Italian Opera - lecture notes and further reading

Talk One: Blame it on the Greeks, or was opera inevitable?

Music heard / seen in week 1:

  Orfeo - Monteverdi 
                       The fanfare
                              The prologue
                       The chorus of nymphs and shepherds
                       The announcement of Euridice’s death
                       Orfeo’s song (Act 1V)
                       Duet: Orfeo and Jupiter
                       Final Chorus and dance

  L’lncoronazione di Poppea — Monte verdi
                        Love Duet Poppea and Nerone
                        Final Duet

Was opera inevitable? The influence of
                       Church parables
                       Madrigal Cycles
would, in my opinion, have eventually led to opera. To what extent this path may
have been hindered by the Camera Fiorentina is an unanswerable question. It had
misunderstood the nature of Greek drama, it wasn’t all sung, but this does not
diminish the importance of the Camera in getting opera started. Their rules:

                (1)     text must always be clearly understood
                (2)     words should be sung with natural and correct declamation
                (3)     the music should interpret the feelings of the whole passage

may have been constrictive (listen for example to Pen’s L’Euridice (1600) the second
opera to be written and the first that we have a copy of (his Dafne (1597) is lost)) but
Monteverdi , free in Mantua from the constraints of the Florentine Camera breaks/amends/reinterprets their rules(although their influence is never far away)and produces the first masterpiece Orfeo. First performed to great success in 1607 (libretto by Alessandro Stniggio) at the court of the Princes Gonzaga in Mantua the score was thankfully published. The opera disappeared but was not lost and was revived in the early twentieth century and now has a permanent place in the operatic repertory

Problems for today in performance of Monteverdi’s operas

(1)         Orchestration
(2)         How to cast
(3)         What you hear in e.g. Leeds may not be quite what you hear in e.g. Liverpool

For further reading: ENO Opera Guide 45: The Operas of Monteverdi
Monteverdi by Dennis Arnold

Worth seeing: Orfeo, Ii Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Talk Two: The Rise and fall (and rise) of Opera Seria

Music heard / seen: (some or all of)

La Calisto — Cavalli- The wooing of Calisto by Jupiter
Bajazet (II Tamurlino)- Vivaldi — Anche ii mar
Orlando Furioso — Vivaldi — Solo di te
Idomineo — Mozart — Quartet Act 3
Teseo: Handel — Veni, tomo
Ariodante - Handel - various excerpts
Gluck — La Clemenza di Tito — Se mai stato.

Opera thrived in 17th and 18th century Italy
 Venice is probably the most important centre as papal restrictions affected the
appearance of women on stage elsewhere but don’t forget that Florence was the
Towards the end of the 17th century and through the influence of the court poets
Xeno and Metastasio opera took a restart with renewed emphasis on the poetry used
in the libretto. (and also influenced by the construction of French Drama) One can
also see some looking back to the rules of the Camerata Fiorentina (see last week’s
notes.) The individual (da capo) aria became the basis of serious opera (opera seria)
and opera seria became the norm. The importance this gave to the singers led to its
abuse. Gluck introduced reforms to curtail the licence of the singers (especially the
castrati) but the form had all but died out by the end of the 18th century. However in
the last 40 years or so there has been a resurgence of interest in this form and the
operas of (especially) Handel are becoming more and more widely known.

It is worth considering whether the attention given to opera seria or Baroque opera as
it is also known by such artists as Cecilia Bartoli may bring about wider performances
of operas by eg Haydn and Vivaldi.

It is also worth noting that generally speaking there are few operas by Italian
composers from this period in the repertoire. (Mozart, Gluck and Handel were all
foreigners, BUT generally speaking they set Italian libretti) This may be due to works
being lost, decline of standards in the rush to meet demands and possibly a
conservative tendency on the part of opera goers nowadays to explore the unknown.

Worth seeing Ariodante Xerxes, Alcina, Semele (to name but four) — Handel
(all of which have now entered the repertory) Orfeo, La Clenienza di Tito — Gluck
(but Gluck’s ‘Clemenza’ is no repertory piece)
And even more difficult to come by, operas by Vivaldi

Further reading: Michael Robinson — ‘Opera before Mozart’ — Hutchinson
The world of the castrato — Patrick Burbier
Programme notes on Handel Operas can be very helpful

Reproduced by kind permission  of Peter Beadsley – WEA Lecturer.

