OPERA 201 Video Series:
Introductions to National Styles of Opera
Explore how Opera developed in Italy, Germany & Czechoslovakia
(a) how ITALIAN OPERA developed
A series of 12 “short modules”:
- FRAMEWORK / INTRODUCTION
- Early Days : RENAISSANCE and BAROQUE Opera
- 18th c. BEL CANTO : The AGE of the CASTRATI
- 19th c. BEL CANTO : The ROSSINI CODE
- The “WHOSE MUSIC?” CONVENTION
- Exploring VIOLETTA’S SCENA
- The EVOLUTION of the ITALIAN LOVE DUET
- Is this the GREATEST ITALIAN LOVE DUET?
- VERISMO – ORIGINS
- VERISMO COMES TO ITALY
- VERISMO – STYLE
- PUCCINI and the DEATH of ITALIAN OPERA
(b) how GERMAN OPERA developed
A series of 3 one-hour lectures:
Part 1 – German Opera BEFORE Wagner
For our purposes, German-language opera begins with the 18th century spoken-dialogue SINGSPIELS of Mozart, particularly “the Abduction from the Seraglio” (1783) and “the Magic Flute” (1791).
During the ensuing French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, a new genius emerged in Vienna, Beethoven.
His only opera, “Fidelio” celebrates two central ideas: the primacy of freedom over tyranny, and the unshakeable love of a wife for a husband.
In the early 19th century post-wars period, von Weber used opera to promote the idea of an emerging national identity.
He further enhanced Beethoven’s focus on the orchestra.
These characteristics of IDEAS and the ORCHESTRA paved the way for Wagner’s innovations.
Part 2 – German Opera – Richard Wagner
The innovative artistic ideas of Richard Wagner indelibly transformed all of Europe’s culturally creative classes: poets, dramatists, painters, architects, and novelists.
Perhaps no other single artist has been so comprehensively influential in so many revolutionary ways.
Alex Ross’s insightful and readable recent book “Wagnerism” chronicles the bewildering number of ways his ideas have permeated politics, economics and society.
Clearly, no 80-minute introduction can do justice to his astonishing creativity – but this superficial overview will provide something of a starting point.
Part 3 – German Opera AFTER Wagner
It was said that there could be no Richard II after Richard Wagner, so his principal 20th century successor, Richard Strauss, is jokingly referred to as Richard III.
Against his father’s wishes and advice, the Munich born and based composer diligently developed Wagner’s assertion that the meaning of the texts and the primacy of the orchestra were the two essential ingredients of German opera.
Strauss’s operas are all “about” something.
He is the supreme master of vocal writing for the female voice.
(c) how CZECH OPERA developed
A series of 3 one-hour lectures:
Part 1 – Bedrich Smetana (1824 – 1884) and the Czech National Revival
In 1860, a decree from the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph removed his comprehensive prohibition on national cultural identities within the Habsburg domains and this sparked an outpouring of suppressed Czech nationalism.
The first expression of this movement was a subscription to to build a Provisional Theatre as a step towards the construction of a much-desired National Theatre.
Initially thwarted in his desire to be the principal conductor of this institution, Smetana eventually achieved his goal and created a series of operas celebrating Czech identity and history, including “Libuse” and “the Bartered Bride”.
His deafness did not inhibit his tuneful creativity.
Part 2 – Leos Janacek (1854 – 1928) : a unique genius
He lived most of his life in obscurity in a remote small Moravian town, far from Prague.
He didn’t start writing opera until he was 50 and his principal output came in his 60s and 70s.
His music does not follow the familiar western traditional patterns of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner.
It takes some getting used to.
He is an “odd duck”.
And yet, the emotional integrity of his music and the psychological insights of his unusual Czech-language libretti make him one of the greatest of all opera composers, worthy to be ranked with the three all-time greats: Wagner, Verdi and Mozart.
Part 3 – Antonin Dvorak (1841 – 1904) and Bohuslav Martinu (1890 – 1959)
These two Czech composers made their mark internationally, rather than domestically.
Dvorak was prominent in New York in the 1890s as the director of the American National Conservatory of Music.
He wrote in a wide variety of musical forms from symphonies to chamber music.
His nine operas are mostly on Czech folk-lore themes, with his best known being about the mythic water-sprite “Rusalka”.
Martinu was a prolific composer who wrote over 400 pieces.
He was a feature of the roaring 20s scene in Paris and later as a war émigré in the United States.
Barred from his native land by the communists, he lived mostly in France after the war.
His searing English-language opera “the Greek Passion” was first performed in 1961.