The traditional German Singspiel had had a longer history, parallel to the popular comedy of Italy and France. As in those countries, the division between the purely popular and the more formal and literary comedy diminished. This led to a form of German-language comic opera, with some spoken dialogue, on a variety of subjects. The comic bird-catcher Papageno is one of a long line of such characters, an ordinary man set in the most extraordinary surroundings.
Comedy lies, as always, in the inappropriate situation and the down-to-earth reaction to it. Vienna brought together Italian opera and German Singspiel. Here, as in the major cities in Germany, two forms of opera co-existed, the Italian and the German. The 19th century, however, with all its political and cultural changes, gave a new impetus to German opera, not only to Beethoven and to Weber, but to composers like Marschner, Spohr and Lortzing. Towering over his contemporaries in ambition and achievement, Richard Wagner introduced, from the s onwards, new musical and dramatic conceptions of the art of opera or music drama.
While the last of these praises true German art in a plot based on the activities of the Mastersingers of the 16th century, The Ring is a massive conception dealing with the superhuman. The four works, to be performed on successive nights in the theatre Wagner built in Bayreuth, are closely interwoven, related by recurrent themes and fragments of themes associated with ideas and characters in the drama.
The plot of this massive operatic cycle is derived from Teutonic legend, stories of the old gods and the final destruction of their Valhalla. Operetta seems typical of Vienna in the later 19th century, exemplified by the music of Johann Strauss, in works such as Die Fledermaus The Bat , with its light-hearted intrigue and attempted marital deception. By the s, however, the formula had worn thin, gradually to be replaced by musical comedy.
Siegfried Wagner turns to weightier German legends in a series of operas that are only now finding an audience. Elektra in was followed by the moving nostalgia of Der Rosenkavalier The Knight of the Rose , a work of comedy and poignancy, an autumnal reflection of a mood of the time, set in the age of Mozart. His last opera, Capriccio , was first staged in Munich in His debt to Wagner may be seen as musical rather than dramatic, reflected in orchestration and harmony.
The intervention of National Socialism had, in opera as elsewhere, an immensely damaging effect on the general creativity of German opera. The s had brought a period of experiment, often outrageous enough in its defiance of tradition. He was dismissed from his position in Berlin and died in Other younger composers like Schoenberg, Zemlinsky, Weill, Goldschmidt and Hindemith were driven into exile and often, therefore, into other forms of musical activity.
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America, where some took refuge, lacked the traditions of the German opera house. Schoenberg left his great opera Moses und Aron Moses and Aaron unfinished. Zemlinsky did the same, never completing his last opera. Goldschmidt in England found almost as little opportunity as Hindemith in America, both having suffered from official censorship before their forced or chosen emigration.
At the time of his death in Vienna in he left his second opera, Lulu , unfinished. Germany and Austria continue to offer a fertile ground for new opera.
This is encouraged by the existence of a large number of efficient provincial opera houses and a measure of enlightened public support. There have been notable new operas from composers such as Hans Werner Henze and remarkable experiment from Karlheinz Stockhausen, among others, expanding the possibilities of music theatre. England, like other European countries apart from Germany, France and Italy, lacked an established national tradition of opera until the 20th century.
Henry Purcell, in the later 17th century, wrote a wealth of incidental music and contributed to a genre that recent scholars have called semi-opera, an amalgamation of spoken drama and a strong and often supernatural musical element. This last began a new form, the English ballad opera, with its use of popular melodies.
The musical borrowings, at least, must recall the practice of the Paris Fair Theatres. While there were English, Scottish and Irish composers of opera, there is relatively little trace of their work in continuing repertoire. Another composer of paternal Irish origin, Arthur Sullivan, survives triumphantly in his operettas, collaborations with W.
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The 20th century brought an element of national opera through Vaughan Williams, Holst and others. Their work in this form was largely for local audiences. The subject was local but its implications, as a study of an outsider in a closed community, were much wider. This was followed by a remarkable series of works, chamber operas and operas for the larger stage, culminating in Death in Venice , based on the novella by Thomas Mann. In those parts of the Habsburg Empire that were later subsumed for much of the 20th century in Czechoslovakia there arose, with the general nationalism of the midth century, national opera.
National traditions of Czech, Slovak and Moravian opera continue.
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Italian opera was brought to Russia in the 18th century and Italian composers were also involved in the setting of Russian libretti. A true Russian tradition of art music was established in the 19th century. This was started by Glinka with the supposedly historical opera A Life for the Tsar , followed by Ruslan and Lyudmila , based on Pushkin and exploring more exotic, oriental elements, as Russian composers were to continue to do. Three, at least, of the five nationalist composers who made up what became known as The Five or The Mighty Handful made notable contributions to Russian opera.
