Adapted from a 2011 Paper, "One Theme’s Journey: Musical Representations of “New Man” Masculinity in The Incredibles"
I submit that Michael Giacchino’s score for The Incredibles is primarily concerned with the evolution of the film’s central character, Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible), and his journey towards “New Man” masculinity, characterized by dependence on his family. The music thus serves as an expression of the narrative development suggested by Gillam and Wooden. Rather than assuming a leitmotif function, the main theme takes on a participatory role. I will employ Gillam and Wooden as a lens through which to view the interaction between music and narrative that Giacchino’s approach enables.
Leitmotif, or Something More?
A common convention in film music is the use of the leitmotif; Prendergast, writing in 1972, suggests that film composers adopted Wagner’s basic idea of “having a different melody or motif for each character.” These themes can be modified to “give the listener some indication of that character’s state of mind.” While Prendergast notes that “this definition […] is an oversimplification,” he maintains that it is “not far from the mark.” Currently, scholars debate whether or not these themes truly function as leitmotifs; Larsen cites Claudia Gorbman’s assertion that the alteration of themes throughout a film diminishes their semiotic function. Similarly, Larsen suggests that film motives do not carry the same “‘metaphysical significance’” as their Wagnerian counterparts. On the other hand, Larsen references Wagner’s insistence that his leitmotifs were primarily structural in function and enabled him to create musical unity. Larsen thus suggests that employing a structural rather than representational understanding of the leitmotif technique may be helpful in interpreting mainstream film music.
Though his model of leitmotif is simplistic, Prendergast presents a thorough overview of its practical applications in film music. First, he describes the common approach to the film leitmotif as “variations,” wherein “a motif varies and develops alongside a character or dramatic situation;” Prendergast cites Friedhofer’s score to The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), in which the composer created all of his musical material from only five motives. Second, Prendergast describes the monothematic score, “in which the composer uses only one tune (usually popular in nature) for an entire score.” Here the melody takes on an important “dramatic role.” Finally, Prendergast outlines the developmental score; the opening title functions as an exposition, followed by “altered and unaltered recapitulations of material” as decided by “the film’s dramatic necessities.”
Ultimately, notes Larsen, the purpose of film music is to “transform a stream of fragmentary, visual and auditive information into a cohesive whole;” therefore the music must have its own unity. I submit that Michael Giacchino achieves this by synthesizing all three of Prendergast’s examples; for example, Ratatouille (2007) is built around the original song “Le Festin.” Similarly, Up (2009) is characterized by a single instrumental melody: “We’re in the Club Now.” In both cases, a majority of the melodic material is crafted from these themes to meet the demands of the narrative, much like Prendergast’s “variation” and “development” scores. Giacchino’s use of limited thematic material lends cohesion to his final product and the music for The Incredibles is no exception.
Rather than utilizing his material for its semiotic functions, in The Incredibles, Giacchino allows his primary theme to function alongside the narrative in a parallel register and to thereby inform our understanding of the characters’ relationships towards both their own identities and, in the case of Helen and the children, towards Bob’s development. Van Elferen notes a similar phenomenon in Giacchino’s music for Lost. She points to his use of a violin glissando to denote questions about “Being,” “Nothingness,” and “Time,” with which the series grapples. In one sense, it has the semiotic function of emphasizing “the undefined ‘other sphere’ of the island and its powers,” but Van Elferen proposes that the glissando also impacts the viewers’ perceptions of time. By both outlining and participating in the philosophical questions that the show raises, the motive becomes a commentator on the events. I propose that Giacchino’s Main Theme for The Incredibles functions in a similar way; it both outlines the changes that the characters undergo and shapes our understanding of these developments.
Realization of Musical Narrative:
For The Incredibles, director Brad Bird wanted the music to change with the main character (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible) rather than remaining a static signifier like Indiana Jones’s march in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bob’s initial theme, which Giacchino describes as a “generic superhero” motive, therefore grows with the character. Its first appearance, however, captures the narrow-mindedness of Mr. Incredible. (see Fig. 1)
Fig. 1: Main Theme (Incredibles Theme), transcription by the author
(You can hear this theme at the beginning of the video below)
Characterized by an ascending perfect fifth and minor sixth, the motive is at once bold (perfect fifth) while also jazzy and ominous (minor sixth), immediately referencing the superhero and spy genres to which the film is indebted (3). While Giacchino refers to this motive as “Bob’s Theme,” I intend to show that it ultimately co-opts Mr. Incredible’s entire family; I will refer to the theme henceforth as the “Main Theme” or the “Incredibles theme.”
In its first outing, the Main Theme announces the beginning of the narrative (00:02:04) as the “Incredibles” icon and title flashes across the screen. The audience is dropped into a violent car chase (00:02:14); as a young Mr. Incredible pursues two armed gunmen, an energetic jazz set, which derives from the key intervals of fifth and sixth, accompanies the action (4). (see Fig. 2)
Fig. 2: Main Theme Derivation (as heard at 00:02:38), transcription by the author
(You can hear this at 0:32 in the video below)
While this music creates a fast-paced atmosphere, it also serves to reinforce Mr. Incredible’s one-dimensional alpha role. At this point in his career, he is young, successful, and basically invincible; he apprehends the gunmen by crushing their car with a tree trunk (00:03:44), survives being smashed by an exploding bank vault door (00:06:42), and prevents an L-train from falling through a break in the rails (00:08:23) (5).
Mr. Incredible faces plaintiffs in court, screenshot by the author
However, once the weight of civil lawsuits forces all superheroes into retirement – symbolically emasculating Mr. Incredible (00:10:12) – music disappears from the film until 00:19:25 (6). When Mr. Incredible reads in the newspaper that a former superhero friend has gone missing, an ominous cue surfaces at this reminder of Bob’s past and just as quickly fades as a quarrel in the dining room snaps him back to the present (7). Music makes a complete return at 00:22:13, as Bob and his friend Lucius (formerly the hero Frozone) sneak away from their wives to pursue vigilante hero work (8). In a sense, these two examples suggest that music in The Incredibles is tied to Bob’s identity as a superhero; when this aspect of his life is repressed, the score is also silent.
Concludes in Part 3 next week...
Endnotes (citations continued from part 1):
 Roy M Prendergast, Film Music: A Neglected Art (New York: W.W. Norton and Company,1992), 231.
 Peter Larsen, Film Music (London: Reaktion Books, 2005), 214.
 Larsen, Film Music, 216.
 Larsen, Film Music, 217.
 Prendergast, Film Music, 232-33.
 Prendergast, Film Music, 233.
 Prendergast, Film Music, 233-34.
 Larsen, Film Music, 217.
 “Ratatouille Soundtrack,” Amazon, accessed December 1, 2011, http://www.amazon.com/Ratatouille-Orginal-Soundtrack-Michael-Giacchino/dp/B000PKG7HK/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322750156&sr=8-1-spell.
 “Up Soundtrack,” Amazon, accessed December 1, 2011, http://www.amazon.com/Up/dp/B002A4ZN1A/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1322767726&sr=1-1.
 Isabella Van Elferen, “Music of Other Spheres: Diagonal Time and Metaphysics in Lost,” Science Fiction Film and Television, vol. 3, no. 2 (2010): 258.
 Van Elferen, “Music of Other Spheres,” 262-63.
 Hasan, “Isn’t it Incredible,” 14.
 (3-4) The Incredibles.
 (5) The Incredibles.
 (6-8) The Incredibles.
