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23.8.04

More Opera Notes

A little article (Authentic sound for Wagner's Ring, August 20) from BBC News describes the new "authentic instruments" production of Wagner's Das Rheingold, at The Proms (The Guardian is reviewing the whole series) in the Royal Albert Hall in London (opened on August 19):

Conductor Sir Simon Rattle has led the first-ever modern performance of Wagner's Ring cycle, featuring the instruments the piece was written for. The German composer wrote the piece with specific instruments in mind - including oboes with fewer keys and tubas made specially for The Ring. [...]

Some of the instruments were built specially for Thursday evening's performance. Oboe player Dick Earle, of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, had to make his instrument himself. The tubas were specially made for Wagner's music. "It's difficult to find instruments from that time which are good enough to play on," he explained. Tuba player Roger Montgomery found getting to know his instrument was a challenge. "It takes a little bit of getting used to, and when there are four of you - because we play as a quartet - it can take a little bit more getting used to," he said.

To the untrained ear, the Wagnerian clarinet sounds almost identical to its more modern cousin. But clarinettist Anthony Pay said: "It contains a sort of intimacy which is very suitable for the things that we have to we play in the Ring." [...] As for Sir Simon Rattle, he is convinced using Wagner's choice of instruments adds something special to the performance. "The sound reminds me of the forest floor a lot more, of wood and pine needles and those types of aromas," he explained. "It's much more lyrical and flexible, and it has a different smell to it and a wonderful type of dampness."
I hope they make a recording, since I would love to hear it. (Read the review of the performance, by Andrew Clements in The Guardian.)

If you want to prepare yourself for the new opera season, check out Alex Ross's Fall Opera Preview (and, off topic, a Fall Concert Review) at The Rest Is Noise. We also remind readers of the Ionarts preview of the Opera Season, 2004–2005.

It looks like the responses to my question about Opera in the Twentieth Century have stopped. Here are the operas not already mentioned in my previous list:
  • Richard Rodney Bennett, The Mines of Sulphur
  • Stewart Wallace, Harvey Milk
  • Virgil Thomson, Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All
  • Kurt Weill, Threepenny Opera and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny ("absolutely essential," according to Alex Ross)
  • Prokofiev, War and Peace
  • Harry Partch, The Bewitched and Revelation in the Courthouse Park
  • B. A. Zimmermann, Die Soldaten
  • Lukas Foss, Griffelkin
  • Any opera by Werner Egk
  • Errki Melartin, Aino
  • Frank Martin, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac
  • Lars Klit, The Last Virtuoso
  • Hindemith, Die Harmonie der Welt
  • Bernstein, Candide
  • John Cage, any of the Europeras
  • Hans Werner Henze, Elegy for Young Lovers and The Bassarids
  • Luigi Nono, Intollerenza or Prometeo
  • New operas in Finland
Thanks to everyone who contributed thoughts on this question. All of your comments were helpful, even if there is no way to incorporate all of these great suggestions into the course. (One major problem is that I am limited to those operas for which there are recordings in the university's music library.) There were lots of operas suggested by readers that I had not considered, but there were still a few that are in my syllabus that were not suggested by you:
  • Gustave Charpentier, Louise (Opéra-Comique, 1900), the last major opera in the old French tradition before Pelléas
  • Maurice Ravel, L'Heure espagnole (Opéra-Comique, 1911): incredibly, poor Ravel was not mentioned by anyone!
  • Hans Pfitzner, Palestrina (1917)
  • Maurice Ravel, L'Enfant et les sortilèges (Opéra de Monte-Carlo, March 21, 1925, with ballet sequences by young Balanchine), which used jazz sounds earlier than Krenek, Weill, and Gershwin
  • Ernst Krenek, Jonny Spielt Auf (Leipzig Stadtheater, 1927)
  • Michael Nyman, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986) (see my post on August 9)
Other Americana:
  • Victor Herbert, Natoma (Philadelphia, 1911)
  • Kurt Weill, Street Scene (Adelphi Theatre, January 9, 1947), a later manifestation of the jazz-opera
  • Gian Carlo Menotti, The Saint of Bleecker Street (Broadway Theatre, NYC, 1954), who must be considered of major importance, if by nothing else than the number of productions his works receive
  • Samuel Barber, Vanessa (Metropolitan Opera, New York City, 1958)
  • Bernard Herrmann, Wuthering Heights (completed in 1951; premiered by Portland Opera, 1982), a superb opera by the film composer who collaborated with Hitchcock
  • John Cage, Theater Piece (Square Theater, NYC, 1960), which may be the work that finally smashed what was left of operatic conventions after Wozzeck
  • The Who (Pete Townshend), Tommy (rock opera, 1969), which I ultimately decided I can't really use, since it wasn't staged
  • Thea Musgrave, Mary, Queen of Scots (Scottish Opera, Edinburgh, 1977)
  • Libby Larsen, Ghosts of an Old Ceremony (A Tribute to American Pioneer Women)
  • Jake Heggie, Dead Man Walking (San Francisco Opera, 2000), which may technically belong to the 21st century
The real trick is to make a selection of what was most important, what really shaped the century, and leave the rest of this magisterial list for side commentary. I will probably still be making last-minute changes to the syllabus the night before the first class meeting. I am planning a blogging project for the course, so you'll be able to follow what the class discusses, but I'll have more to say about that later.

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