Category Archives: Dramatic arts

Richard Wagner, animal lover

In 1879 Richard Wagner joined the growing movement in Germany opposing the cruel medical practices of animal experimentation with an open letter published in the Bayreuther Blätter.

His arguments for the pointlessness of these experiments were original; they followed from his experiences with traditional medicine and his well-developed critique of civilization. His contemporary allies, however, ignored these arguments and simply used the Wagner name.

The open letter led directly to Wagner’s much-discussed essay Religion und Kunst, in which, among other things, he paints a horrific scenario of the unimpeded development of science and technology.

This according to “Richard Wagner als Gegner von Tierversuchen: Ein visionärer Zivilisationskritiker” by Ulrich Tröhler and Joachim Thiery (WagnerSpectrum XI/1 [2015] pp. 73–104). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above, the composer with his dog Pohl; below, no horses were annoyed during this performance.

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Opera

Malaysian journal of performing and visual arts

Malaysian Journal of Performing and Visual Arts is a new peer-reviewed research journal that focuses on Asian performing and visual arts; it is a forum for scholars in the fields of Asian music, dance, theater, and fine arts.

MJPV is published by the University of Malaya Cultural Centre as an online e-journal; readers can obtain hard copy on demand through the open access policy on the University of Malaya e-journal website.

The journal encompasses articles, book and audio/video reviews, and notes on current research by scholars in the related arts fields. It is published in English and issued annually in December.

Above and below, mak yong, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.

Leave a comment

Filed under Asia, Dramatic arts, New periodicals

The February Revolution and the Mariinskij Teatr

mariinskij-teatr

The 1917 February Revolution had an immediate impact on the Mariinskij Teatr Opery i Baleta. The fall of the monarchy plunged the dancers into a state of confusion, and there was an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future of ballet.

Against this background, the well-organized opera artists demanded unconditional power at the theater. Representatives of the ballet company, faced with this attitude from their colleagues, complained to the director of the Imperial theaters and the government commissioner of the former Ministry of Court.

After the details of the conflict leaked into the newspapers, the representatives of the opera troupe officially declared their deep respect for the art of ballet—but the opera artists continued to treat their colleagues as a secondary presence in the theater. One reason for the conflict between the opera and ballet troupes was the group egoism typical for the revolutionary era, when the overly exploited role of the team eventually led to a confrontation with other teams.

This according to “Из истории музыкального театра революционной эпохи: Борьба оперы с балетом” (From the history of musical theater of the revolutionary era: The struggle of opera with ballet) by Petr Nikolaevič Gordeev (Музыковедение 3 [2015] pp. 11–15).

Today is the centennial of the beginning of the February Revolution! Above, the Mariinskij Teatr around the time of the Revolution; below, the Mariinskij stalwart Mariâ Nikolaevna Kuznecova.

1 Comment

Filed under Dance, Opera, Politics

Leontyne Price arrives

leontyne-price-1961

On 28 January 1961 Langston Hughes wrote to a friend about having heard a black soprano the night before “busting the walls of the Metropolitan wide open.”

It was hyperbole that neared truth. Just days shy of her 34th birthday, Leontyne Price debuted before an audience whose standards and expectations were high; she lived up to them, and surpassed them beyond even her own imagination. At the final chord of Verdi’s Il trovatore the walls of the venerable institution vibrated with one of the most protracted and vociferous ovations in its history—nearly three-quarters of an hour—for the voice that Time magazine described as “like a bright banner unfurling.”

Price’s arrival at the pinnacle of American opera had a dual significance: She was one of the first American-trained singers to establish herself as a truly international star, and she continued, in grand style, the work of Marian Anderson as a trailblazer, barrier-breaker, and door-opener for black performers.

This according to “Leontyne Price: Prima donna assoluta” by Rosalyn M. Story, an essay included in And so I sing: African-American divas of opera and concert (New York: Warner, 1990, pp. 100–14).

Today is Price’s 90th birthday! Above and below, her Metropolitan Opera debut.

