Nice review. If you want to know why it feels familiar, you know where to go (or, my recent English Concert “Ariodante” review has found stunning similarities (minus the fangirling, and really, that’s taking all the fun out of it) in the one posted on OperaToday, and I’m not amused by it).
Tonight, we’ll be doing an impromptu session on structural plagiarism, which, for some of my students, is a concept that is hard to grasp.
Structural plagiarism is if you don’t cut-and-paste directly, but just steal thoughts and structures, specific details or catchphrases from something and use them, deliberately refashioned here and there, as your own work. My students are usually baffled that this can be recognized and called out, but let me give you a perfect example:
Her timbre is incredibly rich and beautiful, though it is never just about beauty. Her voice is a Mahler’d ray of sunshine, bronzen and burnished and deep, joyful in a way of won through anguish. There is that rhapsodic slant that always, and more than in any other singer, reminds me of Fassbaender, not only in tone, but in how she approaches tone as a narration. […] her voice struck me as the serene and the lamenting in perfect balance. She still has that edge of bold recklessness in there, but also so much more gentle nuance.
These are the first lines I wrote on Alice Coote’s singing in my “Ariodante” review. Note the cluster of adjectives (in bold). And now have a look at this:
Case closed. But for the sake of thoroughness, some more dissection:
There is a thing called “idiomatic density” (there is also a thing called “stylistically harrowing and stilted”, but that’s not my topic today). Idiomatic Density basically means this: The probabilities that you, by chance (“you” in this case being Claire Seymour writing for OperaToday), happen to use the same four distinct adjectives in two consecutive phrases in your review as I did in mine, are approaching zero.
Now – second level – repeat the same exercise as above, but, in addition to identical vocabulary, also take into a count slightly different wordings, while maintaining the the focus and content of a phrase (in this case, describing the Coote’s appearance as relating to hair and shoes – which, btw, were no stilettos since they did have a broader heel, which makes the second sample appear purposefully rephrased).
Again, this is my work:
Coote […] dressed in all-black, walked in in tuxedo pants […] she wore open-toe heels that gave Ariodante an unexpected vulnerability. […] Just like with Prina, Coote – blond hair out and to her shoulders – was at all times recognizable as a female singer, a female body.
And this is not:
In this following third sample, again, please observe matching specific vocabulary (‘masculine/masculinity’, ‘anger’) to address an identical detail (Ariodante’s rage), as well as matching concepts (mention of dissolving gender) to establish a broader context of derivation:
The way Coote moved, the way she established both masculine-coded anger and chivalry for Ariodante on and through her female body was not female at all. It […] moved past conventional femininity without even questioning it.
Comparison sample (not mine):
As a final exercise in the overlapping zone of vocabulary (‘work’) and concept (the physicality of Coote’s singing as work on display), consider the following lines:
…It is true that she has to work more for some of the leaps […] but Coote has always been a singer working from her body and not trying to hide that work she does.
And this is eerily close to it:
And there are many more parallels that cannot easily be wiped away with “oh, we watched the same show” (actually, we didn’t, since I saw it in Vienna and not in London). Early on, e.g. I singled out William Carter’s theorbo playing – a rather specific element, I did not see him mentioned in any other write-up – and returned to him at various points in my review:
Special mention: the theorbo (William Carter, I believe?), for some magical mood-painting moments.
Comparison sample by Seymour, who also returns to Carter more than once:
To finish our block of introduction to Structural Plagiarism, I now invite you to look at the five detailed, short instances discussed so far in the given context of a single paragraph (as presented in Seymour’s review), and consider the number of both superficial (vocabulary) and conceptual (angles, focus, details/figures addressed) matches:
Ah, but if you thought it ended there, fear not: all my reviewing business is lengthy. In this next exercise, feel free to hone your skills in recognizing structural plagiarism: which highly distinctive words and word combinations seem oddly familiar to you?
You know what is not mine in these paragraphs? The incorrect use of “transgender”.
What is mine, however, is this (special mention to the identical, highly specific vocabulary in describing Prina’s vocal work: rubati/rubato, ornamentation(s), dynamic(s) ):
Prina […] wore those same lace over boy brief pants as in Carnegie Hall, with a pair of spiky killer heels that I have dubbed “I skinned The Queen Of The Night For These” and rocked a half-sleeve tube top […] that also put her tattoo(s) on display.