Talk Three; You having a laugh? — Opera Buffa, Farsa
Commedia Musicale (or Commedia per musica), Intermezzi

Some or all of the music heard /seen:

Pergolesi: Il Frato Nnamorato (1732) — Ogni pena cchiu spiatata
                                      Finale Act 2
La serva padrona (1723)
Paisiello: Nina: (1789)- II mio ben
0 momento fortunato
Cimarosa:I tre amanti (1777)-Idol mb and Vi Consolerà
Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792)— Finale (Ac t One)
Rossini: La Scala di Seta (1812) —Sento talor nell’anima,
Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1819) End of Act One

Having looked at the growth and decline of Opera seria in Talk Two, Talk
three looks at the growth of comic opera in all its forms.

Although Venetian opera had comic scenes incorporated into the score, this
was not true of opera Seria. However Intermezzi (short 3/4 hr) pieces in a
comic vein for a very limited cast (usually 2 but occasionally with non singing
extras) were put between (inter) the acts (mezzi). Such intermezzi are NOT to
be confused with later orchestral intermezzi (eg in Cavalleria Rusticana,
Manon Lescaut and J GioeiJi deJia Madonna) where they are a part of the
opera and often incorporate themes from the opera.

Opera Buffa (often in Neopolitan dialect and no doubt influenced by
characters in the commedia del arte) developed along side with Opera Seria.
Like opera seria it had its rules - stock characters, usually in two acts with a
complex concerted finale at the end of the first act. Much emphasis was given
to duets, trios etc and there was usually no chorus and one set. Just what the
dividing line between buffa and farsa is is not always clear but cynics might
suggest that the plots are (even) more absurd than those of opera buffa. Also
farse were usually in one act. One area for discussion for today could centre
on how the recitatives should be delivered. In England such farse or burlette
came to be performed with spoken dialogue. Opera North’s production of
Rossini’s ‘L’Occasione fa ii ladro’ did just that. Acceptable or not?

Also (and now almost forgotten) is the Commedia Musicale in which dialogue
is included in the manner of French opera comique (but remember that
comique here does not mean comic — Carmen and Faust were written as
opera comique). In the twentieth century, Leoncavallo started to write
operettas which appear to have been initially well received but have quickly
disappeared into oblivion.

If only someone would take the best of opera seria and the best of opera buffa
and mix with care, I wonder what the result would be? Answer next week.

Talk Four: A marriage made in heaven?

In the past two weeks we have looked at Opera Seria and Opera Buffa (in its
several forms).This week’s talk suggests that one aspect of the genius of
Mozart was to incorporate the best of these two forms in his three major
Italian operas — Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte and
move the structure of opera forward. We concentrated on ‘Figaro’ his last
Italian opera ‘La Clemenza di Tito was written for the National Theatre in
Prague to celebrate the visit of the newly crowned Leopold 11 of Austria. The
opera used a long existing seria libretto by Metastasio .(Remember we heard
an aria from Gluck’s treatment of the same libretto). Those in charge felt that
the occasion merited an opera seria (not now to Mozart’s taste) which by this
time was really on the way out. Mozart did as he was told but managed to
stretch the form a bit.

This talk becomes (slightly) controversial in questioning the designation given
to these three operas. Figaro and Cosi are called comic operas, Giovanni an
opera buffa. I want to do away with these designations. I tried to show that
Figaro at times become far too serious to be called comic not withstanding
that it contains comic moments. Listen to the Countess’s sublime ‘Dov’e
sono’ It starts with an orchestral accompanied recitative, moves into da capo
form and then ‘breaks all the ‘rules’ at the end. Da Ponte may have intended
Figaro’s ‘Se vuol ballare’ to be humorous but Mozart doesn’t treat it as such.
The Count’s brilliant ‘Che vinta la causa’ has no place in a comic opera and
the Count’s incredibly moving ‘Contessa perdonna’ is for me amongst the
most beautiful music ever written. The humiliation of the Countess by the
Count in Act 2 is not opera buffa

On the other hand the brilliant Act 2 Finale is undoubtedly modelled on opera
buffa, the Act 3 sextette also. The perfect duetino ‘Canzonetta sull’ aria’
perhaps looks back to commedia con musica. Figaro’s ‘Non piu andral’ is
comic and brings Act One to a splendid close.