Leave a comment

Filed under Opera, Performers, Reception

Schubert and Das Dreimäderlhaus

dreimaderlhaus

The operetta Das Dreimäderlhaus (1916) was based on Schwammerl (Mushroom, one of Schubert’s nicknames), a novel about Franz Schubert by Rudolf Hans Bartsch; the music incorporated numerous melodies by the composer. U.S. and U.K. adaptations followed: Blossom time (1921) and Lilac time (1922), respectively.

Unsurprisingly, the work was excoriated by critics, scholars, and performers for its defilement of Schubert’s melodies, spurious plot lines, and superficial, misleading, and sentimentalized portrayal of the composer’s character. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau derided it as “Schubert steeped in kitsch”, while Maurice J.E. Brown declared that “the popularity of this pastiche has done Schubert more harm than good.”

Audiences, however, adored it; the operetta passed its 1000th Berlin performance in 1918, and its 1100th Viennese one in 1927.

This according to “Of mushrooms and lilac blossom” by Richard Morris (The Schubertian 27 [December 1999] pp. 6–14; 28 [March 2000] pp. 15–18).

Today is Schubert’s 220th birthday! Above, a poster for the 1958 film version starring Karlheinz Böhm; below, excerpts from a 2016 production by Bühne Baden.

BONUS: Selections from Sigmund Romberg’s score for Blossom time; the show’s publicity breathlessly promised, among other attractions, “32 Schubert themes in eight bars.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Dramatic arts, Romantic era

Marij Kogoj’s masks

crne-maske

In Marij Kogoj’s opera Črne maske (Black masks, 1929), masks are used symbolically as catalysts of the soul transformation of the protagonist, Duke Lorenzo.

To adequately depict different psychological states of the Duke, Kogoj used late-Romantic, expressionistic, and impressionistic elements, converging in a rich polyphonic fabric—bitonal, polytonal, and atonal. He purposely did not follow a particular compositional style, to emphasize artistic expression rather than a particular aesthetic idea.

This according to “Marij Kogoj” by Matej Santi in Komponisten der Gegenwart (München: edition text+kritik, 2017). This resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works; the entry on Kogoj is part of our January 2017 update for this encyclopedia, which also includes new entries for Sven-Ingo Koch and Vito Žuraj.

Above and below, a 2012 production of Črne maske at Festival Ljubljana.

Leave a comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Opera

Grace Bumbry, black Venus

grace-bumbry-as-venus

When Wieland Wagner engaged the 24-year-old Grace Bumbry for the role of Venus in the 1961 Bayreuth production of Tannhäuser he received hundreds of letters of protest, and the German press exploded with sensational headlines about the black intruder in the sacred Aryan shrine.

The neo-Nazi Sozialistische Reichspartei Deutschlands called the appointment “a cultural disgrace”, and one correspondent asserted that “If Richard Wagner knew of this he would be turning in his grave.”

But Wieland Wagner stood by the artist who had been dubbed die schwarze Venus (the black Venus), saying that the role “must convey eroticism without resorting to the clichés of a Hollywood sex bomb, yet she cannot personify the classic passive idea…When I heard Grace Bumbry I knew she was the perfect Venus; grandfather would have been delighted!”

Indeed, following the production’s first performance on 24 July a jubilant audience commanded 42 curtain calls during its 30-minute ovation, the most rousing demonstrations occurring during Bumbry’s bows.

This according to “Grace Bumbry: Modern diva” by Rosalyn M. Story, an essay included in And so I sing: African-American divas of opera and concert (New York: Warner, 1990, pp. 141–56).

Today is Bumbry’s 80th birthday! Above and below, the historic production.

Leave a comment

Filed under Opera, Performers, Romantic era

Virgil Thomson and “Four saints in three acts”

Four Saints

Virgil Thomson first met Gertrude Stein in the winter of 1925–26. Early in 1927 he asked her to write an opera libretto, and the plans for Four saints in three acts began to take shape; the text was completed in June of that year and the music was finished in July 1928.