Adapted from a 2011 Paper, "One Theme’s Journey: Musical Representations of “New Man” Masculinity in The Incredibles"
The Incredibles logo from the film's opening sequence, screenshot by the author
Composer & Style:
With eighteen feature-film credits to his name [as of 2011], including Mission: Impossible III, the 2009 remake of Star Trek, and Super 8, Michael Giacchino has enjoyed a rapid ascent through the ranks of film composers. This string of successes began, however, with his first project for Pixar Animation Studios, The Incredibles (2004).
Giacchino started his film career in Disney Studio’s feature-films publicity department and, shortly thereafter, at their videogame studio, Disney Interactive. His first important opportunity as a composer came when DreamWorks Interactive asked him to compose the music to their “flagship PlayStation game, The Lost World: Jurassic Park;” Giacchino’s score was the first to include live orchestral music in a videogame. His later success with the Medal of Honor franchise caught the attention of director J.J. Abrams, who brought Giacchino in on his television projects Alias and Lost. In 2004, he was hired to score Pixar’s animated feature The Incredibles, directed by Brad Bird. Since then, Giacchino has scored three additional Pixar films: Ratatouille (2007), Up (2009), and Cars 2 (2011), on which he replaced composer Randy Newman. Ratatouille garnered Giacchino his first Oscar nomination and his score to Up won the Academy Award.
Michael Giacchino’s musical style is characterized by old-fashioned musical sensibilities and nostalgia for the music from Hollywood’s Golden Age. His collaboration with legendary orchestrator Jack Hayes and mixing engineer Dan Wallin, 90 and 80 years old respectively, combined with his insistence on recording with live musicians, has helped him to achieve the authentic sound of the classic film score. In addition, Giacchino’s compositions channel his love for, and appreciation of, both the jazz scores of the 1960s and John Williams’s symphonic revival.
Giacchino’s score for The Incredibles has a distinctly 1960s flair, which helps it to establish the retro atmosphere and setting of the movie: the music is reminiscent of John Barry’s scores for the many James Bond movies, Henry Mancini’s jazz score to The Pink Panther, and the music to cartoons such as Johnny Quest. For Giacchino, however, it was important that the music to The Incredibles be organic, rather than “self-mocking” in the style of the Austin Powers films. By using the orchestral jazz score in an honest way, Giacchino’s music exhorts the audience to accept a stylish world of superheroes, espionage, and adventure, and thus, as Jessica Green suggests, functions as one of the film’s “fundamental ‘dialects.’”
'60s Spy Style, screenshot by the author
The score becomes an even more integral component of The Incredibles, however, through Giacchino’s careful treatment of thematic material; this attention to a motive’s dramatic potential comes across in many of his works and defines his compositional approach. He develops “a strong melody [he] can do anything with;” one that allows him to “[have] fun.” Giacchino describes his efforts to compose melodies that can evolve with the characters, and asserts, “Whether it's the few opening bars of Super 8 or it's the opening bars of Cars 2, [the audience knows] the theme and it’s been stated. Here's what you're going to get in this film, and we're going take you there eventually.” He suggests that the same is true of the horn solo in Star Trek’s opening moments. Indeed, Giacchino’s main themes seem to define his scores in their entirety; Arthur Lintgen, in his review of the soundtrack to Star Trek, notes that the main theme “effectively anchor[s] the score,” but bemoans the lack of any other “truly knockout cues.” While Lintgen views limited thematic material as a disappointment in an album, I propose that his observation highlights Giacchino’s structural use of a single theme; he accomplishes his dramatic motion through one motivic vehicle.
Pixar Studios released The Incredibles, directed by Brad Bird, in 2004. The film centers on a family of superheroes; Bob and Helen Parr (Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl) were superpowered crime fighters until civil lawsuits forced the government to relocate all superheroes and forbid them from using their abilities. Fifteen years later, the Parr’s have three (super) children, Helen is a homemaker, and Bob works at an insurance agency. The family tries to fit into normal life, but all struggle: Bob is frustrated by his unfulfilling work and inability to help others; Dash, the son, is prevented from participation in competitive sports because of his super-speed; the daughter, Violet, who can vanish and create force-fields, instead wishes she were truly normal; and Helen, whose body can stretch to fantastic lengths, still feels pulled apart as she struggles to keep her family together and their superpowers hidden. Only the infant Jack-Jack seems to be a typical human (though he turns out to be a late bloomer) (1). [In this blog series, (X) refers to DVD chapter numbers.]
When Mr. Incredible is drawn into a trap by former fan–turned-sociopath Buddy Pine – a genius inventor who adopts the moniker Syndrome – Helen and the children embrace their super-abilities to rescue him; as a united family, they defeat Buddy and his Omnidroid robot, saving their city and, at the same time, their relationships (2).
Bob Parr struggles to adapt to suburban family life, screenshot by the author
The underlying theme of The Incredibles, identified by both critics and scholars, is a critique and rejection of “socially enforced conformism” and mediocrity, in which “[t]he truly gifted are forced to sink back to the level of the masses to avoid persecution.”  This point is made clearly when Helen states, “Everyone’s special” (00:15:33), to which Dash replies dejectedly, “Which is another way of saying no one is.” Only after “throw[ing] off the mantle of conformity and becom[ing] their true selves, using the abilities that were naturally given to them,” are the Incredibles able to save the day.
Ken Gillam and Shannon Wooden propose a second theme that fundamentally directs the course of the narrative in this and other Pixar films: “New Man” masculinity. They argue that Disney films have projected traditional representations of women: beautiful teenage protagonists; authoritative and sexually powerful middle-aged villains; and “pear-shaped” post-menopausal caretakers. Even spunky female leads have been portrayed as “thin, beautiful, kind, obedient […], and headed for the altar,” while remaining relatively static. Men (Disney princes) were two-dimensional and existed only to “shape the definition of the protagonist’s femininity.” In Pixar’s nine films, however, the studio has introduced “interesting” male protagonists whose characters “develop and change over the course of the film.” These characters begin as authoritative, competitive, and socially and emotionally isolated figures who are forced to submit to feminine objects or values; they ultimately abandon their alpha male status for a more tempered model, characterized by emotional dependence, communal strength, sympathy, and caring and sharing.
Mirage offers Mr. Incredible an avenue back to "Hero Work," screenshot by the author
In the case of The Incredibles, Gillam and Wooden assert that Bob Parr, who begins the film as a super-strong alpha male, is “disempowered:” first by lawsuits resulting from the “small-time mayhem” that his heroics leave behind; second, by his “diminutive boss,” who fires him from his insurance job; and third, by his wife, who “assumes the pants of the family.” Bob’s alpha status crumbles within the first few minutes of the film – a general trend in Pixar’s narratives. This emasculation is further emphasized by Bob’s dependence on “the mysterious, gorgeous ‘Mirage,’ who gives him what he needs to feel like a man: superhero work.” Bob’s journey towards a new male identity is aided by “his (albeit antagonistic) homosocial relationship” with Buddy Pine (Syndrome), whose sinister machinations set the plot in motion. Mr. Incredible must accept his physical and emotional dependence on his family in order to be rescued from Syndrome’s island lair and, ultimately, to defeat Syndrome’s robot. This communal strength is defined by cooperation, selflessness, and intelligence more than physical prowess. By accepting this concept of “male-ness,” the authors propose, Bob overcomes his alpha male tendencies and fully embraces the “New Man” model.
Continued in Part 2...
“Works,” Michael Giacchino, accessed November 29, 2011, http://www.michaelgiacchinomusic.com/works.html.