Prina […] prowls and pounces, swaggers and slinks in a way that is mesmerizing. One never gets the impression of any gesture being put on or posed: this is an artist with an enviable flow right from her own comfort zone.
…the forte top notes come with a stronger taste of metal now, and the rapid open-throat runs have perhaps gained a bit more air…
where Prina’s technical and stylistic finesse stand out starkly, it is here, in the effortlessly delivered small rubati, in the smooth phrase-end ornamentations […] And there is the differentiated work she does in small-scale dynamics…
In my impression, what Prina is looking for in her work is not a flawless sound […] but the exact mood of an exact moment. She does not seem to see this as a solitary quest, either – she is very generous with her stage partners in offering cues and opening up spaces, leaving the reaction level up to them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a singer who is so much in the now, and so much in easy sync with herself.
This is usually the point where my students start to move nervously in their seats if I have caught them and am in the process of chewing them out. This is also the point where I am not done yet:
Again, idiomatic density: find at least two uncanny parallels for a passing grade! Bonus points for ‘calling attention to the dress in some way’:
Christiane Karg opened the evening once more with a flawless rendition of “Vezzi, lusinghe”, […] This Ginevra is one of perfect poise…
I am usually underwhelmed by couture, but that dress – well, Karg in that dress – was a vision. An elegant blend of gathered and billowing, worn with a grace that made sure that even a bright red never came across as too bright.
How about revisiting Dalinda for a bit?
Wait, didn’t I hear some of that before?
Bevan has a sizeable, almost mezzo-ish tone. She […] comes across as spunkier than your average coloratura soprano. She will likely build up more color repertory with growing experience, but as a still fairly young singer next to more seasoned colleagues like Prina, Coote and Karg, she held her own.
Bevan had to deliver “Se tanto piace al cor” afterwards, and she gave it some weight […] that again sounded more mezzo-ish in color.
The final Dalinda/Lurcanio duet is beautifully sung.
I also don’t mind revisting Portillo’s Lurcanio:
It is nice to see Odoardo singled out again, and Brook’s cultivated tone and emotional portrayal lauded, but the theorbo accent for Lurcanio was in the recit preceding the aria (I even quoted the line), not in the aria itself. Oops:
Portillo storms in with Lurcanio’s accusations and he gets an absolutely roaring accent in the theorbo for “chiedo giustizia, e non conforto”. And then he sings perfectly. Again. With great coloratura.
This show […] was [Brook’s] most cultivated take yet, […], but also maintaining the emotionality that had a few people move with unease […]. The way Brook worked up, against his disbelief and helplessness and despair, the ire of condemning Ginevra in a single phrase was great work.
And props to Bradley Smith for this moment. Odoardo is a relatively thankless recit part, but Smith was present at all times when on scene, yet never overdid it. […] it may not be a part to make a big difference, but I really liked the work he did with his lines and on the scene beyond.
And, as a final exercise in this introduction to structural plagiarism, heed my favorite bit that magically counts with “fingertips” for “wrist”, (given British libel laws and the impossibility of proving structural plagiarism in such a context, I do of course not suggest anything other here than that the gentle reader ponder the laws of probability and draw their own conclusions):
This is Seymour’s piece:
These quotes are from my review:
Likewise, Bicket, […] only needed the smallest motion of barely more than his fingertips to indicate the sound he wanted and getting it back.
…the English Concert under Harry Bicket, with a slender, poignant, driven sound.
They play with a relatively small cast […] leaving at all times lots of air and space for the voices…
Bottom line: I invested six hours into my review last weekend because I loved the performance and wanted to share my impressions. I did not expect to find so many of my observations reflected on an ad-financed web portal.
There is a thing I say to my students when I catch them plagiarizing: By doing this, you devalue your field and your degree, and the degrees of your fellow students. It makes you a disgrace to your future profession, and I will not let this slide in my classroom.
I don’t know what I would say to someone who publishes academically or works in education.
It has gotten late, so I will sign off, but I will contact OperaToday via their contact page tomorrow and demand the review be removed. You are, of course, most welcome to do the same, or, since OperaToday is also on Twitter, to politely ask about their Barbican “Ariodante” review and point them towards its magically similar, five days older, companion piece.