Mussorgsky achieved this, in particular, in his historical Boris Godunov and Borodin in his exotic Prince Igor. Rimsky-Korsakov may be better known abroad for his orchestral works, but he also wrote a series of important operas, ending with the exoticism of The Golden Cockerel , which, after trouble with the censors, was only staged after his death.
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Tchaikovsky, not one of The Five, but thoroughly Russian in his music, is known in international repertoire for two operas based on Pushkin, Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades. Russian opera continued in the 20th century, particularly in the work of Shostakovich, whose Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District won official condemnation. Its subject might have seemed quite acceptable to a Communist regime that believed in the social and political purpose of the arts. The opera is based on a story by Nikolay Leskov in which a young wife murders her father-in-law and, with the help of her lover, her husband, crimes for which she and her lover are punished.
This certainly follows political teaching in showing the degeneracy of the capitalists at the heart of the drama. For Stalin, however, the score was chaos instead of music. Prokofiev left Russia in and spent a number of years abroad, before finally returning home in , in time for the official attack on Shostakovich.
His most ambitious opera in Russia was the monumental War and Peace , based on Tolstoy. This was completed in but not staged until It may seem cavalier to include the rest of the operatic world in a geographical ragbag.
South America at first inherited operatic traditions from its colonial past, from Spain and Portugal. The United States also relied on European tradition but, in the 20th century in particular, went on to develop its own musical idiom. In opera this is reflected in the work of Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and others. Although many composers, forced into exile from Germany and German-dominated countries in Europe, found a place in the United States, there was little scope for opera.
Some were able to work in Hollywood, while others, like Kurt Weill, made a dramatic contribution to the American musical in music that often had its basis in earlier operatic experience. In Europe Spain and Portugal shared in the earlier developments of Italian opera and provided inspiration for other countries in choice of setting.
The popular Spanish zarzuela, with its song, dance and spoken dialogue, has a long history, but flourished particularly in the second half of the 19th century. Composers who wrote operas drawing on national sources of inspiration include Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla and Roberto Gerhard. Countries of Eastern Europe have again built on national musical and cultural traditions. In Poland Szymanowski made his own distinctive contribution to operatic repertoire with King Roger , a medieval drama based on the Bacchae of Euripides, echoing the conflict that the philosopher Nietzsche had seen again between Apollo and Dionysus, the serenely rational and the passionately irrational.
While the talents of these composers may not have been primarily operatic, all three contributed to the genre in characteristic ways. The three great streams that have come together in European opera have flowed from Italy, in the first place, then from France and from Germany. The same might be said of the great body of Western art music.
It was that mixture of Italian melody, French dance and German intellect and technique that created Western music as it is now known and the genre of opera that came from it. To this amalgam have been added the colours and cultural flavouring provided by other countries, with the later development of their own individual operatic traditions.
Opera itself is essentially a synthesis of the arts. Its music remains a synthesis of different national cultures, absorbed and then diffused once more. Since its early development it has had its enemies, cynics who can find nothing but the ridiculous in stage performances where characters, often in extreme circumstances, sing rather than speak or scream.
Yet it is arguably the highest of all arts, the sum and summit of them all, the art, as an early composer remarked, of princes. The Naxos A to Z of Opera cannot claim to be a complete survey of operatic history. There is no mention here of the musical and dramatic arts outside the European tradition, and even within this tradition there must be many omissions and many arbitrary choices.
While there are notable exceptions, most composers, major and minor, have written operas, so that any reader seeking fuller information would need to consult the four substantial volumes of The New Grove Dictionary of Opera , the most comprehensive publication on the subject, complete multi-volume dictionaries of music such as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians or Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart , or other shorter compilations that can still afford to offer wider coverage.
The present little book contains four main sections. The first and longest of these, after the Introduction, is an alphabetic listing of operas by title, with brief information on plot and place in the scheme of things. The second section is an alphabetic list of composers who have made notable contributions to the genre, and the third is a short glossary of technical terms that may be found in the preceding text.
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Keyword Search. Opera Seria The later years of the 17th century brought the beginnings of operatic reform.
Opera Buffa In the 18th century there was a parallel development of what was later known as opera buffa comic opera. Reform Opera Serious Italian opera, again at first in Vienna, underwent a marked reform with the work of Gluck and the librettist Calzabigi.