Does it matter? Well we are looking at the development of Italian Opera and I
shall argue in Talk Six that this is the start of what most people think of as
opera. For me ‘Figaro’ is an opera in four acts AND one of the greatest ever
written. I want no sub headings!

You saw and heard
Le Nozze di Figaro: Countess’s aria ‘Dov’e sono’
Count’s Aria ‘Che vinta Ia causa’
Figaro’s aria ‘Se vuol ballare’
Finale to Act Two (part)
Sextette — Act Three.
Figaro’s aria ‘Non piu andrai’
Duettino ‘Canzofletta sull’aria

Talk Five: My town needs an Opera house!

A look at the mechanics of Italian Opera

Music Seen — some or all of the following

Monteverdi; Finale to The Coronation of Poppea
Verdi: Grand March — Aida
Rossini: Duet- Figaro I Almaviva from Act 1 (part)
Verdi: Closing moments — Rigoletto
Leoncavallo: Chorus of villagers — I Pagliacci (Act 1)
Verdi: Trio ‘Oberto Conte di San Bonffaccio’ (Act 1)
Puccini: Hummimg Chorus — Madama Butterfly
Ponchietli: Aria Ciel e Mare — La Gioconda

After the first commercial opera opened in 1637 in Venice any town wäifh its
salt wanted to have one. Life was easier in the North away from Papal
restrictions which forbad the presence of women an stage (female roles were
played by castrati or for comic effect  men in drag). But houses had to be
financed’ If the local King/PrincelDuke/Count would fund an opera house all
welI and good (or was it?), if not the town had to sort itself out usually by
gaining a subscription from the wealthy which guaranteed them a box in
perpetuity. This would need a renewal fee each year to fund the forthcoming
season. Reasons for having an opera house were  not necessarily musical,
status was important and the use of the house for business as well as
romantic intrigue and gambling should not be overlooked. The ‘City Fathers’
usually appointed an Impresario to run the season and bring in an opera
troupe but rely on locals for chorus and orchestra; Opera houses faced
competition from eg the commedia del arte and Venetian opera would
incorporate comic elements. Local houses would follow changes in operatic
fashion. With the growth of opera seria the singer became the ‘boss’ and
composers (especially Gluck) had to fight hard to restore a sense of dignity to
the proceedings both on stage AND in the audience. The use of intermezi and
ballet between acts was used either to provide light relief or to cover
complicated scene changes. We should also note that in some houses a
ballet would follow an opera performance. By the time of early Verdi the
impresario ruled. He would commission new operas and be reponsibIe via
the stage manager for the staging He (the stage manager) would often be the
house librettist and provide the ‘book’ for the opera. Piave for example was
both librettist and stage manager at the Fenice in Venice With the unification
of Italy and central government playing a part in the funding of opera the role
of the music publisher became more and more important. Publishers would
bid for the control of an opera house for a season (especially true at La Scala)
and could thus push their own composers works at the expense of a rival
publisher. In the 19th century the role of the censor became more important
not only in political matters but also on the question of good taste, we saw
both aspects in reference to Verdi’s Rigoletto

Futher Reading: Opera — A history in Documents — Pero Weiss Oxford 2002
Inventing the business of Opera — Glixon & Glixon OUP 2006
(The lmpressario and his world in 17th century Venice)

