Tag Archives: Opera

Interactive Hansel and Gretel


Hansel and Gretel: Design your own opera! is an open-access website that allows children to create a personalized version of Humperdinck’s opera and to go backstage to learn about the making of an opera production.

Clicking through the screens, the child is engaged in each scene in creating some aspect of the setting or action, such as costumes, choreography, backdrops, lighting, or props. After a selection is made—such as a costume—it remains that way throughout the whole opera.

The interactivity is combined with guided listening suggestions; before the child clicks to go to the next scene, an audio prompt suggests what to listen for.

This according to “Design your own opera!…online!” by Rachel Nardo (General music today XXIV/1 [October 2010] pp. 41–42).

Today is Engelbert Humperdinck’s 160th birthday! Below, the iconic duet followed by some decidedly odd goings-on.

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Gluck and Winckelmann


“Sculpture, music, text: Winckelmann, Herder, and Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride” by Simon Richter (Goethe yearbook VIII [1996] pp. 157–71) considers Gluck’s opera in the context of Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s writings on the statue known as Laocoön, widely regarded as the measure for classical beauty in the second half of the 18th century, and Johann Gottfried Herder‘s writings on the human voice as a common origin for both music and language.

According to Richter, Gluck’s Iphigénie enacts a musical version of Winckelmann’s classical aesthetics, which in turn may have consequences for the way in which Iphigénie is performed, staged, and interpreted. Gluck is in every respect staging the allegorical triumph of his opera reform as the musical counterpart of Winckelmann’s classical aesthetics.

This year we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Althertums (Dresden, 1764)! Winckelmann revolutionized the understanding of stylistic changes in Greco-Roman art and deeply influenced archaeological studies. His concept of edle Einfalt und stille Grösse (noble simplicity and quiet grandeur) put the excessive complexities of Baroque aesthetics to rest, influencing Gluck and others.

Above, the sculpture in question (click to enlarge); below, Susan Graham as Iphigénie.

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Celos aun del aire matan

Celos aun del aire matan

Celos aun del aire matan: Fiesta cantada (opera in three acts)  (Middleton: A-R editions, 2014) is a critical performing edition of the earliest extant Hispanic opera, Celos aun del aire matan by Juan Hidalgo (1614–85). The work is the most extensive surviving example of Hispanic Baroque theatrical music.

Designed for the Spanish royal court’s festivities honoring the marriage of Infanta María Teresa of Spain and King Louis XIV of France, this passionate fiesta cantada in three acts was first produced in Madrid, thanks to the collaboration of Hidalgo and the court dramatist, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81). The opera was designed for performance by a cast of young female actress-singers (the only role requiring a male voice is for a comic tenor) and a continuo group.

This edition, which includes an extensive introduction, an English translation of the Calderón text, and a unique loa from the 1682 Naples production, contributes to a better understanding of Hidalgo’s music and the contribution of Hispanic music to early modern musical culture.

Above and below, moments from a 2000 performance of the work at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

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Germany rocks opera

bayreuth lohengrin

Increasingly, young opera singers from all over the world are moving to Germany, drawn by the prospect of steady work—even full-time employment.

In 2013 Germany saw 7230 opera performances, one-third of the world’s total. German opera houses employ 1270 soloists and 2870 chorus members on full-time contracts.

An American soprano who will be joining the Deutsche Oper in Berlin next year says “There aren’t as many opportunities as there used to be for up-and-coming singers in the U.S. If you’re a lesser-known name, American opera houses often don’t take a chance on you because they need to sell tickets. When I return to the U.S., people will say ‘She must be good, she’s sung at the Deutsche Oper.’”

This according to “If you want to sing opera, learn German” by Elisabeth Braw (Newsweek 17 July 2014; online only).

Above and below, a recent German opera production that provided numerous employment opportunities.

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Der Spiegel von Arkadien

Der Spiegel von Arkadien

Franz Xaver Süßmayr (1766–1803) launched a career as one of the most respected German opera composers of the time with the success of Der Spiegel von Arkadien.

The critical reception was almost uniformly enthusiastic; the score was even compared to that of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, rare praise for the time. Indeed, in the musical high points Süßmayr appears to have benefited from his direct knowledge of Mozart’s technique, which is also apparent in Süßmayr’s completion of the master’s Requiem.

Premiering on 14 November 1794, Der Spiegel von Arkadien had over 65 performances in its first year alone. It was performed all over Europe, both in the original German and in several translations, and was revived regularly for over 30 years. The enduring performance history attests to some extraordinarily beautiful, inspired music in Süßmayr’s score, music that has been neglected far too long.

This according to a new two-volume critical edition of the work, edited with commentary by David J. Buch (Recent researches in music of the Classical era, 93–94; Middleton: A-R editions, 2014). Below, the opera’s overture.

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Janáček and speech melodies


Leoš Janáček based vocal melodies in his operas on the concept of nápěvky mluvy (speech melodies)—patterns of speech intonation as they relate to psychological conditions—rather than on a strictly musical basis. He used such melodic motives, characterizing a specific person in a specific dramatic situation, in both vocal and orchestral parts, enabling him to integrate the two parts into a compact unit for the utmost dramatic effect.

