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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 know quite how to use it yet. A particular topic of debate is how to use the Work entity to describe Opera. 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 bias is strongly in favour of making it easier for editors to contribute data to MusicBrainz. 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. I want to use the Works entity of MusicBrainz to make data entry easier. Others have different agendas. The Works entity might also turn out to be useful to scholars and musicologists for cataloguing classical musical works. That's fine by me, but it's not my objective.

Case study: "I Capuleti" opera

As an 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, and I based my case study on two of them.

This tree has a Work entity for the overall opera, and a work entity for each track start position I found in various Releases of this opera. 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 two Releases of "I Capuletti 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 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, 16-17 user interface actions were necessary (I counted). It took me several hours to complete the work. Think about it: a few seconds per UI action, timex 16 actions; a half-minute or so per page submit, all times 46 child Works, adds up to a long time.

I did not add any Work entities corresponding to Acts or Scenes as reflected 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.

Lessons learned

  • Setting Work entity titles to strings according to the Classical Style Guide and Opera Track Style Style works pretty well.
  • Opera releases are 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, a lot of effort can be re-used by taking 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".
  • 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. 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.

How this 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.

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)