Italian opera — Talk Six

Bel canto: The golden Age or the Gilded cage of Italian Opera

Music Heard /Seen — some or all of the following
Bellini: Norma: (1831) Mira o Norma
              La Sommnambula (1831) The Rondo finale
Donizetti: L’Elisir d’amore (1832) Una furtiva lacrima
                  Lucia Di Lamermoor (1835) Mad Scene (part)
Rossini: OteIlo (1816): Trio — Ti parli l’amore
               La Cenerentola ( ) Sextette Act 2
               La Donna del Lago (1819) Aria — Va... .non temer
Mozart: Don Giovanni (1787) Aria — Non ml dir OR II mb tesoro
What exactly is bel canto?
You can find it defined as fine beautiful singing which needs:
(a) a naturally beautiful voice
(b) eveness of tone
(c) careful training and effortless delivery of florid music (coloratura)
(d) mastery of style
But is this definition good enough. Wouldn’t the Mozart we heard come into
this cateqory?
Others have added
(a) florid style not just restricted to notes but to words
(b) The florid style is ‘more florid’ with bel canto
(c) The style is more consistent through the whole opera and not just
applied to the ‘odd’ aria
I would add (as suggestions):
(a) The music has a dream-like quality
(b) An ‘over-ripeness’, a lushness, a pre-raphaelite quality
(c) The use of high notes for the protagonist above the chorus or the
rest of the ensemble
(d) The music has an ‘artfulness’ beyond the scope of the character
(eg would you expect ‘Ah non giunge uman pensiero’ from the
mouth of a village maiden or Una furtiva lacnma’ from the 'village Idiot'?
But perhaps the most important consideration is the influence of romantic
literature on the content of the libretto. The influence of the tragic heroine in
eg the novels of Sir Walter Scott (The Bride of Lamermoor I Lucia di Lamermoor) being an
excellent example. We should note the continuing influence of literature on opera.

You should also note the following quotes:
‘bel canto is the complete operatic schooling without which one cannot sing
any opera really well, not even the most modem pieces. It is therefore
incorrect to refer to some works - such as those of Rossini, Bellini and
Donizetti as as specific bel canto operas. In reality there are no such works.’
Bellini - Life, Times and Music — Stelios Galatopoulos
‘The Italian term ‘bel canto’ can have a number of meanings. Literally
‘beautiful song’ or ‘beautiful singing’, it is applied to a method of singing taught
by the Italian masters of the 17th and 18th centuries in which smooth emission
of tone, beauty of timbre and elegance of phrasing are among the most
important elements. Although Rossini is said to have exclaimed in 1858, (and
I wish he hadn’t says Peter) ‘Alas for us we have lost our bel canto’, the
expression did not begin to be used generally in this sense until the late 19th
century. Today, the term is used mainly to describe the predominant style of
Italian opera in the first half of the 1 gth century.’
The Bel Canto Operas —Charles Osbourne.
Problems with bel canto.
Style — some find it too artificial — the gilded cage of the title
Availabilify of singers — Sutherland, Callas, Bartioli and Florez have (inter alia)
done much to re-establish the popularity today of Bel canto operas

Talk Seven : Verdi and the Risorgimento

Music heard and seen — some or all of the following

Nabucco (1842): Va Pensierio
                              Abigaille’s aria
                              Nabucco’s Prayer
I Lombardi (1843): Chorus — 0 Signore del tetto nation
Attita (1846) Ezio I Attila Duet
La Battaglla di Legnano (1849) — Finale Act 2
Rigoletto: (1851) Vendetta Duet — Act 2
II trovatore (1853) In Quella Pira
Un Ballo in Maschera (1859) Finale

‘Where is the Bel Canto of my youth?’ asked Rossini in 1858. Well certainly not in
Abigaille’s aria from Nabucco, but what about ‘Va pensiero’ and Nabucco’s prayer?
It’s not all blood and thunder BUT theses are stirring times and the Risorgimento (the
movement for a united Italy) needed a composer and wittingly or unwittingly Verdi
was on hand to supply. Remember though that a composer needs words and Solera
(the librettist of Nabucco) really fired Verdi’s imagination with the words of Va
Pensiero. And I believe that this chorus has become for most Italians what Efgar’s
‘Land of Hope and Glory’ has become for us.

Verdi was not greatly involved in politics. He was a keen republican but was
eventually persuaded that the hope for a united Italy lay with the kingship of Victor
Emmanuel. The unification of Italy was virtually complete by 1860 and fully in place
by 1870. We can perhaps trace Verdi’s nationalism back to ‘Va pensiero’ foUowed by
the I lombardi chorus (not quite perhaps at the same level of inspiration as Va
Pensiero (what did you think?)). The duet from Attila had the soldiers in the first night
audience at La Fenice on their feet waving their swords. 1848, the year of revolution
saw the (alas temporary) defeat of Austrian rule and inspired Verdi to write’ La
Battaglia di Legnano a 12th century battle in which the Milanese defeated the German
League. Audiences saw the 12th century Mifanese as 19th century Piedmontese and
the German League as the Austrians. The opera was a phenomenal success with the
last act encored at every performance but the 1848 victory was short lived, the
Austrians returned and the opera disappeared.