 “Biography,” Michael Giacchino, accessed November 12, 2011,
 “Works;” Jami Philbrick. “IAR Exclusive Interview: Composer Michael Giacchino Talks ‘Cars 2’ and More,” I Am Rogue, June 29, 2011, accessed November 12, 2011. http://www.iamrogue.com/news/interviews/item/4096-iar-exclusive-interview-composer-michael-giacchino-talks-cars-2-and-more.html.
 Jon Burlingame, June 3, 2009, “The Soundtracks of Summer: ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Up’ Composer Michael Giacchino has them Covered,” Pop and Hiss: The L.A. Times Music Blog, accessed November 12, 2011, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2009/06/the-soundtracks-of-summer-star-trek-up-composer-michael-giacchino-has-them-covered.html.
 Burlingame, “The Soundtracks of Summer;” Jon Burlingame, “His Mission: Make the Old Music New,” New York Times, May 7, 2006, 3.
 Mark Hasan, “Isn’t it Incredible?: Michael Giacchino’s Score for “The Incredibles” Swings Like it’s 1964 Again,” Film Score Monthly vol. 9, no. 9 (2004): 13-14; Philbrick, “IAR Exclusive Interview.”
 Hasan, “Isn’t it Incredible,” 12-13.
 Hasan, “Isn’t it Incredible,” 14.
 Jessica Green, “Understanding the Score: Film Music Communicating to and Influencing the Audience,” Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 44, no. 4 (2010): 82.
 Philbrick, “IAR Exclusive Interview.”
 Arthur Lintgen, “Classical Recordings – Giacchino: ‘Star Trek.’” Fanfare – The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, November 2009, 170.
 (1-2) The Incredibles, DVD, directed by Brad Bird (2004; Burbank, CA: Disney/Pixar, 2005).
 M. Keith Booker, Disney, Pixar, and the Hidden Messages of Children’s Films (Denver, CO: Praeger, 2010), 93; David Flanagin. “The Incredibles,” in Magill’s Cinema Annual 2005, ed. Hilary White (New York: The Gale Group, Inc., 2005), 192.
 Booker, Disney, Pixar, and the Hidden Messages of Children’s Films, 93.
 Ken Gillam and Shannon R. Wooden, “Post-Princess Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar,” Journal of Popular Film and Television, vol. 36, no. 1 (2008): 2.
 Gillam and Wooden, “Post-Princess Models of Gender,” 3.
 Gillam and Wooden, “Post-Princess Models of Gender,” 6-7.
 Gillam and Wooden, “Post-Princess Models of Gender,” 4.
 Gillam and Wooden, “Post-Princess Models of Gender,” 5.
 Gillam and Wooden, “Post-Princess Models of Gender,” 5.
 Gillam and Wooden, “Post-Princess Models of Gender,” 6.
This past spring I had the great fortune to have my first orchestral composition, In Leviathan’s Wake, premiered by the University of Maryland Symphony and conductor James Ross on his final concert (you can hear a two-minute sample on my Concert Works page. I sat down with Maestro Ross during the rehearsal cycle to talk about the piece and, in the course of the our conversation, I described how one of my goals in Leviathan (the shorthand everyone eventually started using) was to have fun with a movie score approach to orchestration. When Jim asked which film composers I admired, I mentioned John Williams, of course, but also pointed out a section in my score where I had consciously tried to write in the style of Erich Korngold, a legendary film composer who defined the Studio-Era sound that John Williams helped revive in the 70s and 80s. You can hear my particular homage below:
Jim immediately recommended that I listen to Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, Opus 40, and pointed me towards a YouTube recording. I was hooked! The piece was sweeping and massive, filled with strong themes and brilliant orchestral effects, and when the first two movements were over I had only one thought: “I have to write one of these!” And, needing to see how Korngold brought so much magic out of the orchestra, I promptly ordered a copy of the score.
One reason I had such an affinity for this piece was that, especially in the first two movements, I kept hearing music so thrilling and familiar that I kept rewinding to listen again and again. Of course, I expected to run across some John Williams in this piece. Film music teachers are always quick to point out some of the more famous Korngold-Williams themes that sound uncannily familiar (the typical example is Korngold’s score for the 1942 film King’s Row: can you identify two John William’s melodies in quick succession?).
Never fear—John Williams can definitely be heard in this symphony and I’ll point out the spots that particularly interest me later on. But I was more surprised to find myself identifying music I knew from other sources. And perhaps none of these melodies surprised me more than, in the first movement, to stumble upon a motive that I knew from the theme to the 1950s radio drama Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar! Compare Korngold’s music between 1:15–1:25 and, below, the main title to Johnny Dollar (1:05–1:12); you’ll note the ascending octave scale followed by a rising minor second that falls by minor third, a unit that repeats twice in both cases.
(By the way, I think this recording by James DePriest and the Oregon Symphony is the clearest I’ve heard yet, in which all of Korngold’s effects shine through.)
Korngold did not, of course, compose the music for Johnny Dollar. My very cursory search for the composer offers little: the general consensus from various message board threads (all about a decade old) devoted to old-time radio and silent/Golden Age film and television suggests that the Johnny Dollar theme was canned music from the MUTEL Music Service. One such source identifies it as “Love Theme No. 1,” which, according to Old Time Radio Catalogue, was composed by George Lee; however, ClassicThemes.com points out that George Lee was a pseudonym used by MUTEL to collect royalties. Setting composers aside, the question of chronology remains. The Johnny Dollar theme was used beginning in 1955 and Korngold completed his symphony in 1952; the work was not premiered, however, until 1954, and on Austrian radio at that! Thus it seems unlikely that this particular Korngold theme influenced the B-list composers writing for library services. However, one contributor to the forum “FRANK SKINNER JOHNNY DOLLAR THEME COMPOSER” asserts that the Johnny Dollar theme can be heard on the 1951/52 season of Dick Tracy, so it is possible that Korngold, if he watched TV, was familiar with this cue.
My very un-academic effort above is only the littlest tip of the iceberg that would be the fun, challenging, expensive research dive through hard-to-find Hollywood industry records and archives! The upshot is that, late on the Sunday night when my post is due, I can’t draw any sort of conclusion here except for the lame, unspecific suggestion (certain to be challenged by an external reviewer) that Korngold wielded tremendous influence over the musical landscape of Hollywood and that most journeyman composers would have been able to employ a “Korngold-esque” approach on demand. I think I will leave it there tonight and come back to the fun John Williams stuff next week. Until then!
 “Old Time Radio Theme Music,” Old Time Radio Catalogue, accessed December 3, 2017, https://www.otrcat.com/old-time-radio-theme-music-y; “Cowboy G-Men (western),” ClassicThemes.com,accessed December 3, 2017, http://www.classicthemes.com/50sTVThemes/themePages/cowboyGMen.html.
 “Symphony in F-sharp major (Korngold),” Wikipedia, accessed December 3, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_in_F-sharp_major_(Korngold).
 “Frank Skinner Johnny Dollar Theme Composer,” Old-Time Radio, accessed December 3, 2017, http://www.old-time.com/archivedbbs/mainbbs/823.htm.
Since I’m based in the DC-area, some of these resources will be local to me and distant to you, or visa versa, but the spirit behind each listing is, I hope, universal! You can hear what I've been doing on the video game front on my Multimedia page.
