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A Brief History of Opera- Baroque to 21st Century

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Whitney George

on 13 November 2017

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Transcript of A Brief History of Opera- Baroque to 21st Century

Romantic Opera
a scene from Puccini's 'La Boheme'
19th century- golden age of opera
Rossini- Barber of Seville
Donizetti- Anna Bolena (ill fated wife of Henry VIII)
Verdi- Macbeth
Wagner- Tristan und Isolde
Puccini- La Boheme
Opera combined a couple of elements important to the romantic movement:
breaking down the barrier between the arts- interdisciplinary collaboration
celebration of music as the most profound of the arts
revival of older works (Shakespeare) for the stage
The Golden Age of Opera
Verdi & the Italian Opera
Italian composer (1813-1901)
Mid/late Romantic Era
Studied in Busseto & Milan
Suported by a patron
Married the patron’s daughter
His legacy as a composer is within the discipline of opera
wrote operas with political undertones
was a nationalist- supported unification of Italy
critics accused him of using scandalous subjects in his productions
seemed to condone rape, suicide, and ‘free love’
Verdi, Rigoletto (1851)
the orchestra has a more important role in recitative moments in the opera, but takes a “backseat” during the arias
recitative moments were no longer simple dramatic declamation of text with bare (typically harpsichord) accompaniment
more of a blend between aria and recitative throughout the work
Arias could still be distinguished because they were for
solo voice (duets, or trios)
contained-- had a form of their own in a larger scheme of the scene
not plot driven, but emotionally driven
usually use repetition
featured BEL CANTO style—beautiful singing
Recitative and Aria
based on a play by Victor Hugo “The King Amuses Himself”
Rigoletto is a jester of the court
Gida- the daughter Rigoletto loves so much he shields from everyone
Duke- wants Gida, and would do anything to have her
Sparafucile- an assassin that Rigoletto hires to take out the Duke
Maddalena- the assassin’s sister, who he cons into helping him
Story & Characters
Act III, scene i
Aria “La donna e mobile”
Quartet, “Bella figlia dell’amore”
his style of orchestration and harmony was revolutionary
in the 1850’s, started writing music dramas- combined acting , poetry, and philosophy
Gesamtkunstwerk- “total artwork”
Leitmotifs- a melody that’s associated with a person, place, thing, or idea
Tristan and Isolde (1859)- an epic and powerful love story between two characters
Wagner & the Musical Drama
four separate nights- 3-5 hours each night

The Rhine Gold
a lump of gold in stolen from the Rhine river mermaids by a dwarf
the stolen gold is made into a ring
the ring is said to be cursed
Siegfried is the innocent hero who can reverse the travesty of the ring
basic theme- mortal decline of the world
The Nibelung’s Ring (1848-1874)
Puccini & Late Romantic Opera
Puccini's Music
Italian composer (1858-1924)
Late Romantic, known mainly for his operatic works
became wealthy and world famous due to the popularity of his music
Made use of Exoticism, setting his operas in foreign locations:
ex: Madame Butterfly
Short melodies, simple phrases, and realistic dialogue (recitative)
artistic style verismo (reality): “true to life”
Einstein on the Beach: The Changing Image of Opera
Baroque Opera
introduced in 1600
opera was a stage for individual singers to sing about emotions and feelings with drama as the background
colouratura singing- the highest and most impressive soprano- light and agile

Italian Opera Seria
opera seria- serious opera
plots are often greek
text of an opera is called a LIBRETTO and the person who writes it is called a LIBRETIST
Textures in Opera
Recitative- to recite- declaiming words in a theatrical manner
free rhythm, mimicking speech
used for plot
light accompaniment
secco recitative- dry, light accompaniment
accompanied recitative- when the full orchestra accompanies the singer
Aria- for a solo singer
vocal part is more melodic
about emotion- not plot driven
standard song form- ABA
when the A comes back at the end, it is usually elaborated upon by the singer by ornamenting the original melody
Monteverdi- ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea- Act III’ (1642)
instrumentation: baroque orchestra and chorus
form: many small forms within the large form of opera. This segment is mostly a duet.
texture: homophonic- very rarely polyphonic
meter: mainly simple meter with the occasional dance number (in compound meter)
dynamics: moderate volume- nothing too soft or too loud
tonality: only major and minor
wrote the very first opera ‘Orfeo’
helped inaugurate public opera
only his early and late works survive- his middle works were lost
Classical Opera
Mozart- ‘The Magic Flute- Queen of the Night Aria’ (1791)
instrumentation: classical orchestra with chorus
form: Aria contained within an opera- ABA song form
texture: generally homophonic
meter: simple meter and simple compound meters on a movement-per-movement basis
dynamics: widening of the dynamic range (piano/forte)
tonality: ranges between major and minor
ornamentation only exists in the vocal part, which is also a solo role
20th Century Opera
instrumentation: chamber ensemble & chorus
form: many small forms within the large form of opera, usually ostinato forms, as per the usual minimalist practice
texture: homophonic and polyphonic, but lost of instrumental layering of ‘non-important’ textures
meter: simple and compound meters
dynamics: generally a very static volume for long periods of time
tonality: major, minor, and modal in tonality
an example of a non-linear, non-narrative opera
A Brief History of Opera
from the Baroque
to the 21st Century

