The crashing climax of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" had barely died away to end the first program of Berkshire Festival Concerts when a small group of students staged the third in a series of performances whose originality and boldness may well mark the beginning of a new era of American opera.
Under the direction of Boris Goldovsky, famed lecturer and concert planist whose knowledge of operate technique is well known, to his Saturday afternoon radio audiences. Tanglewood is offering a unique chance for young conductors and directors to train. "If a pianist needs a piano to practice, how can one expect an opera director to learn without actors!" explains the cherubic Goldovsky. Equipped as he is with a large group of competent student singers, he is able to give his embryo conductors and directors their necessary workouts.
Last night's program might well have been considered a minor triumph for Goldovsky. Of the five scenes offered, two of the most ambitious were directed and conducted entirely by students, while the other three had students at least in the conductor's podium if not in the director's chair.
The study of operatic directing is not the only radical departure from traditional technique offered by the school. More fluid staging and less wooden "business" have added a lighter touch to the student performances here as well as a feeling of animation which makes an operatic spectacle more than a series of singers parading on and off the stage with little or no attention to acting.
"The opera singer must learn to act" is one of the guiding principles propounded to students in the practice sheds and barns at Tanglewood. In fact, singing technique is taught here only as an incidental factor to staging.
Immediate adoption of such a revolutionary, almost heretical doctrine cannot be hoped for. But to anyone who has seen such moving and beautiful scenes as the prologue to "Faust" performed with original spoken dialogues once lost and wonderfully smooth staging--all of the research and direction by a student--the old way is apparently outmoded.
Tanglewood's young singers have ample talent to rise in their profession; this talent they have brought with them to the school. But here they are finding more: a new school of opera staging, new ideas, new interpretations. Here they are laying the foundation on which what is perhaps the most spectacular of musical media may rise to new heights.