Connecting and Finding Work:
While actual job postings for game composers are very rare, the site GameJobHunter maintains a database of game developers by region with notes about size and important projects. If you’re willing to go straight to the source, major game developers do post job listings and most have a catch-all “send us your résumé” option that, if you’re in application/demo-sending mode anyway, certainly won’t hurt your chances. As one of my former composition teachers likes to remind me, “the only way to make certain that you won’t get the job is if you don’t apply.”
Local video game developer organizations can be a great way to find and get your foot in the door with small developers. IGDA-DC is one such group that publishes an e-newsletter, sponsors a showcase, and lists games created by members. Attending showcases is also a great way to get to know developers without being in the position of pitching yourself right away – build relationships and you may find that developers are coming after you!
Along these lines, if you have the ability to travel, there are national conferences such as GameSoundCon. MagFest hosts several events around the county, including at National Harbor just outside of DC, and their flagship event offers ways to get involved in the conference proceedings; attending a conference with a role is a great way of establishing yourself as an expert, plus it puts other attendees in the position of coming up to talk with with you after your presentation, which is more comfortable than the reverse!
Things to Read:
In the process of jumping careers, I’ve discovered that I acclimate best to new professional challenges by reading about the field. If you’re like me, then the best advice I can give is to devour books about the profession you want to enter!
Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I like to start with books, rather than blogs. Winifred Phillips’ A Composer’s Guide to Game Music was the first book I read at the beginning of my video game journey. She has a wonderfully clear writing style and gives a solid, concise overview of concepts and genres. Her discussion of suggested technologies and her reference bibliography are both valuable reasons to buy her book! Phillips also blogs frequently for Gamasutra.
If you’d like something a little more hands-on and don’t mind that the electronic resources are dated, Paul Hoffert’s Music for New Media is a great how-to guide that walks you through the creation of a demo portfolio. It’s an easy read that emphasizes chunk-based composition in a sequencer (think GarageBand), which can frustrate accomplished composers but is great for musicians with less formal composition training. (It’s the book I would use if I were teaching an intro-level college course on game music composition.)
If you’re in the mood for a no-holds-barred behind-the-scenes industry how-to guide, Alexander Brandon’s Audio for Games is for you. A highly technical text with detailed descriptions of business workflows, this is a must-read before approaching or undertaking a composition project for an established developer. Aaron Marks’ The Complete Guide to Game Audio is similar in scope, but reads more easily and includes testimonials and interviews with working composers and audio directors.
On the opposite spectrum from Brandon and Marks is George Sanger’s The Fat Man on Game Audio. (I think it’s getting harder to find this in print, but it can be purchased for e-reader.) Filled with anecdotes, technical advice, and a hefty dose of “ego-management” that is reminiscent of Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery, all conveyed with an engaging, conversational style, Sanger’s book is fun to read and an easy way to get a sense of what the early days of the video game industry were like.
If you want something with footnotes, Karen Collins’ is the source. Her Game Sound is not a technical text, but is instead an important historical overview that provides context for the current trends in video game music. Collins has also edited the collection From Pac-Man to Pop Music, which features essays on a range of multimedia audio. My favorite articles in this collection include Jesper Kaae’s discussion of adaptive audio and Paul Leonard’s “Introduction to Granular Synthesis.”
Valuable to all musicians, but especially important if you’re working with another industry, is business know-how. So important, in fact, that I keep links to the U.S. Small Business Administration in my game developer bookmarks folder. The SBA has great free resources for small businesses, including tutorials, articles, and links to local business mentorship programs, programs maintained by most localities that provide free start-up assistance. Again, if you are a bookworm, it can help to get your hands on a text: I love the For Dummies series. It’s well respected and publishes books on every conceivable topic, from marketing to music theory to guides that will make you a “power user” in all that new software you’ll need as a game composer!
Teaching entrepreneurship to musicians has made its way onto university campuses in a big way. I remember catching hints of this trend as an undergraduate student working for the River Concert Series at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, when my trumpet teacher and the Series’ Artistic Director, Jeffrey Silberschlag, would occasionally offer pearls of arts non-profit wisdom. When I arrived at Western Michigan University, the graduate student organization, MuGS, scheduled seminars with guest speakers on a variety of related subjects, even bring Project Trio to campus for a concert and workshop. This past October, I learned that the University of Maryland began offering an entrepreneurship course—one of my former classmates described how she was learning the “art of the schmooze” in class!
Being an entrepreneur is incredibly challenging: it requires investments of time, energy, and creativity; it demands that you learn new skills; it benefits from an outgoing personality; it doesn’t pay very much up front! Making your dream project a reality often necessitates putting many other aspects of your life on hold. Besides these challenges, it always seemed that entrepreneurship, as it was pitched to me, emphasized individuality—music students were encouraged to think of themselves as small business owners and guest speakers recounted their tales of personal accomplishment. To succeed in this manner, I assumed that I would need to cultivate all of the skills listed above and then some! (And “the art of the schmooze” is assuredly not in my wheelhouse.) Furthermore, it felt like my fellow students and I were being encouraged to chase our own separate artistic goals—the over-saturated market that would arise from this vision would, I thought, ultimately work against us. Wouldn’t it make more sense for people of entrepreneurial spirit to spearhead initiatives that would create work for many fellow musicians?
Now, none of the guest speakers I heard were really suggesting that we ignore collaboration, but among the lists of business skills and strategies they imparted, I think an important message was missing, one that would have lowered the stakes: you don’t have to be good at everything!
I’ll elaborate: over the past few months, several colleagues and I have been working to launch a music project of our own (stay tuned for more on that in the months to come), and our collaboration has helped me to rethink how we frame entrepreneurship. Yes, projects need drive, and sometimes that drive comes from an individual with an idea. But if your idea can foster a number of people’s careers, why limit it to your own skill set. As I mentioned, I’m not a particularly outgoing networker—my introversion is exacerbated when I put myself in the position of feeling pressured to network (so attending any concert). However, I am really good at making plans, drafting mission statements, and working effectively with a group of people who I know well and respect. And, fortunately, my colleagues bring their own talents to the table. Some are excellent networkers, others understand fundraising, still more are vision-oriented. This range of abilities allows us to delegate—more importantly, it means that progress isn’t halted by a task that falls outside any one person’s comfort zone.
This isn’t to suggest that we should always avoid the professional activities we dislike—I want to improve at networking and making effective fundraising and sales pitches, for example. But I believe that we should encourage music students to ask themselves: (a) who else might gain from, and want to get involved in, my project? and (b) what strengths do we bring to the table and how can we leverage those to our collective advantage? Creating something together is most of the fun of writing and playing music—we shouldn’t isolate ourselves just because it becomes our livelihood.
I’m short on time today, so I thought I would briefly expand my recent Facebook post about my take on the compositional process into a kind of mini composition lesson. When any composer sets pencil to paper (or track-pad to screen) at the beginning of a new composition, he or she immediately establishes some “rules” of the piece: not necessarily all of the rules, but enough that the infinite number of musical possibilities is drastically reduced. Perhaps a more positive way to spin this is that the composer begins crafting the language of the work, a language that must remain consistent from beginning to end so that, upon the conclusion of a performance, the listener understands that the music formed a unit. This doesn’t necessarily require that “wholeness” be apparent to the audience from one measure to the next, or even from one section to another; on the contrary, we may only understand the cohesiveness of a composition through the widest possible lens.
