically I would say Musical, formwise, probably opera as there is no more than 10 minutes of spoken dialogue and some of that is underscored). The Ballad of Baby Doe is definately considered an opera, yet there is a real folk music quality about it. But, the soprano has 5 full arias, and the baritone has 2 so opera it is.

The works of ALW seems to be in this twilight world, not fish, not fowl.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 28, 2008 5:19:23 PM PDT
The Most Happy Fella to quote Frank Loesser is "a musical with a lot of songs".

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2008 6:20:09 PM PDT
Any sung through ALW works are most definitely opera. It fits the form. So dont say it isnt. Even if it isnt classical. Classical means just that. Its classic which would infer that for it to be a classic there must also be a nonclassic category. Otherwise it would never be termed classic would it? So ALW writes new opera.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 7, 2008 2:03:07 AM PDT
gjm says:
I think the question of Lloyd Webber shows being operas originates with the composer himself -- or someone in his camp. Superstar and Evita were billed as "rock operas" while the two big songs from Sunset Blvd were referred to as "arias" (which I don't think is warranted). Were there earlier shows billed as rock operas? When they debuted, my impression was that a new category was being created/defined -- one distinct from formal opera (as well as from operetta). Also, is the opera question affected by the fact that world-class productions of Phantom routinely use recordings for the most "operatic" singing portions of the show? I do think it's true that three of these shows have roles with vocal requirements that exceed traditional musical theatre (I don't think Sunset is as difficult).

Could it be that Lloyd Webber sometimes injects an operatic character into a musical? In other words, that Eva might rise to operatic but the other principle characters do not?

I agree that sung-through does not an opera make. Aren't Joseph and Starlight Express sung-through? I can't imagine those shows being considered opera. When asked if Sweeney Todd is an opera or musical, I believe Stephen Sondheim said it depends on whether or not it's performed by an opera company. So, even with his expertise, the answer seems to be something of a moving target. Have Lloyd Webber shows been performed by opera companies?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 7, 2008 4:12:06 AM PDT
It may simply be a matter of time and culture. Early in the 20th century, Broadway shows were full of popular music. The songs heard on Broadway were the same songs heard on the radio. Then in mid-century the two styles diverged, pop music going one way (towards rock 'n roll), and Broadway music becoming a form of its own. The "Golden Era" of Broadway (arguably from "Oklahoma" to just before "Hair") saw theatre music coming into its own, with fewer and fewer show tunes hitting the pop charts. Then in the late 60s popular music re-invaded Broadway with the introduction of the Rock Musical. And some argued that they weren't really musicals because they didn't use traditional theatre music. But they were musicals and they survived. Similarly, what we call classical music was once popular music. (OK, I admit that it is difficult to define pop music in an era where there was no radio, no MP3 downloads, no published top 40 list and no vast army of middle-class consumers.) Still, it could be argued that classic opera was originally a reflection of the pop culture of its time. But then pop culture went one way and opera went another and over the decades developed its own style. And then beginning (perhaps) with "Tommy" something called Rock Opera was born. Opera purists would not, could not accept it as opera, but there it is. Are sung-through musicals operas? Well, of course they are. Call them pop operas if it makes you feel better, but the only reason they are not marketed as operas is that if they were, nobody would go. I suspect, however, that in the future we will see the Met mounting productions of "Dream Girls," "Phantom," "Les Miz," and "Most Happy Fella." It is where the money is. And who knows? If "Rent" gets people into the opera house, maybe they'll come back for "La Traviata."

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 23, 2009 7:44:11 PM PST
I've never considered them as being operas. I've just thought of them as just being musicals.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2009 9:43:19 PM PST
Main Entry: 2op·era
Pronunciation: 'ä-p(&-)r&, Southern also 'ä-prE
Function: noun
Etymology: Italian, work, opera, from Latin, work, pains; akin to Latin oper-, opus -- more at OPERATE
1 : a drama set to music and made up of vocal pieces with orchestral accompaniment and orchestral overtures and interludes

Main Entry: grand opera
Function: noun
: opera in which the plot is serious or tragic and the entire text is set to music .

Dictionary definition.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2009 10:46:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 6, 2009 10:48:29 PM PST
Yi-Peng says:
Thank you for luring me back to this thread with your well-reasoned post.
On careful consideration, I can come to acknowledge the Lloyd-Webber canon as a signpost to what's known as "pop opera", in the art form of musical theatre and the operatic pop style of singing as shown by people like Brightman, Bocelli & Groban. After all, if Phantom launched Brightman's pop opera career, I'm sure that perhaps some of the songs in the show (and some of the other Lloyd-Webber show tunes from his other musicals) could count as pop opera standards by now.
I once posted that Broadway shows could aid and abet the development of operatic pop because some of the early Broadway musicals employed singers who had classically trained voices. However, the Lloyd-Webber shows (and also the Boublil-Schonberg shows) could have played more of a part in the development of pop opera because of their sung-through form and their Pucciniesque climaxes in some of his big songs. I'm sure these pseudo-operatic musicals made people think that pop songs could be sung as opera arias.

Posted on Mar 28, 2009 11:58:14 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 28, 2009 12:05:37 PM PDT
Robert Beck says:
I'm not sure what it means, but most operas leave me cold except for amazement at some of the individual voices/arias. On the other hand most musicals move me and the best ones move me to tears of sadness or joy, i.e., Rent, Hair, South Pacific, The King and I to name a few. I suspect that it may be because Broadway musicals frequently deal with important social issues whereas classic operas are frequently about individuals who screw up their love lives in one way or another.