a programmatic element to the work, including, but not limited to:
the interest in nature, and how man interacts with nature
nostalgia for the past, particularly epic tales and legends
a preoccupation with the fantastical, the supernatural, and the religious
emphasis on the self and the ‘personal narrative’
extreme dynamic contrasts throughout a piece
lots of dramatic curves, like crescendos and decrescendos
the manipulation of the traditional forms of the classical era
particularly the 4-movement symphonic form, and the typical form/tempo associated with every movement
use of the ‘tone poem’ as a form
extensive use of ‘free form’ to fit programmatic details
very coloristic approach to orchestration, which lead to
the general expansion of the orchestra, in particular
the inclusion of non-standardized percussion instruments to help illustrate programmatic effects
use of extended techniques in instrumental families, particularly the strings
use of secondary instruments to expand the woodwind section (example, a piccolo is a secondary instrument to flute, as a bass clarinet is a secondary instrument to a clarinet)
shifts in rhythm and meter happen much more frequently than in classical or baroque music. These shifts are added to serve the programmatic detail of the work.
liberal use of accelerandos, rallendanos,and rubato
the texture is predominantly homophonic, airing towards polyphony at moments, but with a greater number of people in the orchestra, there can be more independence within sections.
General Characteristics of Romantic Music
Verdi's Music
Verdi never allowed the orchestration to overpower the voices
Works truly featured the voice
Verdi was interested in people, places, and situations- his operas were truly dramas
Wrote for the middle-class audience, who enjoyed opera
His favorite opera schematic was a love story with an unhappy ending
Opera Basics
Act I: 'La Boheme'
"Che gelida manina"
Act II: 'La Boheme'
"Quando m'en vo'..."
from the word barroco meaning ‘misshappen pearl’
heavily ornamented (trills, mordents, grace notes)
generally uses one texture and sticks to it for the duration of the work- POLYPHONY is very popular at this time!
same for meter/time signature- once established, it applies to the whole piece
tonality is restricted to the use of the major and minor mode alone
the largest ensemble is the Baroque orchestra, which has limited winds, few brass, no percussion, and is generally comprised of strings
the keyboard is limited to the organ and harpsichord only (no piano!)
forms are generally shorter (exception, the symphony) and are related to dance forms
General Characteristic of the Baroque Music (1600-1750)
General Characteristics of the Classical Era (1730-1820)

revival of the styles of classical antiquity- roman and greek
ornamentation diminishes (trills, mordents, grace notes are used more sparsely)
generally uses one texture and sticks to it for the duration of the work- POLYPHONY becomes LESS popular and HOMOPHONY becomes the dominant texture
same for meter/time signature- once established, it applies to the whole piece
tonality is restricted to the use of the major and minor mode alone
the largest ensemble is the classical orchestra, which has a slightly larger wind section, few brass, one percussionist, and is generally comprised of strings
the keyboard is limited to the organ and harpsichord, although the piano starts to replace the harpsichord as the primary keyboard instrument
forms are longer than that of the Baroque Era, and forms become more complicated (developmental)---Sonata Allegro Form becomes the first movement of the symphony
General Characteristics of the 20th Century: Music & Modernism:

The wide availability of art and music to the masses is something we take for granted. The new mass audience emerged because of social factors:
mobility between social classes became easier
technological advances
Popular music emerged around the year 1900, but before then there was no divide between popular music and art music
Avant garde- meaning ‘vanguard’, a military term used by radical artists to denote the forefront of their activity. Two waves of avant garde composers emerged: the first in the 1900s and the second in the 1950s
Some composers resisted these modernist movements, and turned back to earlier forms, particularly in the gap between the two avant garde movements from 1920-30
Historical Context

from 1890 to 1940, there were a number of important historical events:
collapse of romantic political aspirations with the revolutions of 1848
World War I (1914-1918)
World War II (1939-1945)
increase in industrialization---more and more technological discoveries
emergence of the nation state
dominated by urban centers and run by self-made entrepreneurs
fast developments in science and psychology
Einstein- theory of relativity
Charles Darwin- evolution
Sigmund Freud- the unconscious
artists responded to these catastrophic events in a number of ways:
some pushed forward with bold expression (like Wagner)
some searched for vitality in the older forms, etc... (like Brahms)
some abandoned the conventional system completely (like Schoenberg)
the basic assumptions regarding melody, harmony, and tonality were taken for granted
Response to Modernism

