User:JimDeLaHunt/Practical Opera Tracks

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Practical Observations on Opera Tracks and Work entities

Jim DeLaHunt, 3. November 2011

The Work entity in MusicBrainz now exists. But we are told it's not yet fully formed, and we certainly don't yet know quite how to use it. A particular issue is how to use the Work entity to describe operas. Many of the issues also apply to other classical music compositions.

To help the discussion along, here are some practical observations: real operas, with the track divisions from actual Releases of those operas.

Just to be clear, my strong goal is to make it easier for editors to contribute data to MusicBrainz. Others may want to build an encyclopedia of music; I'm a data entry and music tagging person. A big obstacle is the complexity of the cultural tradition of classical music, which manifests itself in complicated metadata and a tangled, bewildering Classical Style Guide (CSG). I want to use the Work entity of MusicBrainz to make data entry easier. Others have different agendas. The Work entity might also turn out to be useful to scholars and musicologists making an encyclopedia of classical musical works. That's fine by me, but it's not my objective.

Case study: "I Capuleti" opera

As a practical case study, I built a Works Tree for the opera "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", by Vincenzo Bellini. There are at least four Releases of this opera in MusicBrainz at the moment, and I based my case study on the two Releases I recently added.

This tree has a Work entity for the overall opera, and a work entity for each track start position I found in my Releases. Some of those Work entities correspond to composer-defined scene and aria divisions. But others are based on where Release producers chose to put track divisions. (I realise that I'm breaking the rules of the Parts Relationship Type with these, but it's what we'd need for simplifying data entry.)

I linked my two Releases of "I Capuleti e i Montecchi": I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Orchestra of the Royal Opera House feat conductor Riccardo Muti) (1984-04), and I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Wiener Symphoniker feat. conductor Fabio Luisi) (2008-04). This required going through each Recording of each Release, and creating a Performance relationship from Recording to child Entity. See an example child Work entity, I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I. Sinfonia, with two Performance relationships.

There turned out to be 46 child Work entities in the Work Tree. The Releases to which I linked had 36 and 41 tracks respectively, but some of the track divisions were different. Most of the Work entities applied to Recordings of both Releases, but some Work entities ended up specific to one Release or the other.

Constructing the Works tree was tedious. To create a single child Work entity and link it to the root Work, I counted 16-17 user interface actions—clicks, menu selections, radio button choices. It took me several hours to complete the work. Think about it: a few seconds per UI action, times 16 actions; a half-minute or so per page submit, all times 46 child Works, adds up to a long time. I benefited from clever use of multiple browser tabs. A novice editor using the MusicBrainz interface in a straightforward manner would take several times as long.

Knitting the Work Tree to the Recording Tree was quite tedious, for basically the same reasons. I gave up partway through the second Release.

I did not add any Work entities corresponding to Acts or Scenes shown in the opera's score. I don't think that kind of structure helps with data entry (though I can appreciate it helps someone creating an encyclopedia of music). All my child Work entities are attached directly to the root, not to Work entities for each act.