This according to “Význam nápěvků pro Janáčkovu operní tvorbu” (The significance of speech melodies in Janáček’s operas) by Milena Černohorská, an essay included in Leoš Janáček a soudobá hudba (Leoš Janáček and contemporary music; Praha: Panton, 1963, pp. 77–80).

Janáček found the source of speech melodies in spoken phrases of people of various social and cultural backgrounds, recorded in real-life situations. During his ethnomusicological research in Moravia and Slovakia in 1920s, Janáček not only recorded songs and music, but also wrote down the melodies of dialogue fragments and of singers’ comments on specific songs.

Recently discovered autographs of Janáček’s fieldwork notes in the collection of the Etnologický ústav AV ČR, pracovišťě Brno with transcriptions of nápěvky mluvy were published in Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního folkloru. I: Komentáře (Janáček´s records of traditional music and dances: I. Commentaries) by Jarmila Procházková (Brno: Etnologický ústav AV ČR, 2006).

Today is Janáček’s 160th birthday! Above, examples of nápěvky mluvy that he transcribed in Čičmany, Slovakia, on 20 August 1911; below, the finale of his Jenůfa, a work often cited for its use of the speech-melody concept.

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Filed under Opera, Romantic era

Peter Brook and Carmen


The 1981 premiere of Peter Brook’s and Jean-Claude Carrière’s La tragédie de Carmen at the Opéra in Paris sparked considerable controversy over its focus on the bleaker, darker aspects of the story.

In their revision of Bizet’s Carmen, Brook and Carrière attempted to be truer to Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella, emphasizing the basic components of its tragedy: sorcery, sexuality, obsessive love, and death. They removed the comic elements from Bizet’s work, reasoning that the composer had been constrained by a theatrical medium that demanded the inclusion of comedy.

This according to The tragedy of Carmen: Georges Bizet and Peter Brook by William Manning D. Mouat, a dissertation accpted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1996.

Above and below, Zehava Gal in the title role.

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Marilyn Horne and ornamentation

marilyn horne

In a 1993 interview, Marilyn Horne discussed her study of the few examples of Rossini’s written-out vocal ornaments.

“I knew that if I ornamented that much I would be highly criticized for it. And so I did just a little bit—and was highly criticized for that!”

“Oh yes, we couldn’t win. In the beginning, I fought those ‘ornament fights’. I had terrible battles about it, especially with Italian conductors, because they are still very much under the influence of Toscanini, who ‘cleaned up’ everything.”

“I remember one particular conductor, his name was Argeo Quadri, and he talked like this: ‘Ah, signora, non si puo cantarlo così.’ Finally I said to him ‘Maestro, I went to a medium last night’—his eyes got bigger and bigger—and I said ‘I talked to Rossini stesso, and he said “Vai, Marilyna, vai!”’ Quadri laughed. He didn’t know whether to take me seriously or not, but he said okay, you can do your ornaments.”

This according to “La Rossiniana: A conversation with Marilyn Horne” by Jeannie Williams (The opera quarterly IX/4 [summer 1993] pp. 64–91).

Today is Marilyn Horne’s 80th birthday! Below, the diva demonstrates.

BONUS: Further examples, with action!

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Historic opera scenery

Dubosq 1

The newly discovered scenic collection of the Stadsschouwburg in Kortrijk, Belgium, comprises 13 backcloths, 21 borders, and over 298 framed units, plus authentic stage furniture, practicables, and sound effects.

This forgotten treasury houses a near-complete set of generic stock sets next to genuine production materials for Aida, La bohème, Carmen, Faust, and other blockbusters from the operatic repertoire. The décors were designed and executed by Albert Dubosq (1863–1940), an acknowledged master of the Parisian school of scenic painting,

Despite the groundbreaking research done at a few historical theaters, the study of operatic iconography still tends to focus on visual renderings—designs, artists’ impressions, and photographs—rather than on primary, scenic artifacts thereof, such as flats and drops. The discovery of these valuable holdings allows new examples of authentic scenery to be subjected to scholarly scrutiny.

This according to “Jumbo-sized artifacts of operatic practice: The opportunities and challenges of historical stage sets” by Bruno Forment (Music in art XXXVIII/1–2 [2013] pp. 115–125. Above, Dubosq’s Forêt asiatique for Lakmé; below, his Extérieur égyptien for Aida (both from 1921).


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Mice at the opera

singing mouse

In an experiment, researchers performed heart transplants on mice and studied the subsequent effects of music on their alloimmune responses.

The researchers exposed different groups of the recuperating mice to three types of recorded music—a collection of works by Mozart, the album The best of Enya, and Verdi’s La traviata—and a single sound frequency as a control. After seven days their results indicated that the mice who listened to La traviata had developed superior alloimmune responses.

This according to “Auditory stimulation of opera music induced prolongation of murine cardiac allograft survival and maintained generation of regulatory CD4+CD25+ cells” by Masateru Uchiyama, et al. (Journal of cardiothoracic surgery VII/26 [2010]). Many thanks to the Improbable Research Blog for sharing this study with us!

Below, we invite you to improve your own alloimmune responses while contemplating animated party food.

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