I don't respond emotionally to Lloyd-Webber, so from my viewpoint, they may be opera ;-)

Posted on Aug 8, 2009 3:36:23 AM PDT
JRJoseph says:
It can be argued either opera vs. non-opera but I feel ALW writes about one or two good melodies in each composition and then pads them with them. I personally prefer Stephen Sondheim who some people say also writes some works close to opera but not quite. But, he writes better music than ALW. He also writes the words which in some cases are too many but I still prefer him to ALW.

Posted on Dec 3, 2009 12:42:18 PM PST
Marilyn King says:
I agree about it not being opera. When a friend of ours was going to see Phantom, she told everyone they were going to the opera. I kept telling her it was a Broadway show, but she liked saying it was the opera I think.

Posted on Jan 8, 2010 6:03:50 AM PST
Gloor Dieter says:
What is the definition of "opera"? And the one of "musical"?
"Carmen" is an opera, isn't it. And "Carmen Jones" is a musical. Both works use the same story, and quite a bit of the score is identical.

Stephen Sondheim never meant "Sweeney Todd" to be an opera - still it was played at the MET and at the Royal Opera House in London.

If you consider "Phantom of the Opera" as an opera or not, it does not change that piece of musical theatre. You like it or you don't.
In other words: If you want to take a swim in the lake on a hot summer day - do you really care if it's a lake, a pond, the sea or whatever? As long the temperature and the water quality are all right and the currents not too dangerous - just jump into the water!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 11, 2010 10:58:35 AM PST
T. Jackson says:
I agree that Andrew Lloyd-Webber does not write "opera" in the purest sense. Neither is Sarah Brightman an "opera" singer although she is a soprano who often sings arias from traditional operas. However, saying Lloyd-Webber isn't opera ( nor is Sondheim despite his inclusion in the repetoire of many opera companies) isn't being elitist. I happen to adore the music of the aforementioned composers; I also love Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, etc.
I also own many of Ms. Brightman's recordings because I think she has a lovely voice. People often tag something as "opera" simply because the person singing has a high vocal register. Many people will accept that there are certain characteristics of other genres of music such a heavy-metal, country, and jazz, but tend to get a bit defensive when it comes to discussion over whether something or someone is really classical. Don't even get me started with the opinions surrounding Andrea Bocelli! I suspect that people feel like they should like something like opera, but they really don't care for it deep down inside, and feel those who are into those "highbrow" types of things look down upon them. Or maybe they don't like being corrected when they state their favorite opera is such-and-such, and someone tells them, "You know, that's not really an opera." Opera companies have been known to present musicals because it appeals to a larger public--"Les Miserables" will sell better than "Les Huguenots". An argument can be made that pop music is starting to sound awfully generic because the music industry is somewhat hesitant to present the public with anything other than what they already are used to. Still, I would be obtuse not to recognize that one type of music can influence another, and create new and exciting forms (Gershwin combining jazz into classical forms for instance). For those of us who live in places where we can choose, be greatful for the many choices available. Best of all, you're allowed to pick more than one!

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 12:15:21 PM PST
What is an opera? / What is a musical? Every time I come up with a potential definition, I can think of an exception. I'm beginning to think that a lot of the difference might be elitist. I maintain that ALW has never written an opera, and I think the attempts to define opera on purely chronological terms is faulty too. Phillip Glass and John Adams (possibly Steve Reich) are writing operas in our time. They fit awkwardly into a sub-genre of what we still call classical music, but in every respect (casting, production, venue, financing, etc.) they're surely a very different animal from ALW's body of work.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2010 11:06:52 PM PST
I agree totally with everything you have written except that I suspect that TS Eliot, by far the finest poet of the twentieth century in my opinion, would have been even more appalled by the misuse of some of his greatest poetry, not to mention his charming and nuanced little children's book, by Loyd-Webber for an abomination like Cats than I was.

Posted on Jan 19, 2010 3:25:03 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 19, 2010 3:26:14 AM PST
Whether or not a piece of music is 'opera' has absolutely nothing to do with content, nothing to do with musical style and everything to do with form.

An opera is a piece of theatre that is sung from top to bottom, with various different sorts of music: recitatives, arias, choruses, etc. These do -not- have to be the traditional pieces of music however. Just because a work is not in the 'classical' style does not mean that it is not an opera in form.

Mozart's The Magic Flute (sorry, my German's gone at the moment), was at the time revolutionary. It was in -German-, the language of the common folk, it was a fantasy, its music was off the wall. Many of his other works were just as off-the-wall. If Mozart was living today, he would be writing avant-guarde things like Rent, Spring Awakening or Bare, much closer to what is considered by many to be the modern 'musical' than traditional opera. Lloyd-Webber's works might not be something that someone particularly likes, but looking at them from a pure form perspective, they are a sort of modern opera.

Posted on Apr 10, 2010 8:12:36 AM PDT
Marilyn King says:
I know what you mean. Friends of ours went to see Phantom and told everyone they were going to the opera. I kept telling her it's just the name of the show, not opera. She continued on.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2010 10:12:17 AM PDT
Earlady says:
I do know Elaine Paige has said ALW sometimes forgets he is writing for the human voice. She was also the only Norma to sing With One Look in the key it was written. Some of his works are very hard to sing. Evita was changed for Madonna to be able to sing some of the songs. (That's not really saying much! lol)
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