Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Brief History of Opera

You can't get much briefer than this. From The New York Times, here's a mini-primer: A Brief History of Opera The Baroque (1600-1750) Europe in the 17th century was host to a great rise in dramatic theater. In England this dramatic revival was led by the works of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe; in France, by Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine. In Italy, however, this movement was not in the spoken word but rather in a new form that combined drama with music — opera. The very first opera is generally considered to be “Daphne,” composed in 1591 by Jacopo Peri (1561-1633). The early operas were referred to as “drama through music,” and their plots were typically based on myth, much like their inspiration, the classic dramas of ancient Greece and Rome; later operas most often concerned themselves with historical figures. These first operas did not yet fully integrate music and drama. Half-sung passages, called recitatives, alternated with orchestral interludes and choruses that commented on the dramatic events. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) contributed more to the development of the opera form in the 17th century than anyone else. He established the fully sung aria (in place of the earlier recitative) and used a larger and richer-sounding orchestra. Monteverdi’s work (“Orfeo,” “The Coronation of Poppea”) became a model for the operatic composers who followed and helped to bring opera to the masses, first in Venice and then throughout Europe. By the 18th century opera had become the most widely cultivated musical form, with most major composers contributing to the repertory. The later Baroque period saw the cultivation of several different operatic styles, including opera seria (serious opera) and opera buffa (comic opera). Notable during this period were the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully in France and the nearly 50 powerful operas by George Frederick Handel, among them “Rinaldo,” “Giulio Cesare” (Julius Caesar) and “Orlando.” The Classical Period (1750-1820) Opera underwent many important changes in the Classical era. By the late Baroque period, Italian opera had become a series of overly wrought arias designed to display the talents of superstar singers. As a reaction to the perceived vocal excess, Classical composers cut back on the ornamentation, reintroduced instrumental interludes and accompaniments between arias and made greater use of choral singing. They also sought to combine groups of recitatives, arias, duets, choruses and instrumental sections into unified scenes. The most important reformer during the Classical era was Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-87). In his works, including “Orfeo et Eurydice” and “Iphigénie en Tauride,” the music served the drama, without interruption by unnecessary orchestral passages or florid singing. The reformation movement climaxed in the stage works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in which every aspect of the vocal and instrumental portions contributed to the overall plot development and characterization. In Mozart’s operas, like “Le Nozze de Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro) and “Don Giovanni,” the music for each character is distinct in tone and style from the other characters, and the action is reflected in the structure of the work. The Romantic Period (1820-1900) Even with the introduction of new instrumental forms, opera remained the most popular music of the 19th century. During the Romantic period, the art of opera reached its zenith, producing grand spectacles and offering many showcases for spectacular singing. In every way, Romantic operas were longer, bigger and more majestic than their Classical-era counterparts. Characteristic of the new Romantic opera was the French grand opéra. This type of work — like Hector Berlioz’s epic “Les Troyens” — was not only longer in duration than previous French opera, but also employed more musicians, more artists, more stagehands and more technicians. This style was supplemented by drama lyrique, a more lyrical and sentimental style typified by Gounod’s “Faust.” In Italy, Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868) introduced a new style known as bel canto (literally “beautiful singing”). This new style of opera featured complex and ornate melodic lines (which vocalists could ornament at will), simple harmonic structure and musical numbers that combined to make composite scenes. His countryman Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) introduced a new realism and intensity of expression to the form; his operas, like “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata,” combined rhythmic vitality with superbly crafted melodies to great popular acclaim. In Germany, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) advanced the majestic “music drama,” which combined elements from Greek tragedy and the symphonies of Beethoven intro a dramatic whole that was referred to as “Gesamtkunstwerk” (“Complete Artwork”). Wagner’s operas, most notably “Tristan und Isolde” and the four-opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” pushed the boundaries of traditional tonality and impelled the art form to a larger scale. His ground-breaking work changed the nature of opera and influenced virtually all musical forms for decades to come. The 20th Century Opera in the first half of the 20th century continued to be influenced by the works of the Romantic era. Richard Strauss, who bridged the Romantic and modern eras, composed intense works that reflected the tremendous influence of Wagner. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), with works like “Tosca,” “La Boheme,” “Madama Butterfly” and “Turandot,” continued the Italian grand opera tradition of Verdi and Rossini. World War II proved to be a turning point for 20th-century opera, with postwar composers seeking to revitalize the form that had apparently come to a conclusion with the outbreak of hostilities in Europe. These newer composers, led by Benjamin Britten (1913-76), breathed new life into opera by judiciously integrating other 20th-century movements into the established art form. Britten himself often worked outside opera’s conventional boundaries, writing operas for children, for the church, and even for television. Later composers, like Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), further pushed opera’s musical boundaries, while Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) and Douglas Moore (1893-1969) injected American musical styles into the form. At the dawn of the 21st century, composers like Philip Glass (b. 1937) and John Adams (b. 1947) continued to change the face of opera, introducing multimedia elements, political commentary, rock music and other unconventional elements. — From “The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge” The 21st Century One of the biggest news stories in recent years was the death on Sept. 6, 2007, at age 71, of Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian singer whose ringing, pristine sound set a standard for operatic tenors of the post-World War II era. Like Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind before him, Mr. Pavarotti extended his presence far beyond the limits of Italian opera. He became a titan of pop culture. Millions saw him on television and found in his expansive personality, childlike charm and generous figure a link to an art form with which many had only a glancing familiarity. But perhaps the most important development was the effort by Peter Gelb, who took over as the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, to move opera outside the confines of the opera house, bring it into the digital age and take it to a wider audience. He instituted a program of enormously popular live high-definition transmissions of broadcasts to movie theaters worldwide, as well as the Met’s lively 24-hour station on Sirius satellite radio. In October 2008, Mr. Gelb announced that the Met would start making many video and audio broadcasts available for Internet streaming on demand, through a service called Met Player. Other opera houses have followed suit to one degree or another: the Bayreuth Festival offered a live streaming of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” in summer 2008; the Royal Opera House in London has a free streamed “Don Giovanni” available; and the San Francisco Opera provides a few excerpts from its productions. But the Met’s on-demand streaming effort appears to be the most extensive of any house.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Theme Performance Class Poll Results

The polls are closed! Thanks for voting and speaking your mind. Here's what you said you wanted more of (and you'll get it!): Guest masterclasses: DARLA BROOKS MOSTELLER, APRIL 16! Diction workshops: IN PROGRESS Yoga classes: DONE Alexander technique: DONE Mock auditions with feedback: DONE Managing stage fright: ONGOING If we have time, there are a few people who wanted "Things I've learned," but the numbers were pretty low. We'll try to accommodate it if there's an extra class.

Repertoire assignments

Hi folks, Following are your repertoire assignments. As always, I welcome requests! Remember, I reserve veto rights, but knowing what inte...