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History & Opera Series

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Operas set in: (1) SPAIN |(2) in PARIS |(3) in ROME |(4) in SCOTLAND |(5) in VENICE


(1) Four weeks in SPAIN
(operas set in …)

this series was originally presented through
CLASSI LEARNING

In this series of four one-hour lectures, Iain takes us first to ANDALUCIA (the south of Spain) were he features some of the hundreds of operas set in Seville, including the Beaumarchais operas, Don Giovanni, Fidelio, the Force of Destiny and, of course, Carmen.

He then takes us to CASTILE, ARAGON and LA MANCHA (Central Spain) for three more Verdi operas: “Ernani”, “Il Trovatore” and “Don Carlo”. We also encounter a couple of French operas, Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” and Ravel’s “L’heure Espagnole.”

In week three we visit the north – the PYRENEES – to discover Vivaldi’s “Oralndo Furioso”, Handel’s “Orlando”, Wagner’s “Parsifal”, Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’Amore”, and Massenet’s “Le Cid”.

In his final talk, Iain takes us to the SPANISH EMPIRE including visits to Spanish Italy with Verdi’s “Force of Destiny”, and to Peru with Verdi’s “Alzira” and Offenbach’s “La Périchole”. We will also visit El Dorado and Dutch Surinam for Bernstein’s “Candide” and Portuguese territory for Catán’s “Florencia en el Amazonas”.

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(2) five weeks in PARIS
(operas set in …)

this series was originally presented through
CLASSI LEARNING

For centuries, Paris has been both a “model” and a “magnet” – the richest and most dominant city in Europe. As a “model”, Parisian fashions in architecture, dress, literature and music radiated across the continent. Parisian cultural influence on Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain is unparalleled. As a “magnet”, it attracted the world’s greatest artists and innovators – and any success in Paris ensured not only widespread fame, but also unprecedented financial rewards.

As a result, nearly all of the greatest opera composers, both domestic and foreign-born (e.g. Lully, Rameau, Gluck, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Wagner, Bizet, Massenet, Debussy, etc.) created their greatest works for Paris.

And the city of Paris is the place-setting for many of the world’s most famous and most loved operas (e.g. Manon, La Bohème, La Traviata, Andrea Chénier, etc.).

In this course, Iain uses a loose historical framework to trace the development of operas created for the city, and to illustrate operas, composed in later times, set in each period of the city’s fascinating history.

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(3) three weeks in ROME
(operas set in …)

this series was originally presented through
CLASSI LEARNING

In his first lecture, ANCIENT ROME, Iain revisits the foundation myths of Rome (with the Trojan hero Aeneas forging the alliances which created the first Roman people). We learn how the initial rule of the first seven Kings was broken by the crucial exile of Tarquin the Proud in 509 BCE. And then, in the lengthy Republican period (to 27 BCE), we follow the fortunes of Lucius Sulla in his civil war against Gaius Marius and the subsequent civil wars between Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. This section ends with the court intrigues at the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty surrounding the Emperor Nero, and then the tumultuous imperial succession of the new Flavian dynasty featuring the extraordinary mercy of the Emperor Titus.

In Week 2, Iain explores MEDIEVAL and PAPAL ROME, featuring operas about the disastrous mid-13th century pilgrimage to the Lateran of Heinrich Tannhauser, the astonishing mid-14th century imperial revival of Rome under Cola di Rienzi, and the heroic mid-16th century triumph of the brilliant sculptor Benvenuto Cellini – none of which shows the Papacy in a very favourable light.

In Week 3, Iain explores MODERN ROME, beginning with the dramatic events of June 1800, as Napoleon’s second invasion of Italy created an existential crisis for the Neapolitan monarchical authorities in Rome. He explores the three key Roman locations dramatized by Victorien Sardou and later adapted by Giacomo Puccini in TOSCA. Finally, in lighter vein, Iain follows the misfortunes of the elderly Roman bachelor, Don PASQUALE and ends with a visit to the CURRENT OPERA HOUSES of the Italian capital city.

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(4) three weeks in SCOTLAND
(operas set in …)

This series was originally presented through
CLASSI LEARNING

In this course, Iain uses selected operas set in Scotland to explore THE DEVELOPMENT OF ITALIAN OPERA from the mid 18th century to the mid-19th century.

In his first lecture, HANDEL’S SCOTLAND, Iain examines Handel’s florid writing for his Castrati in his opera seria “ARIODANTE” from 1734, focusing on two contrasting da capo arias, “Scherza, infida” which demonstrates seething resentment at betrayal, and “Dopo notte” which exults in the feeling of sunshine after night has passed.

In his second lecture, Sir WALTER SCOTT’S SCOTLAND, Iain shows how the structure of Italian opera changed in the early 19th century. He focuses on Rossini’s (1819) setting of Scott’s narrative poem “The Lady of the Lake” and Donizetti’s (1835) version of Scott’s novel “The Bride of Lammermoor”, demonstrating their use of the new four-part scena “Rossini Code”.

In his final talk, Iain explores SHAKESPEARE and VERDI’S SCOTLAND: “MACBETH”. He selects three solo scenes for Lady Macbeth: the “Letter Scene”, the “Sleepwalking Scene” and her “Paris aria”.
In the first, he shows how Maffei and Verdi used Shakespeare’s verse structure to mirror the Rossini Code.
In the second, he shows how Lady Macbeth’s disjointed, fragmentary hallucinations required a new approach to scene setting.
In the third, he shows how Verdi’s new style for Paris in 1865 contrasts with his 1847 “Galley years” style for the Pergola in Florence.

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(5) four weeks in VENICE
(operas set in …)

this series was originally presented through
CLASSI LEARNING

In this four-week course, Iain follows the history of VENICE  with a wide variety of video excerpts from operas set in Venice.

In Week 1 : LORD BYRON and the IMPERIAL DOGES of VENICE, Iain examines Byron’s 1820 drama “MARINO FALIERO” about the only Doge to be executed for treason – and its operatic setting by Donizetti in 1835.
He then looks at Byron’s verse play from 1821 “THE TWO FOSCARI” about the longest serving Doge in Venetian history and his forced abdication over charges against his son. This became the subject for the young Verdi’s sixth opera “I DUE FOSCARI”.

In Week 2 : BIRTH, LOVE and DEATH in VENICE, Iain shows the foundation of the city of Venice on the mudflats of the lagoon in Verdi’s “ATTILA”.
Then, Venice at the height of its 16th century imperial power is depicted in Ponchielli’s “La GIOCONDA” and its seedy 19th century decadence is shown in Offenbach’s “Les CONTES d’HOFFMANN”.
Finally Benjamin Britten’s 1973 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella “DEATH in VENICE” reinforces the city’s melancholy foreboding behind the superficial tourist facade.

In Week 3 : SHAKESPEARE ON THE RIALTO, Iain features Andre Tchaikovsky’s opera “THE MERCHANT OF VENICE” first performed in 2013 and shows how Berlioz used the Jessica and Lorenzo night-time scene at Belmont to enhance his great love duet between Dido and Aeneas in “Les TROYENS”.
Finally he examines both the Rossini and Verdi versions of Shakespeare’s “OTHELLO, the Moor of Venice”.

In the final Week 4 : OPERA HOUSES and OPERETTAS of VENICE, Iain goes in search of the first public opera houses and their modern counterparts …
and features three operettas set in Venice:
Gilbert and Sullivan’s “the GONDOLIERS”, Johann Strauss Junior’s “a NIGHT in VENICE” and Leonard Bernstein’s “CANDIDE”.

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