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jordanz

A Musical Crime

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Here's a letter to XM's VOX channel that I just sent:

Picture in your mind the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Think of the genius that brought this great work of art to life. Reflect on how Michelangelo toiled on his back for years to bring such beauty into the world. Now add to your mind's image Jackson Pollack dribbling paint all over Michelangelo's masterpiece. Even the imposters at the Tate in London would call this a monstrous crime.

A musical crime of similar proportions was committed by Luciano Berio. His act is awful enough, but that it is getting airplay on XM's Vox channel is itself a crime. The greatest composer who ever lived, Giacomo Puccini, died before completing his final opera Turandot. Puccini left behind enough material to finish the opera. His heirs and collaborators commissioned Franco Alfano to complete the opera. The result is seamless and honorable. First time listeners would never know that Puccini didn't write the last moments. Along comes Luciano Berio to add post-modern cacophany as his tribute. If you bit into a chocolate truffle and found that dirt had been put into the center, wouldn't you feel violated? That's precisely how I feel when I listen to the mud that Berio flung on to Turandot. XM should be ashamed to air this foul deed.

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The above is reference to 2001's new ending to Turandot by Luciano Berio. I didn't know it existed until XM started playing it. I was much happier when I was ignorant of it.

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The first time Toscanini performed Turandot, at the point at which Puccini's music ran out and Alfano's started, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience, and said, "At this point, the maestro laid down his pen;" and he ended the performance at that point. Alfano, a student of Puccini's, was commissioned to complete the orchestration with Toscanini's approval and did a respectable job in a difficult situation. I think Toscanini's impromptu tribute to the last great late Romantic Italian opera composer was quite moving, but it was a bit unkind to Alfano. These days, virtually all productions use the Alfano version, though. Even though it adds no new melodic inspiration, it services the drama well.

I haven't heard Berio's version, but I've heard other samples of his work and I wouldn't worry about his version making much of a footprint on music history, except in the sense that he's tracking in mud that will be hosed off, the rugs steam cleaned, and his trespass soon forgotten.

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