Here I’m reminded of Stravinsky’s use of juxtaposition during his “Russian” & “Primitive” periods (think Firebird, Petrouchka & Rite of Spring). One hallmark of this style is the manner in which Stravinsky shifts, sometimes quite jarringly, between tempos, textures, and melodic materials (listen below at minute-markers 1:23, 1:42, 1:50 & 2:03):
The first shift may seem haphazard, but by the second or third the alternation is understood as part of the fabric of the piece.
On the other side of this coin, you can guarantee consistency of your language by analyzing the musical ideas you pen as you move along, mining them for melodic and harmonic elements that you can explore further, and looking for unused textures that might provide contrast later on. And, as you move further into the piece, you may find that you’ve written a section that just doesn’t belong. Even though you may have spent hours crafting that music, be prepared to remove it, adjust it, or to compose additional music before or after that resolves the section into the overall arc of the whole. You can always use that chunk in another project!
It's OK to toot your own horn!
There are plenty of great blogs on marketing that deal with hot topics: Facebook’s declining organic page reach, the absurdly high return on investment of content marketing, the effectiveness of call-to-action buttons compared with text links. At work, I subscribe to marketing e-newsletters from Hubspot, Vertical Response, and Emma, all of which deal in these topics with more fluency than I could provide at this point in my career. What I can offer you today is permission to think of yourself as a marketer.
Artists, musical or otherwise, can be somewhat reserved. I was always more comfortable in a practice room or on stage—these were my venues, where I understood how I fit in and felt that I had agency. And I saw the work I created as “art” to be appreciated, rather than as a product to be sold. This worldview did not set me up well to push out news, videos, and helpful musings on Facebook, much less schmooze at a conference reception. Heck, I’m still not great at handing out the business cards whose design I agonized over for a month!
Fortunately, arts marketing is not really about commercializing art. The work you make retains all its value, and you should strive to push yourself to advance your craft and evolve in new, exciting directions, even as you tell people about the great work that you’re doing.
So what is marketing? Marketing is planning, guided by a few simple questions, like these:
To address these questions, you need critical and imaginative thinking, strong writing skills, a curious mind, and some attention to detail—basically the sum of those liberal arts skills you learned in high school and refined in college! The answers to these questions help you develop a goal and craft strategies for reaching this goal. Once you’ve executed these strategies, you evaluate and, based on this assessment, tweak your plans to stay on track.
A little bit of marketing can make a big difference to your career without derailing the creative work that you love. For me, giving myself permission to embrace marketing as a skill to be honed required getting into the field, but you don’t need to pick up a day job to feel comfortable promoting your own art. Just think of marketing as one of the non-musical steps you take at the beginning or end of your day, like oiling the valves of your tuba or checking your Finale files for collisions: something you do that facilitates your primary activity.
Give this a try: think of one of the products you offer. What is your goal for that product? Who would want it? How could you reach them? How might you track your effectiveness? Develop a plan and give yourself a set timeframe. Execute your plan. Evaluate how you did. Think about what you need to change about the plan or the product, make these changes, and move forward. Share your art!
Adapted from a 2011 paper, Amahl and the Future of Opera on Television
Part 2 of this series explores the elements, musical and cinematic, that made Amahl and the Night Visitors such a hit with contemporary viewers and critics. Despite the many studio and simulcast productions that followed, television opera did not continue to enjoy this level of enthusiasm. Recently, however, The Met: Live in HD has garnered critical applause and found an audience through its live transmissions of opera to movie theaters around the world. These are subsequently made available as encore theater broadcasts, DVDs, and television features on PBS. [You can actually watch any of Live in HD's productions with a one-week free trial, if you want to follow along!]
The Met: Live in HD functions as a logical progression in the development of live opera relays that began so successfully with Live from Lincoln Center and takes full advantage of technological developments in cameras and sound. Live in HD achieves much more, however, than mere “cinematic incarnations of opera;” Steichen proposes that the transmissions “[enact] an adaptation of the operagoing experience itself.” In his review of the live broadcast of Tan Dun’s The First Emperor, Sheppard describes Steichen’s assertion: “[…] [W]e sat enjoying the slow and elegant zoom-outs from the curtain images, the orchestra, […] and we watched the Met audience mingling and finding their seats. […] The camera-work suggested we were spying on an event […]. For us the show had already begun.”
Placido Domingo sings the title role in The Met: Live in HD's 2007 production of The First Emperor,
screenshot by the author
Both Steichen and Sheppard acknowledge the “television-style organization documentary” that occurs during the intermissions and helps to shape the audience’s impression of the opera and to solicit their support for opera generally. Sheppard notes, “I found myself more elated, more favorably disposed toward the opera” after the movie intermission than he had after the corresponding intermission at the opera’s world premier; and, “[b]y the opera’s end, […] our position as an audience had changed considerably.”
By the same token, the operas themselves are shaped greatly by the screen production, which can both “reinforce the cinematic aspects of [the] staging” and “[alter] the experience of a scene.” Sheppard describes how “extreme” camera angles and viewer proximity to the screen “[made] the performers appear […] monumental” and asserts that rapid cuts and changes of scale “[created] a more kinetic and even disorienting […] impression.”
Though the Live in HD productions are conceived for the movie theater and therefore owe much to cinema, they are also broadcast on public television and share many aspects with Amahl and the Night Visitors. In the DVD release of The First Emperor, (which differs slightly from the live relay as it is edited with audio and video from dress rehearsals) close-ups reveal the important but subtle details that might pass unnoticed in a large opera house such as the Met. This is demonstrated when the Emperor sings of conquering his enemies to unify China. The camera focuses briefly on two characters whose reactions the audience might otherwise have missed; the princess’s face lights up with excitement and anticipation (Ch. 6; 2:43), while her mother turns to hide a sideways glance (Ch. 6; 2:48). From these small details, the viewers can infer that dissident elements exist within the Emperor’s court, informing their understanding of the unfolding narrative.
The camera work also increases the audience’s sense of participation in the performance. For example, in the opening sequence, the character Yin-Yang directs out attention to a zheng-string performer on the side of the stage. Instantly, a close-up shot frames the musician from below (Ch. 4; 2:00) and pulls us into the action on-stage (much as the camera draws us inside Amahl’s hut). In a broader sense, the variety of viewpoints and sudden cuts minimize the impression that we are watching a stage production. For us, this opera exists only as up-close-and-personal experience.
It is also important to note that The First Emperor and the series’ premier broadcast, Julie Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute (in a shortened version) were both in English. While subsequent operas have been televised in their original languages (and all have included subtitles), these first productions, so important to establishing the popularity of Live in HD, were in the language comfortable to most American viewers—the Met chose to invite the audience into the narrative (as did Amahl), rather than throwing up a barrier to viewer engagement.
Papageno sings in English (with English subtitles)
in Live in HD's 2006 production of The Magic Flute, screenshot by the author
The Met: Live in HD greatly advances previous efforts to bring live opera to the screen. The most important element, as stated above, is its use of the camera to partially break down the barrier of the proscenium and bring the audience into the drama. The effect is not complete, however; camera angles are limited by the visual demands of the attending audience (cameramen cannot roam the stage freely) and become repetitive and predictable as the opera progresses. I propose a solution drawn from television’s past. In the early stages of broadcasting from the opera house, technical limitations of lighting would ruin the production for a live audience. One solution to this problem was to turn “the theatre […] into a studio. Cameras [were] placed in positions which by their interference would be intolerable to a paying audience” and “[a]ctors’ positions and moves [were] changed to avoid untidy grouping or masking of one character by another.” While technological advances have overcome those problems, the same process could be applied today as a way to more fully bring the television/movie theater audience into the action of a live opera without removing it from its natural environment. Admittedly, removing the glamour of “an evening at the Met” might upset Steichen’s concept of the “adaptation of the operagoing experience,” but it would facilitate a more complete mediatization of the opera. Whatever the solution, increasing the production’s intimacy and proximity, keys to the success of Amahl on television, will go a long way towards packaging live opera for the screen.