The fervour of ‘II Tovatore’ had a great effect on Cavour (the poIiti~aI arm of the
Risorgimento). He burst out singing ‘in quelia pira’ when he knew the Austrians had
invaded Piedmont in 1859 which after some serious hiccups (see a good history
book for more details) led to the almost compete unification in 1860. One could argue
that the use of Verdi’s name as an acrostic for Victor Emmanuel Re di Italia (Viva
Verdi) was fortuitous but without Verdi’s fame would have been pointless. Under
persuasion from Cavour Verdi stood as a deputy for Palma and was a member of the
Italian parliament for 5 years. His main concern was the overhaul of the music
academies in which he was supported by Cavour but the latter’s death in 1861 left
him fighting a lonely battle in a situation where other topics were more pressing. He
resigned his seat in 1865 when fresh elections were due and retired from politics.

Talk 8 : Verismo (Kitchen Sink Opera)

Music see — some or all of:
Carmen (1875) Bizet — End of the opera
Cavalleria Rusticana (1888) Mascagni — Quarrel Duet
I Pagliacci (1893) LeoncavallO — Vestl Ia Guiba
Ii Tabarro (1917) Puccini Love Duet

Manôn Lescaut (1892) Puccini — Roll Call of Prostitutes Act 3
La Boheme (1896) Puccini Death of Mimi
Andrea Chenier (1896) Giordano Aria: Questo azzurro sofa
Francesca da Rimini (1914) Zandonai - End of Act 3

Other versimo operas would include Giordano’s La mala vita (Low life) and
Siberia, Mascagni’S Iris none of which are in the repertory (although Iris gets
the occasional hearing (and rightly so, says Peter)
Remember opera follows literature. Greek drama was the starting point for the
Camerata Fiorentina, French Drama pointed the way to opera seria, the
novels of (amongst others) Walter Scott moved it into the area of bel canto.
But times are changing — forget forlorn heroines let’s see things as they really
are — the underbelly of society has been neglected for too long. Taking its cue
from France and writers such as Flaubert, Zola and Maupassant we move into
an area of realism which for Italian opera meant Verismo. Musicologists
suggest that the first ‘verismo’ opera was Carmen (1875) with its cast of
smugglers, gypsies and disgraced soldiers. Then it’s taken up in Italy with the
stories of Verga and Mascagni writes Cavalleria Rusticana, Giordano writes
‘Mala Vita (1892) and ‘Siberia’ (1903) and it essentially ends with Wolf
Ferrari’s (German father, Italian mother, wrote in Italian) ‘Jewels of the
Madonna’ (1911). All examples of low life in spades!

However Italian verismo isn’t always easy to pin down. Andrea Chenier in his
famous aria ‘quest azzurro sofa’ in which he denounces the church and
speaks up for the poor can also be squeezed under the verismo label. And
what about Puccini? is La Boheme verismo or just sentimentality — where do
you put the death of Mimi? Tosca — the torture of Cavardossi and Tosca’s
betrayal — verismo or melodramatic bad taste? There’s no room for doubt
about ‘II Tabarro’, low life on a barge on the Seine with the wife ‘having it off
with the hired help but a lot of Puccini is difficult to label and in any case why
should we?

“I don’t know what verismo is but I know it when I see it!” could be an opening
line for a discussion in the crush bar at the ROH, or, UQf course the genius of
Puccini is that you can’t label him.”
The jury will always be out and the term “has been applied to such a variety of
genres as to become meaningless” (Grove — Dictionary of Opera).