The 21 years between the two world wars as an uneasy period
There was a return to the old styles
More extreme than the 1st wave of Modernism
Attempts to serialize everything- dynamics, rhythm, etc...
Use of new sound materials
interest in nonmusical, industrial sounds
extended instrumental techniques that were noise-based
Invention of Electronic Music
Invention of magnetic tape
Music Concrete- using re-recorded sound samples to construct a piece
Invention of the synthesizer
Computer Music
Modernism in Music: the 2nd Phase
instrumentation: romantic orchestra (large) with a large saxophone section, and electric synthesizer
form: many small forms within the large form of opera, usually ostinato forms, as per the usual minimalist practice
texture: homophonic and polyphonic, but lost of instrumental layering of ‘non-important’ textures
meter: simple and compound meters on a movement-by-movement basis
dynamics: generally a very static volume for long periods of time
tonality: major, minor, and modal in tonality
an example of an opera that utilizes a minimalist language, but with a narrative approach
John Adams ‘Nixon in China’- ‘I am the Wife of Mao Tse-tung’ (1987)
Das Rheingold -
Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla
Met Opera (NY)- Trailer of new 'Ring Cycle' Production
As an outgrowth of the Renaissance theatrical traditions, early Opera of the Baroque era was full of lavish display
By Monteverdi's late works like 'The Coronation of Poppea' (1642), the first public opera house had opened in Venice
This signaled the move of Opera as a private performance, available only to the wealthy, to people of the middle and high class
Italian opera was the most popular, and the French style of performance was more driven to include Ballet
In England, the MASQUE was popular, which combined instrumental poetry with music and dance
National Styles During the Baroque Era
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Dido & Aeneas
Aenas and his men are shipwrecked at Carthage on the northern shore of Africa
Dido, the Carthaginian queen, falls in love with him, and the affection is returned
However, Aenas as on a quest to be the founder of Rome, as proclaimed by the Gods, and must leave Dido
At the beginning of the final act, Aenas is getting ready to depart, but hasn't yet told Dido
Dido decides that her fate will be death if he leaves, and mounts the funeral pyre, whose flames light the way for Aenas's journey
From Act III: "When I am Laid"

"When I am laid in earth"
Short Instrumental Introduction
Followed by the 'A' section, which repeats
Followed by the 'B' section, which repeats
Makes use of a device called GROUND BASS, which is in triple meter, which descends slowly
Slow triple meter
The opera describes a historic event: how Poppaea, mistress of the Roman emperor Nero, is able to achieve her ambition and be crowned empress
Mozart- ‘Don Giovanni'- (1791)
Plot: 'Don Giovanni' recounts the tale of the aristocratic Don Juan- an amoral womanizer who has been seduced an abandoned women across Europe, and is finally doomed to hell by the ghost of a man he has murdered.
The opera starts as a comic opera, and moves into being a serious opera
Throughout the opera, Mozart brings up several issues, such as the humiliation of a noblewoman
Madame Butterfly: 'Un Bel Di'
PLOT: The opera tells a story of a tragic-heroic female protagonist: a gesha named Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly) who renounces her profession and religion in order to marry an American naval officer called Pinkerton. They are married, but Pinkerton departs soon there-after. He returns with an American wife, and learns that Madame Butterfly has given birth to their son, and decides to take the child back to the states with him. Butterfly accepts with dignity, but rather than returning to her life as a geisha, commits suicide
Makes use of the pentatonic scale- a 5-note scale, and the whole tone scale to create the sense of exoticism (these are scales often used in non-western music
Expressionist Opera in the early 20th Century

During the early 20th century, during a time of political unrest, composers sought to create 'protest music'
Berg, student of Schoenberg, and both members of the Second Viennese School wrote such music
Composers of the Second Viennese School sought to organize pitch material against the tonal system, and created methods or organizing pitches such as SERIALISM and the TONE ROW
This is when a composer can arrange the pitches in any order, but once the row is established, it becomes the basis for the entire piece: thematically, harmonically, and otherwise
Berg's style is tooted in German romanticism (Mahler and Brahms) but makes use of the harmonic language of the second Viennese School
PLOT: Wozzeck is a common soldier, but is the victim of his sadistic Captain and coldly scientific Doctor. The action centers around Wozzeck's relationship with Marie, who he has an illegitimate son with. Wozzeck finds out that Marie has been unfaithful to him, cuts her throat, and then drowns himself. The opera ends when the child finds out that his parents have died
Berg's 'Wozzeck'
Wozzeck, Act II:
Wozzeck, Act III, scene 4:
The final scene takes place at Nero's palace. Nero and Poppea confirm their love, and Poppea is crowned Empress. After the coronation, the opera ends with its best-known music — a quietly passionate duet for the newlyweds.
George Bizet, 'Carmen'
Tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier
who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery gypsy Carmen
José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties, yet loses Carmen's love to the glamorous toreador Escamillo
José kills Carmen in a fit of jealous rage
start at 2:18:00
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