Though The Met: Live in HD brings the opera house to a mass audience, it still remains the case that no studio opera, produced with the idiosyncrasies of television in mind, has found the commercial television success of Amahl. I suggest that this stems in part from the failure of opera programming to adapt to the conventions of television. When live drama was the dominant form of television programming, anthology series such as Philco Television Playhouse and Kraft Television Theater broadcast a new television play with every installment; in this context, a self-contained television opera made sense. As the industry shifted towards series that focused on a central character (a trend marked by the Western Gunsmoke in 1955), the Television Opera format was unchanged; Barnes notes that, to compound this, “[t]o date, no network or corporation has explored scheduling consecutive showings […] of a newly commissioned opera.” Instead, opera on television has remained an isolated event.
Fortunately, there are optimistic portents for the future of Television Opera; Barnes cites the return of realism in dramatic series such as The West Wing and ER (and currently, I would add, Mad Men and House, M.D.)—shows that “have largely removed the drama from its quasi-film set glamour of the 1970s and returned it to the confines of a central location or studio.” It was out of such an environment that the first Television Operas developed, and it is possible that today’s audience is ready once again for high art on television.
In 1957, Wright claimed that the ‘limitations [of television exclude] virtually all ‘grand opera,’ […] including Wagner.” Today, these limitations are no longer obstacles; television is capable of creating a sense of the epic that was once the domain of movies and the whole repertoire is open to adaptation. In our post-Lord of the Rings (and, at the time of this blog post, post Game of Thrones) cinematic world, Wagner’s works (of which Wright despaired) might prove the perfect vehicle for a modern television opera; the fifteen-hour Ring cycle could be divided into one-hour installments, filmed in the studio, and shown as a mini-series on dramatic or science fiction networks such as TNT, AMC, and Syfy. A successful production might set the stage for a new kind of contemporary opera: productions that, with the luxury of several episodes, explore a more expansive narrative than is possible in a three-hour work. Shorter installments would also package opera more amenably for prime time. And, with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon competing to deliver content targeted to specific viewing niches, it may be that the goals of early arts-and-culture cable networks such as Bravo will finally be realized.
While Wright may have been constrained by early production techniques, two of his suggestions for television opera remain true today; the audience requires both a “strong credible story” and characters “[they] can believe in.” Singers that look the part, combined with a convincing story, will help the audience accept “even the sort of modern music which […] would puzzle or even repel” them. Wright suggests that these elements led to the success of Britten’s Billy Budd on NBC, and I submit that they must be maintained in future screen productions: successful Television Opera, true to its name, must adapt itself to the visual norms of the medium.
In conclusion, Amahl and the Night Visitors demonstrates the success opera on television achieves when it works hand in hand with the strengths of the medium. Its strong and compelling story, communicated clearly and directly by the music, is further informed by the intimacy created by the camera. While The Met: Live in HD borrows some strategies from Amahl, the effect is not complete due to the unavoidable barriers of filming a live stage performance. Nevertheless, each of these productions indicates that both critics and viewers will appreciate quality storytelling through music if presented effectively. To truly advance the genre further, a new conception of Television Opera is required: one that captures the essence of Amahl, applies today’s production techniques, and adapts opera to the modern television series.
Endnotes (citations continued from parts 1 & 2):
 James Steichen, “The Metropolitan Opera Goes Public: Peter Gelb and the Institutional Dramaturgy of The Met: Live in HD,” Music and the Moving Image, 2, no. 2 (2009): 25.
 Sheppard, “Review,” 383.
 Steichen, “The Metropolitan Opera Goes Public,” 25.
 Sheppard, “Review,” 384.
 Steichen, “The Metropolitan Opera Goes Public,” 25; Sheppard, “Review,” 385.
 Sheppard, “Review,” 385.
 Sheppard, “Review,” 386.
 Sheppard, “Review,” 383; Sheppard points out that “the Met is repeatedly turning to film directors for new [opera] productions” (p. 383) and, later, that “these [extreme angle] shots serve to make the performers appear more monumental rather than intimate” (p. 386).
 Eskow, “HD Special Section,” 28.
 The First Emperor, DVD, directed by Brian Large (London: EMI Classics, 2008).
 In particular, the restrained use of full-stage shots avoids creating the impression that we are sitting in the back of the opera house.
 “Met Player Opera Catalog: The Magic Flute,” The Metropolitan Opera, accessed April 7, 2011, http://www.metoperafamily.org/met_player/catalog/detail.aspx?upc=8113570116
45&loggedin=yes; The First Emperor also includes segments in Chinese, but these support the drama by establishing the exoticism of the opera.
 Wright, “Television and Opera,” 9.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 10; Sturken, Live Television, 17.
 Sturken, Live Television, 104, 106; Barnes, Television Opera, 96.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 99.
 Wright, “Television and Opera,” 13.
 Schreiber, “Television: A New Idiom,” 183.
 Wright, “Television and Opera,” 10.
Adapted from a 2011 paper, Amahl and the Future of Opera on Television
Last week's survey demonstrates that, while opera has never completely disappeared from television, the potential that Amahl and the Night Visitors demonstrated never fully developed. Today, I will show that Amahl, besides being wildly successful in its own time, continues to provide an effective model for realizing opera on the small screen that attracts larger audiences and commercial sponsorship and I will discuss the strengths of the 1955 live telecast of Amahl. [In the following paragraphs, the parentheticals "(1)" or "(4)" refer to DVD chapters, and "(1:14)" indicates exact timings. You'll have to find yourself a copy of the DVD to follow along (but I think you'll get the idea)!]
NBC’s production of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors succeeds first and foremost because it is good television. The camera draws the viewer into the narrative, where he or she, by virtue of proximity, becomes a participant in the events as they unfold rather than remaining an outside observer. Barnes attributes this intimacy and inclusion to the carefully designed camera-work. “Rather than pointedly showing us […] what we should […] look at, the camera roams across the set, giving the human eye the impression that it is choosing what it wants to see. […] [T]he beginning of the piece imposes nothing. Instead, the camera says ‘follow me.’” The camera also immediately obscures any impression that we are watching a stage performance. In the opening sequence (1:14), the credits fade out and the camera focuses on a comet in the night sky—emphatically not a wide shot of the studio set (1). The camera pans left to Amahl playing his pipe (1:23); this aligns with the oboe solo (continued from the overture) and we identify the music with Amahl (2). This has the effect of both organically pulling us into the drama and immediately establishing an environment in which music is a natural and necessary element.
In addition, the camera increases our proximity to the action. At 3:18, Amahl walks to the door of the hut and the camera cuts to the house interior—we follow Amahl inside (3). The sensation of being present with Amahl is further reinforced: first, when Amahl stares out of the open doorway and the camera looks back past him at the hut’s interior (4:06); second, when the Mother closes the door (8:54) and shuts Amahl (and the viewer) inside; and third, as the camera moves across the hut interior, past a sleeping Amahl, and looks out through the window (9:06) at the comet in the night sky (4). Throughout the opera, we view the drama from a variety of viewpoints: sometimes above or below the action; sometimes as though we are standing in the room with the characters. These effects create a stronger sense of intimacy than would be achieved by the cut-away shack of a stage production.