Just look for:
Violent vocal outbursts
Heavy Orchestration
Big Unison Climaxes
Agitated duets
No ‘be) canto’ coloratura
The vocal lines be they recitative/arioso, solo or ensembles enjoy equal status

Talk Nine: Verdi and Shakespeare

Music seen some or all of:
Macbeth (1847): The Scene with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth from Act One
Otello (1887): Love Duet (End of Act One)
                        lago’s Credo
Vengeance Duet (End of Act 2)
Ensemble finale — Act 3
Falstaff (1893): The Honour Monologue
Arietta; Quando ero paggio
                         Finale: Act2
Fenton’s Aria Act 3

It’s customary and not Unreasonable to divide Verdi’s output into 3 categories,
early, middle and late. The middle period starting with Rigoletto (1851) and
late, those written after the unification of Italy (1860). However it is important
to remember that signs of Verdi’s greatness can be found in his early works
and echoes of the early works can be found in the late ones. We may see this
in comparing the extracts from Macbeth and OteJJo~ although we should
remember that Verdi revised Macbeth for the Paris opera in 1865.
Verdi Considered Shakespeare one of the finest dramatists ever. When a
French critic wrote (after the Paris Macbeth) that Verdi did not know his
Shakespeare Verdi responded angrily: “it may be that I did not do Macbeth
justice, but to say that I do not understand and feel Shakespeare, no by God,
no. He is my favourite poet. I have known him from my ChildhoOd and read
and reread him continually.”
One of the tragedies of Verdi’s life (and for the opera going public) is that he
never fulfilled his ambition to write a King Lear but perhaps the monologues in
Forza and Don Carlos may contain hints of what we lost. Macbeth was Verdi’s
j0th opera and an immediate SUCCeSS. Nowadays it is usually performed in the
revised version for Paris but with the exception of a new aria for Lady
Macbeth and a revised ending the changes are not major. The adaptation was
done by Piave but a glance at the correspondence between them shows what
a major part Verdi had in the shaping of the libretto.
It was Verdi’s wife Giuseppina who ‘brokered’ a meeting with Arrigo Boito, the
librettist for Otello and Falstaff. Havtng worked on a revision of Simon
Boccanegra they finally started work on Otello. Again Correspondence shows
the major part Verdi played in shaping the work but one must also
acknowledge Boito’s mastery in condensing the play. Some have considered
Boito’s libretto an improvement; Shakespeare’s Act one is Jettisoned, Otello’s
first entrance is highly dramatic and the Act ends with a sublime love duet.
Some have questioned the invention of lago’s Credo but the structure of the
whole allows for monologues, arias duets and magnificent ensembles.
At first reluctant to consider a further opera (I’m too old) Verdi ‘allowed’ Bojto
to fashion an opera from essentially Shakespeare’s ‘Merry Wives. Boito was
sworn to secrecy but eventually news got out and Falstaff received its premier
in 1893 a few months after ~ first Success — Manon Lescajjt

Reproduced by kind permission  of Peter Beadsley – WEA Lecturer.

Talk Ten: Giacomo Puccini (1858 — 1942) — Maestro or Manipulator?

You saw some or all of the following:
Le ViOl: Love Duet Act One
Manon Lescaut: Love Duet Act 2
La Boheme: Love Duet Act One
Madama Butterfly: Trio Act 2
La Fanciulla del West: End of Act 2
La Rondine: Ensemble Act 2
Turandot: Nessun Dorma

So we come to the end of our survey of Italian Opera, When Verdi died (1901) the obvious question
was who would become the new king of Italian opera —or was the dynasty at an end? There were
several contenders, Mascagni, Leoncavallo. Giordano and Cilea all had had great success in the
Opera House. The opera going public have awarded the laurels to Puccini, with Tosca heading the
list of most frequently performed operas! That may be so (and debatable other lists suggest
Mozart’s Magic Flute) but Puccini has his detractors (“I am sickened by the cheapness and
emptiness of his music — Benjamin Britten 1951) and some would question the title eking’ — perhaps
benevolent dictator at best. Life would be dull without debate but whether king or not when Puccini
died (1924) there would be no (Italian) successor.

So what about Puccini? Still a child when his father died, he took over as town organist, he got a
royal bursary to attend the Milan Conservatoire (where he roomed with Pietro Mascagni — he of
Cavalleria Rusticana fame). He entered a one act opera competition with Le Villi which came
nowhere but friends in high places resulted in the opera being performed. Riccordi commissioned a
2 act version and a new opera (Edgar) neither of which set the operatic world on fire but Riccordi
persisted in his faith in Puccini which was rewarded with the phenomenal success of Manon
Lescaut (1893).