The opera concerns two Spanish saints, Teresa of Ávila and Ignatius of Loyola, who are surrounded by groups of young religious figures. In fact the work has four acts and over 30 saints. A compère and commère introduce the characters and announce the progress of the action. The strangely haunting and at times repetitive poetry of Stein is declaimed by the singers in a musical language derived from many sources, including Gregorian and Anglican chant, children’s songs, and Sunday School hymn singing, with a harmonious accompaniment for small orchestra. Although the setting of the words is deceptively simple and direct, there are considerable subtleties in the music to parallel the implied imagery of the words.

Four saints in three acts was first heard in Hartford, Connecticut, in February 1934, produced by an organization called the Friends and Enemies of Modern Music. When the production moved to New York City it created theatrical history with its all-black cast. The opera received over 60 performances within a year, and Thomson’s reputation was made almost overnight.

This according to “Thomson, Virgil Garnett” by Neil Butterworth (Dictionary of American classical composers, 2nd ed. [Abington: Routledge, 2005] pp. 456–59); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Thomson’s 120th birthday! Above, the 1934 New York production; below, the opening of Mark Morris Dance Group’s 2006 production.

BONUS: A brief documentary with archival footage from 1934, including the voice of Gertrude Stein.

Leave a comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Humor, Literature, Opera

A pipe organ for a vaudevillian

charles-herbert-barritt-memorial

Charles Herbert Barritt (1869–1929, more generally known as Clifton Barritt) spent much of his life as a vaudevillian and music hall entertainer and his last years as a London publican.

Born in Manchester, Barritt was already treading the boards in his early twenties. Local newspaper notices chart a twelve-year career that took him from Ulster to the Isle of Man, Reigate to Grantham, and all points in between—there seems hardly a pier or stage that did not feature Barritt’s mellow baritone and perfect comic timing at some time between 1892 and 1904. One of his many favorable reviews praised his ability to imitate the styles of various composers, performers, and instruments, adding that he was “always funny, but without being vulgar.”

Barritt remains a notable figure to this day, as his funerary monument in London’s Hampstead Cemetery replicates the form of a life-size pipe organ (he was not known to play the organ at all).

This according to “‘Always funny, but without being vulgar’: Charles Herbert ‘Clifton’ Barritt (1869–1929), Hampstead Cemetery” by David Bingham (The London dead, 25 February 2015). Above, the monument in question.

Leave a comment

Filed under Curiosities, Dramatic arts, Humor, Iconography, Instruments

Weber and “Der Freischütz”

carl-maria-von-weber

In 1821 the German operatic scene was dominated by foreign composers. Carl Maria von Weber was known as a gifted composer of songs and instrumental music, but his earlier operas had not been undisputed successes, and for the last ten years he had done nothing at all in that line; the premiere of his new opera, Der Freischütz, was anticipated with widespread suspense and excitement.

The composer could not but feel that much was at stake, both for himself and for the cause of German art. His friends feared that this new work would not have a chance; but Weber alone, as if with a presentiment of the event, was always in good spirits. The performance was fixed for 18 June, a day hailed by the composer as a good omen, being the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.

Weber’s presentiment did not fail him; the occasion was as great a triumph as ever fell to the lot of a musician. The applause of a house filled to the very last seat was such as had never been heard before in Germany. That this magnificent homage was no outcome of mere nationalism was shown by the fact that it was the same wherever Der Freischütz was heard. After conducting a performance in Vienna in March 1822 the composer wrote that “Greater enthusiasm there cannot be, and I tremble to think of the future, for it is scarcely possible to rise higher than this. To God alone the praise!”

This according to “Weber, Carl Maria Friedrich Ernest, Freiherr von” in A dictionary of music and musicians, A.D. 1450–1889 (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser, 1895, IV/387–429); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Weber’s 230th birthday! Above, the composer ca. 1825; below, an excerpt from the 2010 film by Jens Neubert.

Leave a comment

Filed under Opera, Reception, Romantic era