It is this intimacy that was and remains the strength of quality television programming. At the time Amahl was produced, this was particularly well understood. Schreiber, writing in 1949, suggested that television played to “an audience of ONE.” This predisposed television to certain subjects and inspired a natural lyricism. Outstanding television scripts, argued Schreiber, were founded in intimacy and immediacy. Additionally, live drama was characterized by realism. Successful television plays such as Marty (NBC, 1953) and The Big Deal (NBC, 1953) dealt with everyday people in ordinary situations.
In Amahl, close-up shot helps to create the production’s intimacy. While considered one of television’s great strengths generally, the close-up in opera was once “antithetical to good television” because it revealed the unattractive physical exertion involved in bel canto singing. Therefore, Barnes argues, Menotti chose to focus on Amahl in the majority of close-ups because “the confines of a television studio […] would create an environment advantageous to a treble.” In the studio, the treble did not have to unduly exert to be heard and the camera emphasized his youthful appearance. Because of their acceptance of Amahl’s close-ups, the audience becomes favorably disposed towards close-ups of adults as well.
Close-up of Amahl singing to his mother, screenshot by the author
In the 1955 telecast, the use of close-ups requires all the singers to act for the small screen rather than the opera house. Detailed facial expressions (which would have been lost on stage) come into play to inform the drama. In the aria “This is my box” (18:18), King Kaspar’s eyes are constantly at work emphasizing the libretto (5). At the words “In the third drawer,” Kaspar’s expressions reveal to the viewer his mischief as he builds suspense before announcing the final contents of his chest (19:21) (6). We see him pause, look from Amahl to the box, and smile to himself before dramatically launching into “Oh, little boy!” When the drawer is revealed to hold only “licorice,” these details reveal Kaspar as a kind, fun-loving (slightly deaf) old man. This charming exchange would be lost to the fourth tier audience in an opera house.
The close-up also helps to define character motivations. This is best demonstrated in the Mother’s aria “All that gold!” (32:56) (7). We first see her framed by a long shot with a chalice of gold in the foreground. As she sings about the wealth of the rich, the camera’s focus tightens on her (shutting out the chalice) to emphasize her internal debate over whether or not to steal. By 34:44, she has made her decision, and the camera quickly pulls back out to show both again. At the moment of the crime (35:49), the camera finally zooms in on both the Mother and the gold (8). Thus, though the gold is not an active participant per se, the camera reveals the Mother’s emotional engagement with temptation.
Amahl's mother faces temptation, screenshot by the author
These technical elements establish Amahl and the Nights Visitors as, not an opera on television, but an “opera for television.” Its status as television is also reinforced by realistic subject matter. Amahl is set in a distant land and time and involves a Christmas miracle (Amahl is a cripple and is healed at the end of the opera). However, the themes that Menotti explores fall into the category of the afore-mentioned realism that defined other successful live dramas; Amahl grapples with issues of single-parenthood, “poverty, evil, wealth, fear,” and illness—all relevant concerns to the audiences of 1955 and today.
One of the keys to establishing this sense of realism is the relationship between the Mother and Amahl. In it, we see a familiar narrative: a young child who wants more independence and a loving mother who, with her child’s best interests at heart, will not let go. This leads to interactions that remind us of everyday struggles between parents and children. In the opening sequence (2:02), we hear the Mother call Amahl inside from his pipes (9). Amahl tells her that he is “Coming!,” looks back at his pipe, shrugs, and, with a smile, begins to play once more. At 2:30, Amahl tries to bargain with the Mother for more time outside (“But, Mother, let me stay a little longer!”) and is met with a threat many children have heard before: “But there will be a weeping child soon, if he doesn’t hurry up and obey his mother” (3:00) (10). These moments immediately establish that, although the story unfolds in a different time and place, the relationships are the same as those we experience every day. Through this point of entry, we are gently invited to buy into the drama.
Finally, Menotti’s music enables the viewer to feel comfortable watching an opera. This is achieved in part, as stated previously, by the camera’s association of music with the action on stage. The audience enters a world where singing, rather than coming across as an “artificial convention,” instead becomes “an emotional necessity […] made plausible by the [intimate and private] experience between [television] audience and singer.” The music accomplishes the rest; it is built on the familiar harmonic structures of “folk music [and] Christmas carols,” and this, combined with the “superficial flavor of contemporary harmony,” creates music that is “fresh, […] beautifully orchestrated and above all, melodious.” Lillich characterizes Menotti’s style as “theatre music;” it has a “clarity and directness in order to communicate immediately.” Equally important, the libretto is in English and, because the singers only have to project for the television studio, the words come across clearly; the audience follows the drama without the aid of a synopsis or subtitles. In summary, Amahl and the Night Visitors succeeds as television because each of these elements—camera, intimacy/realism, and music—contributes equally towards communicating the narrative.
Concludes with Part 3 next week...
Endnotes (citations continued from part 1):
 Barnes, Television Opera, 24; Menotti was responsible for designing the camera script.
 To this point, the music might have been the non-diagetic score of any television program, but the scene of Amahl playing his pipes asserts its diagetic role.
 (1-4) Amahl and the Night Visitors, DVD, directed by Kirk Browning. (1955; Pleasantville, NY: Video Artists International, 2007).
 Barnes, Television Opera, 99.
 Flora R. Schreiber, “Television: A New Idiom,” Hollywood Quarterly 4, no. 2 (1949): 183.
 Schreiber, “Television: A New Idiom,” 184.
 Sturken, Live Television, 52.
 Sturken, Live Television, 49-50.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 21-22.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 22-23; Often older singers portray younger characters on stage; this illusion, effective in the opera house, is destroyed by the camera close-up. For this reason, Menotti specified that Amahl must always be performed by a treble.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 23.
 Menotti, Gian-Carlo. Amahl and the Night Visitors: Opera in One Act (New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1952), 26; (5-6) Amahl and the Night Visitors.
 Menotti, Amahl and the Night Visitors, 26.
 (7-8) Amahl and the Night Visitors.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 16.
 Meredith Lillich, “Menotti’s Music Dramas,” Educational Theatre Journal 11, no. 4 (1959): 276.
 Menotti, Amahl and the Night Visitors, 3.
 Menotti, Amahl and the Night Visitors, 3-4; (9-10) Amahl and the Night Visitors.
 Schreiber, “Television: A New Idiom,” 191.
 Lillich, “Menotti’s Music Dramas,” 276; Bauch, 112.
 Lillich, “Menotti’s Music Dramas,” 272.
 Jason N. Bauch, “Amahl and the Night Visitors: Menotti’s Wondrous Legacy to Music
Education,” Music Educators Journal 47, no. 1 (1960): 112.
Adapted from a 2011 paper, Amahl and the Future of Opera on Television
NBC's production of Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951), screenshot by the author
A Historical Overview:
Opera has held an uncomfortable position within commercial television broadcasting since the medium’s inception. On the one hand, television introduces opera to a broad audience; on the other, opera on television fails to attract enough viewers to secure commercial sponsorship.