Never the most prolific of composers La Boheme followed in 1896, Tosca in 1900, Madama
Butterfly in 1904, La Fanciula del West in 1910, La Rondine in 1917 , Trittico in 1918 and Turandot
(unfinshed) 1926.

After the huge success of Manon Lescaut the conversational style of La Boheme horrified some
critics and initial baffled the opera going public but they soon took it to their hearts. Academia could
be and was sniffy and the (in)famous attacks by the critic and musicologist Torrefranca (effeminate
music, too international, a disgrace to the home of opera) although ignored by the opera going and
paying public must have hurt.

But love him or loath him (and apart from the odd reservation I love him) he is one of the mainstays
of the operatic repertory and just like Wagner(whom he greatly admired) he has become one of the
‘marmites’ of opera.

Reproduced by kind permission  of Peter Beadsley – WEA Lecturer.

Epilogue: Is there (Italian) operatic life after Nessun Dorma?

So here are some subjects to discuss on your next operatic trip to the cinema
or the Crush bar at the ROH if you’re in funds:
1 :ltalian Opera died with the death of Puccini

2: Opera really needs melody to succeed

3: Until opera composers stoop regarding melody as a dirty word the future for
all opera is grim

4: Whereas Wagner’s development of Opera looked forward to the 20th
century, Puccini’s looked back to the l9~.

I can name no Italian operas in the repertory written after 1926 (first
performance of Turandot). I’m hard put to name any Italian operas even on
the outer fringes. There’s possibly
Sly (1927) Wolf Ferrari 11 Prigionero (1950) Dalfapicola or
Un Re in Ascolta (1984) Berio. You’d be hard put to find a Menotti opera
these days. The Medium (1948), The Consul (1951) and
The Saint of Bleeker Street (1954) have disappeared and even the perennial
Christmas Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951 — first TV opera) seems to have
lost its popularity. But is Menotti Italian? — biographical notes say American
composer of Italian birth.

Menotti’s legacy to the 20th century is the ‘serious’ musical — Discuss.

Now do not let me be misunderstood. Post Turandot opera is alive and well
and fH!ing opera houses. Janacek, Richard Strauss, Berg, Britten,
Shostakovitch, Stravinsky, Turnage and Ades prove that but where are the
Italians? Some new Italian operas are being written, they get first
performances and then disappear.

Here follow some generalisations as to why. Treat with care, question freely,
but worth considering:

A growing lack of interest in opera as a musical form by Italian composers
The growth of other forms of popular entertainment, especially the cinema
The loss of melody
Obscurity of libretti
Outsiders fondly suppose that Italians imbibe Verdi as the aural equivalent
of mother’s milk, but in fact barely 10% of the current population has ever
attended an operatic performance ~(Rupert Christiansen writing in the
Daily telegraph 2005 (?))

So that’s that. During the ten weeks you heard excerpts from 43 operas, I
hope appetites have been wetted to go and see some of them. If ever you
want to discuss anything further you can always get me on
peterandjoyce© live. co. uk

Reproduced by kind permission  of Peter Beadsley – WEA Lecturer.

Further reading

Pietro Mascagni and His Operas (Hardcover)

Anyone interested in Italian Opera should get to know Alan Mallach's books. Both this and his 2007 book 'The Autumn of Italian Opera' are required reading for anyone wanting to follow the progress of Italian Opera after Verdi's Falstaff.

The book covers Mascagni's life and each opera is dealt with in turn. The book is no hagiography although Malloch admits to a Damascus Road experience after hearing Guglielmo Radcliffe (not I must confess my reaction to the work). The book quotes no musical examples so non readers of music need have no fears but does deal closely with the structure of the works. It has left me determined to get to know some of the other operas much better a job made easier by the excellent discography that Malloch provides.
I would have liked a final chapter looking back on the works from a 2002 perspective (the date of publication)and why with the exception of Cavalleria Rusticana the other operas have virtually disappeared (although Iris and L'amico Fritz do turn up at Festivals). Even so this book is highly recommended.

Peter Bleasby