Lessons learned

  • Setting Work entity titles to strings according to the Classical Style Guide and Opera Track Style Style works pretty well.
  • It seems opera Releases all make slightly different choices about where to put track divisions. We should expect each recording to have a few track divisions that differ from other recordings, and many that are pretty similar.
  • Even so, there is a lot of commonality. We can save editors a lot of effort by letting them re-use Work titles as Track titles.
  • Operas Releases have a lot of tracks, and so opera Works Trees will have a lot of child Work entities. Expect 30-50 children per opera.
  • We need some way of imposing a sequence on the Work parts of an opera. Alphabetic ordering by Work title gives wrong answers, e.g. Atto I. Sinfonia (the overture) sorts after Atto I, Scena I., but should come before; "Scene IX" sorts before "Scene V". A sequence numbering across all the child Work entities in a tree would be sufficient.
  • Opera composers and score publishers use Act divisions pretty clearly and consistently. However, Releases do not always adhere to the Act boundaries in the composer's score. For instance, the liner notes of one Release I entered talked about three acts, but the score only mentioned two acts.
  • Opera composers and score publishers do not use Scene divisions clearly or consistently. In the I Capuleti score, there are two "Act II Scene VIII" labels; I assume one should have read "Scene IX". And some works do not print Scene divisions in the score at all—see examples from Norma and Rigoletto below.
  • Some Releases' tracks include multiple composer-specified scenes or Arias. Some tracks start just before or just after a composer-specified scene or number begins or ends, because that is a convenient pause in the sound.
  • Some Tracks are best named by a line of libretto which isn't actually the first line at all, it's the first significant line after the insignificant introductory words. We should be careful how the Style guidelines are worded.
  • The child Work and Track titles do not really imply an ending moment or duration of their respective Work or Track. Sometimes they don't imply a beginning moment either. They are labels, taken from a significant moment early in the referenced portion of the composition. Thus two Tracks from different Releases could relate to the same child Work because they are best described by the same significant moment and title, even though they may start and end at different moments. Maybe what we really want for better CSG data entry is a list of anchor points within each composition, and each anchor point has a CSG-compliant title string for reuse.
  • On the other hand, the CSG also calls for Track titles to have a list of characters suffixed. Which characters appear in this list is indeed a function of the exact moments a Track begins and ends. Some of the characters might appear only at the introduction or conclusion of a number. If a particular Track begins late and ends early, those characters should not appear in the Track's list of characters.
  • We need a standard for which human language to use in Work titles. Note Work title Act II, Scene V. "Deserto è il luogo" (act, scene in English) which was entered earlier, and Atto II, Scena IV. Scena e Duetto "Qual turbamento io provo!" (act, scene in Italian). Apart from being inconsistent, language differences sort alphabetically into the wrong order.
  • Creating Work Trees by hand is impractically slow, with current tools. Don't expect well-formed Work Trees for opera until there is a good Add Opera Work wizard.
  • Linking every Recording in a Release to its corresponding child Work entity is also impractically slow, with current tools.

Other examples

I Capuleti is the only opera for which I've constructed a full Work Tree. The CSG Standard pages, however, have been collecting carefully curated CSG-conformant Track Titles for quite some time now. A good CSG Standard entry is a great starting point for constructing opera Work Trees. And for right now, when MusicBrainz lacks good tools for adding 50-entry Work Trees efficiently, CSG entries are a lot more practical ways to collect Work entity titles than Work Trees are.

Here are some good CSG Standard entries for operas. Note the number of track/child Work names, and the number of tracks in representative Releases. Note also the variety in naming: some operas use scenes, some do not. Some entries write the words "Scene" and "Act" in English, some in Italian.


Mozart, Don Giovanni. 80(!) Track/child Work names. I copied and pasted track names from here when entering the Release, Don Giovanni (Chorus and Orchestra of the Paris Opéra, feat. conductor: Lorin Maazel) (61 tracks). Example child Work entity name:

Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, K. 527: Act I, Scene V. Recitativo "Chi è la? Stelle! che vedo" (Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni, Leporello)


Bellini, Norma. 47 Track/child Work names. I copied and pasted track names from here when entering the Releases, Norma (Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala feat. soprano: Maria Callas, conductor: Tullio Serafin) (52 tracks) and Norma (Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera, feat. conductor Paolo Peloso) (38 tracks). Example child Work entity name:

Norma: Act II. Coro "Guerra! Guerra!" (Chorus, Oroveso, Norma)


Verdi, Rigoletto. 49 Track/child Work names. I copied and pasted track names from here when entering the Release, Rigoletto (Rome Opera Orchestra & Chorus, feat. conductor: Jonel Perlea) (35 tracks). Example child Work entity name:

Rigoletto: Act II. Recit. "Compiuto pur quanto" / "Schiudete..." (Rigoletto, Gilda, Usciere, Monterone)


How Work Trees can help make opera data entry much easier

The big difficulty with data entry of opera metadata according to the Classical Style Guide is that the Recording and Track titles need to be complex strings that assemble a lot of different information together in a specific format. You need the opera name, act number, scene number, a designator like "aria", the starting words of the track, and a list of characters in that excerpt.

Fortunately, that title is based almost entirely on information in the opera score, not the Release. It's possible to construct those strings once, and then re-use them (with minor additions) when adding Releases to MusicBrainz. Unfortunately, the MusicBrainz data entry wizards are not set up to take advantage of this re-use. Instead, it requires editors to redo the hard work of assembling track title strings for every Release they enter.

One improvement we need is an Add Release wizard which starts by selecting a work, then helps copy titles of parts of that work into titles of Recordings, then attaches Tracks and a Release to those Recordings. This is of course a non-trivial wizard to build. Getting the User Experience design right will be even harder.

