Felice Romani revolutionized the Italian opera libretto, creating a clearly contoured melodramma romantico that was suitable for a through-composed setting.
Romani’s libretto for Donizetti’s Anna Bolena produced a virtually through-composed opera, making the meter conform to the dramatic situation and mood. In Act I, all the characters enter immediately after the prima donna, so that in place of the usual introductory aria there is now an ensemble. The entry of the seconda donna now leads as a rule to a concerted piece, the stretta of the pezzo concertato unleashing all the passions of the protagonists.
Act II proceeds similarly, except that its final scene is treated as a composition in its own right: Out of a stretta the concertato emerges, structured as a concert piece.
This according to Felice Romani–Gaetano Donizetti–Anna Bolena. Zur Asthetik politischer Oper in Italien zwischen 1826 und 1831 by Richard Hauser, a dissertation accepted by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in 1980.
Today is Romani’s 230th birthday! Below, Sondra Radvanovsky sings Anna Bolena’s finale.
The catalogue arias of late eighteenth-century Italian opere buffe focus on lists; subjects may include enjoyable activities, foods, things for sale, or types of people (by nationality, social rank, occupation, personal qualities, and so on).
Their progress often involves shorter and shorter syntactic units: Sentences give way to phrases, then to one- or two-word groups, accelerating the rate of accumulated information—the comic frenzy is actually built into the text itself. This textual compression often involves two rhetorical devices: asyndeton (omitting conjunctions) and anaphora (beginning successive lines or phrases with the same word).
This according to “Catalogue arias and the ‘catalogue aria’” by John Platoff, an essay included in Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: Essays on his life and his music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 296–311).
Above, Lorenzo da Ponte, author of the celebrated catalogue aria Madamina, il catalogo è questo, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; below, Luca Pisaroni does the honors.
Psychoanalytic studies of the arts have mainly focused on visual art, literature, and film; launched by Psychosozial-Verlag in 2017, Jahrbuch für Psychoanalyse und Musik (ISSN 2367-2498) aims to fill the gap with psychoanalytic explorations of music.
The journal addresses musicians, musicologists, and cultural scientists as well as psychoanalysts and psychotherapists; its interdisciplinary approach illuminates seldom-noted connections between academic fields. The inaugural volume, edited by Sebastian Leikert and Antje Niebuhr, focuses on the unconscious meanings of interrelationships between music and language.
Below, the finale of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a work discussed in the journal’s first issue.
In 2016 Studien-Verlag launched the series Schriftenreihe des Archivs der Zeitgenossen with Mechanismen der Macht: Friedrich Cerha und sein musikdramatisches Werk.
Founded in 2009, the Archiv der Zeitgenossen (archive of contemporaries) is a collection of artists’ estates donated both during their lifetimes and posthumously. Established by the state of Lower Austria, it is housed at the Donau-Universität Krems, which curates it.
The inaugural volume of the series draws on the archive’s Friedrich Cerha collection, which documents Cerha’s life, primarily as composer and conductor, but also as musician, musicologist, scholar of German literature, teacher, private person, and public figure. The archival holdings provide scholars with a unique source for studying Cerha’s musical work, and also contain a wealth of materials on questions regarding cultural politics, reception history, media studies, and musicology.
Below, excerpts from Cerha’s Onkel Präsident, one of the works discussed in the book.
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  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.
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  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.