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To discuss what "the most important quality" means, it is reasonable to ask for more defined descriptions.
Like instrumentation, text is part of each note; I would not use "accessory" to characterize either.
The most important quality is the one that the work cannot live or exist without. As long even an Opera is a musical work (a composition) first and foremost (not a work of literature), music (the composition) is the most important quality. The text, even if it comes from the composer himself, it is added for the theatrical purposes.
Instrumentation is "part of" the "whole", which is the music itself, but it is an integral part of it and, thus, it cannot be changed; it should be observed by the performers. The text is an external factor, usually added by a librettist, and it has no musical characteristics itself. In this way, it is an "accessory", a necessary one, for the theatrical purpose of the Operatic work. As such, it can be changed, based on the fashion, local needs, particular circumstances in different languages, while the instrumentation remains the same on every occasion. In a live performance, even the direction is an integral part of the "Complete Work of Art", but it is an external one and can be changed accordingly, based on the various circumstances.
What is musical characteristic? Without music, text may not have musical characteristic, but so doesn't a cymbal, one may say.
Many things which do not have musical characteristics can add theatrical value. How do you determine which ones are "necessary" ?
I see diverging views on a number of issues transpired during our respective posts. Taking into the same level a musical instrument (cymbal) with a non-musical item (text, libretto) is of striking interest, one may say. What I may add is that the cymbal stroke(s) can be an integral part of the instrumentation of the potential musical composition, while the (respective) text is going to be added on top of the notes to be sung (when it is required). In this way, it may be altered, if necessary, based on different circumstances. In this way, the text has its own value, connected/related to the musical work (Opera, Oratorio etc.) but not as an integral part of the composition. (Often, we have poor libretti on great -musically- Operas or Oratorios or the other way round).
As for the theatrical value, what may be determined as "necessary" is related to (if not dependent on) the production of the theatrical performance (in some dreadful contemporary Opera productions, some props or "costumes" are more indinspensable than the music itself).
"It may be altered" - to what extent? If one feels that a requiem text replaced with An die Freude, or vice versa, improves the musical value, so be it (at the expense of the authority). Though in that case perhaps altering the text with rests instead is preferable. But then the claim that text is necessary becomes problematic...
"It may be altered" may happen not to "improve the musical value, but to serve particular circumstances (problems/challenges related to the original language [e.g. Chandos extended series of "Opera in English". I trust nobody believes Chandos embarked on this project with a view to improving the musical value of the respective Operas], theatrical occasions etc.).
The text is necessary, when there is singing material and the singers have to have a specific text to sing on the designated notes of the score (Opera/Oratorio) and for theatrical/stage purposes (Opera).
P.S.: I hope the weekend might offer us good and timely opportunity to clarify and possibly align respective positions on how to address the text/music challenge(s) once and for all. Bon weekend en tout cas.
Different words have different sounds. You implied as much, with mentioning of the need for Chandos. I trust that much of the public do not even appreciate differences in instrumentation, but can easily agree on the beginning of this post.
If you disagree that changing the text affect the musical value, I believe you are selectively determining the sound content of a score.
In addition to the sound of the text, I'd like to remind that we had discussed earlier on the meaning of the words as applicable to the music also.
PS -With patrons like you, parla, I think opera in English is probably not needed anyways, especially Wagner.
Different words have different (not musical) sounds. I understand that many people might not be able to notice the differences in instrumentation, but there is a difference anyway and it matters in musical terms.
Changing the text might affect the overall value of a multi-faceted work, like Opera or Oratorio or even a Lied/Song, but not the actual musical one (the text is not music per se). The Autumn Leaves, one might say, is a "different" song vis a vis "Les Feuilles Mortes", since the original lyrics of Jaques Prevert have been changed with those by Johnny Mercer. However, if the score used is the same on both songs, the actual music matters for all audiences, of course, working in different ways for the Englsih or French-speaking audiences. Often, singers deem it necessary to sing it in both languages, converging to...the music itself.
Of course, the meaning of the words have an impact to the music, but again an external one, not a musical one. How much is Handel's Messiah musically affected if one is hearing "Glory to God" or "Ehre sei Gott"? Probably, the latter might alienate the familiar or the English speaking audiences, but are they going to find the music inferior or even different because of the German text?
P.S.: Opera in English might be needed for English speaking audiences, if they deem it necessary. (Chandos is a British recording company...by the way).
My point is not so much about whether something has a musical purpose independent of a score, but rather a score with text is not musically exactly the same if the text is changed. If not for the sake of a score, what, as far as the artistic purpose of instruments is concerned? Visually, perhaps.
As you are aware, there is also the implication of music associated with particular word(s) in a work. Also, theatrical value can involve music, anyways.
I may say that in the Johnny Mercer example, the negligible difference you claim is perhaps acceptable.
A score with text is not identical, if one changes the text, not necessarily musically but as for its own identity, authenticity. As for the music per se, as long as there is no change whatsoever in the musical score, its musical value remains the same.
Chandos, without anouncing a new series of the "Oratorio in English", released rather recently the "Johannes-Passion" in English with the title "St. John Passion", conducted by David Temple.
In the booklet, the fine British label claims that the recording "aims to present the work in a form that is accessible as possible to a modern English-speaking audience". Nothing about the (vital) implication of this music associated with particular words in such a fundamentally German work (in the opening chorus the very idiomatic German "Herr, unser Herrscher" becomes a generic "Hail! Lord and Master", while the final one "Ruht wohl" becomes a commonplace "Sleep well"). I guess the producer and the Chandos recording company thought that the music transcends...everything. With Bach's sublime Music, one may agree.
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