The other improvement we need is a place where experience editors can create and edit entries for compositions, and the titles for their parts. The best place we have right now is the CSG Standard pages. See e.g. the CSG Standard for "I Capuleti". A Works Tree could become an even better place, but it will need changes based on the lessons learned from this experiment.

See Also

Snapshot of "I Capuleti"

The Work Tree for "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", by Vincenzo Bellini. Below is a listing of the Work entities as of November 2011, for future readers of this note.

Parts:

  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Act II, Scene V. "Deserto è il luogo" (Romeo, Tebaldo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Act II, Scene VII. "Arresta." "Qual mesto suon echeggia?" (Tebaldo, Romeo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena I. Coro d'introduzione "Aggiorna appena..." (Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena II. "L'amo tanto, e m'e si cara" (Tebaldo, Capellio, Capuleti, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena II. "Si, m'abbraccia" (Capellio, Lorenzo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena II. "È serbata a questo acciaro" (Tebaldo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena II. Scena e Cavatina "O di Capellio, generosi amici" (Tebaldo, Capuleti, Capellio, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena II. Scena e Cavatina "Vanne Lorenzo; e tu, che il puoi" (Capellio, Tebaldo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena III. "Ascolta. Se Romeo t'uccise un figlio" (Romeo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena III. "La tremenda ultrice spada" (Romeo, Capellio, Tebaldo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena III. "Lieto del dolce incarco" (Romeo, Tebaldo, Capellio, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena III. "Riedi al campo, e di allo stolto" (Capellio, Romeo, Tebaldo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena IV. "Oh! quante volte" (Giulietta)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena IV. Andante maestoso
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena IV. Recitativo e Romanza "Eccomi in lieta vesta" (Giulietta)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena IX. "Tace il fragor... silenzio" (Giulietta, Romeo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena V. Scena e Duetto "Propizia è I'ora" (Lorenzo, Giulietta, Romeo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena VI. "Ah, crudel, d'onor ragioni" (Romeo, Giulietta)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena VI. "Odi tu? L'altar funesto" (Romeo, Giulietta)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena VI. "Si, fuggire: a noi non resta" (Romeo, Giulietta)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena VI. "Vieni, ah! vieni, in me riposa" (Romeo, Giulietta)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena VII. Coro "Lieta notte, avventurosa" (Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena VIII. Finale primo "Deh! per pietà, t'arresta" (Lorenzo, Romeo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena X. "Io te lo chiedo in nome" (Romeo, Capuleti, Giulietta, Capellio)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena XI. "Accorriam...Romeo!" (Montecchi, Tebaldo, Capellio, Romeo, Giulietta, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena XI. "Che miro?" (Tebaldo, Lorenzo, Giulietta, Romeo, Capellio)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena XI. "Se ogni speme è a noi rapita" (Giulietta, Romeo, Tebaldo, Capellio, Montecchi, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I, Scena XI. "Soccorso, sostegno accordagli" (Giulietta, Romeo, Tebaldo, Capellio, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto I. Sinfonia
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena I. Allegro moderato
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena I. Scena ed Aria "Né alcun ritorna!" (Giulietta, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena II. "Morte io non temo, il sai" (Giulietta, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena III. "Ah! non poss'io partire" (Giulietta, Capellio, Capuleti, Lorenzo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena III. "Deh! padre mio" (Giulietta, Capellio, Lorenzo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena III. "Prendi, gl'istanti volano" (Lorenzo, Giulietta, Capellio, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena IV. Scena e Duetto "Qual turbamento io provo!" (Capellio)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena IX. "O tu, mia sola speme" (Romeo, Giulietta)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VI. "Chi sei tu, che ardisci" (Tebaldo, Romeo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VI. "Stolto! A un sol mio grido" (Tebaldo, Romeo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VII. "Ecco la tomba" (Romeo, Montecchi)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VII. "Ella è morta, o sciagurato" (Romeo, Tebaldo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VII. "Qua' voci! Oh, Dio!" (Romeo, Tebaldo, Capuleti)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VII. Coro, Aria e Duetto finale "Siam giunti" (Montecchi)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VIII. "Deh! Tu, bell'anima" (Romeo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena VIII. "Tu sola, O mia Giulietta" (Romeo)
  • I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Atto II, Scena X. "Ah! crudel! che mai facesti?" (Giulietta, Romeo, Montecchi, Capellio, Lorenzo, Capuleti)