The BBC produced the first televised opera excerpts (Albert Coates’s Mr. Pickwick) in 1936, eleven days after it began television broadcasts. In 1939, NBC produced three programs of Gilbert and Sullivan excerpts. CBS began its Opera Television Theater in 1950 with an abridged production of Carmen. Two weeks later, the newly minted NBC Opera Theater inaugurated its fifteen-year run with a studio production of Kurt Weill’s Down in the Valley. After this production earned favorable reviews, NBC broadcast one-hour English adaptations of opera standards such as Madama Butterfly, Hänsel und Gretel, and Die Fledermaus. These early studio operas emphasized the intimacy and realism that characterized live television of this era. Paller asserts that, through these offerings, “Americans were beginning to embrace quality television programming along with their weekly quotient of […] I Love Lucy […].”
In 1949, NBC commissioned Gian-Carlo Menotti to compose the first opera specifically for television (a “Television Opera”). By November of 1951, Menotti, overwhelmed by other musical obligations, attempted to extricate himself from his contract at the last minute, but NBC insisted that he complete the commission. With a Christmas deadline swiftly approaching, Menotti found inspiration in the Hieronymus Bosch painting, The Adoration of the Magi, and Amahl and the Night Visitors was conceived, “written, cast, designed, and produced for television in under seven weeks.” On December 24, 1951, the opera was broadcast live over thirty-five NBC network affiliates to an audience of five million throughout the American East, South, and Midwest. By the “final duet […], Menotti’s new work had completely won over the home viewers,” and both the New York Times and Variety ran rave reviews the next day. Amahl was immediately scheduled for a second live broadcast on Easter of 1952, and would be produced annually at Christmas until 1966.
The success of Amahl and the Night Visitors encouraged NBC to pursue studio productions of extant works, such as Britten’s Billy Budd and Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, and to commission nine more original operas. The Billy Budd production received acclaim from critics and viewers alike; however, neither this nor any other Television Opera found commercial sponsorship—with the exception of Amahl. Hallmark cards sponsored the premier broadcast as part of its Hallmark Hall of Fame series and thereafter Menotti’s opera received consistent sponsorship by such companies as Alcoa and Pontiac.
NBC's production of Billy Budd (1952), screenshot by the author
By the end of the 1960s, NBC, CBS, and ABC had all commissioned operas for television. However, the 1958 shifts from New York to Hollywood and from live broadcast to film changed the landscape of the industry. The success of the adult Western and the televised Hollywood feature film created new market pressures, with which high-quality live drama could not compete. Television Opera, while critically acclaimed, faced the same pressures: it was expensive to produce (the final production of Amahl cost $500,000) and didn’t draw the numbers of viewers that less costly entertainment programs attracted.
Cable television tried to make up for the lack of “live ballet, opera, and theater” on the major US networks. Unfortunately, “CBS Cable, an all-arts channel,” only lasted for two years. Cablevision Corporation (Bravo) began in the 1960s as a commercial-free arts station. However, Bravo struggled financially and began showing more movies to attract subscribers. In 1992, Bravo signed a deal with Texaco to underwrite its performing arts budget, enabling the station to fill half of its programming with performing arts. Bravo’s current  offerings demonstrate that, with the exception of Inside the Actors’ Studio, the performing arts have since been replaced by reality programming.
Broadcasters in the UK continued to produce studio Television Operas into the early 2000s. However, as Barnes points out, these works neither attracted the viewers nor inspired the same audience enthusiasm that Amahl generated. Benjamin Britten’s Owen Wingrave, commissioned by the BBC and televised in 1971, drew “approximately 257,400 viewers, 0.9 percent of the potential BBC2 audience.” Though Barnes points out that, for an unknown opera, Owen Wingrave was “a staggeringly well attended event,” she admits, “for television, Wingrave’s debut at best provided a modest success and at worst provided little encouragement to commission further works for the screen.” Similarly, Gerald Barry’s The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, commissioned by Channel 4 (UK) as part of a six-opera arts series, premiered in 1995 to an initial audience of 500,000; by its conclusion, the opera had retained only 200,000 viewers.
BBC's production of Owen Wingrave (1971), screenshot by the author
As studio opera declined, an alternative form of opera on television gained momentum: live simulcasts from the opera house. These had appeared on television since its early days; the Metropolitan Opera’s abridged English-language productions of Die Fledermaus and La Bohème were broadcast by CBS’s Omnibus arts series in 1953. As Kenneth Wright of the BBC discovered with his 1954 production of The Decembrists, however, these telecasts suffered from the limitations of contemporary camera technology: “I needed six great floodlights […] on either side of the auditorium. […] [T]he mysterious effect of the gloomy setting was entirely destroyed.” While Wright’s particular production turned out well on screen, it negatively impacted the experience of the attending audience. The same was true of the Met’s early efforts to broadcast directly to movie theaters. “‘There were banks of spots along the sides of the proscenium, and brilliant lights played from the directors’ and artists’ boxes [...], undoing for thousands of paying customers in the theater the carefully planned effects of the scenic, costume, and lighting designers.”
By 1971, the technology required for effective simulcasts had arrived and live opera on television was reinvigorated—New York City Opera broadcast a live transmission of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’Or. After further “developing the techniques and finding the technology,” PBS began telecasting Live from Lincoln Center in 1976 to great acclaim from critics and audiences alike. In 1977, after the New York City Opera demonstrated the effectiveness of these productions, the Metropolitan Opera returned to television; its production of La Bohème was “seen in an estimated four million homes.” The Met went on to develop its own series, The Metropolitan Opera Presents, which, rather than broadcasting a live opera, used footage of several performances to create a product that both captured the magic of live opera and allowed some of a studio production’s control. Beginning with its 2006-07 season, the Met further expanded this approach with its movie theater series, The Met: Live in HD. These events, broadcast live, are later edited using rehearsal material to produce flawless performances for television rebroadcast and DVD sale.
Continued in Part 2...
 Kenneth A. Wright, “Television and Opera,” Tempo, 45 (1957): 9-10; Rebecca Paller, “‘Amahl’—Fifty Years Young,” Opera, 52, no. 12 (2001): 1443.
 Jennifer Barnes, Television Opera: The Fall of Opera Commissioned for Television
(Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2003),1.
 Peter Wynne, “Video Days,” Opera News, June 1998, 13.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 16.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 16; Paller, “‘Amahl’ — Fifty Years Young,” 1428, 1443.
 Frank Sturcken, Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland and Company Inc., Publishers, 1990), 47.
 Paller, “‘Amahl’ — Fifty Years Young,” 1428.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 16.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 17.
 Paller, “‘Amahl’ — Fifty Years Young,” 1438; Barnes, Television Opera, 17.
 Paller, “‘Amahl’ — Fifty Years Young,” 1440.
 Paller, “‘Amahl’ — Fifty Years Young,” 1441; Barnes, Television Opera, 38.
 Paller, “‘Amahl’ — Fifty Years Young,” 1443; Barnes, Television Opera, 18.
 Wright, “Television and Opera,” 10; Barnes, Television Opera, 19, 47.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 19, 35.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 18.
 Sturken, Live Television, 2-3.
 Sturken, Live Television, 104-06.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 17.
 Douglas Gomery, A History of Broadcasting in the United States (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 308.
 Gomery, A History of Broadcasting in the United States, 308-09.
 “Shows,” BravoTV.com, accessed April 4, 2011, http://www.bravotv.com/shows.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 77.
 Barnes, Television Opera, 81, 95.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 18.
 Wright, “Television and Opera,” 9.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 18.
 Wynne, “Video Days,” 20.
 W. Anthony Sheppard, “Review of the Metropolitan Opera’s New HD Movie Theater Broadcasts,” American Music, 25, no. 3 (2007): 383.
 Gary Eskow, “HD Special Section: New York’s Met in HD,” Mix, April 2008, 28.
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