Posted by Jay Bertolet on December 26, 2003 at 16:48:56:
In Reply to: Re: Re: Re: Opera/tuba question posted by curmudgeon on December 26, 2003 at 12:53:22:
Equating the tuba and the cimbasso as similar is mostly a flawed approach. The only things they have in common are that they are both the bass brass voice and that they play in similar octaves. That is where the similarities end. At the last ITEC (in North Carolina) I did a presentation with the NC Symphony Orchestra Trombone section where we played Verdi opera excerpts and I kept switching between a couple of contrasting Eb tubas and the Eb cimbasso I have. The difference the cimbasso made was staggering. I didn't speak to anyone attending the presentation who said that the excerpts worked better with either of the tubas. If you just evaluate based on the quality of the end product, I think the cimbasso is a slam dunk winner.
As far as proof, we need look no further than Verdi's own written statements. A few years ago, there was an article in a TUBA Journal that quoted letters written by Verdi, associated with the Paris premier performances of his opera Aida. Verdi was quite specific about having a cimbasso or, if no cimbasso could be found in Paris, that the contractor hire a couple of Ophicleide players for the part. He wanted no part of a tuba, under any circumstances. This is hardly surprising considering that Wagner and Verdi were very competitive forces at that time and Wagner had clearly embraced the Saxhorn tradition, and therefore the tuba. Verdi and Wagner were nearly polar opposites on all issues operatic and it doesn't surprise me at all that he was so stringent in his opposition to using anything in the pit that sounded like Wagner where he had a choice.
As to why we don't use Ophicleides and Serpents, my guess is that they don't sound all that well in the modern day orchestra. You're absolutely right in that we don't use cat gut strings, we don't tune to A=435, and we also play in much bigger halls today. The instruments have biggers bores as well and are optimized to produce a much greater volume of sound than in previous eras. The fortunate thing where the cimbasso is concerned is that these factors don't hinder the use of the cimbasso. It is perfectly capable to fit into the modern pit orchestra and render a very close approximation to what Verdi had intended. I know this because of the relative ease with which these Verdi parts work using a cimbasso rather than a tuba. They just lay better. The same cannot be said for the Ophicleide or the Serpent, as far as I know.
In any event, Verdi invented the cimbasso and his use of it was quite well documented. Try checking out some of his writings on the subject and also Clifford Bevan's book "The Tuba Family" has quite a wealth of information on the subject. I personally think that the only reason we don't see more cimbasso use today is because they are still relatively rare instruments to find. I also think that we will continue to see more use of them and that the current trend that shows a marked increase of cimbasso use is only the beginning of what will be a revival of the instrument.
My opinion for what it's worth...