Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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VI. The 20th century

1. Foundations.

2. Continuity and change.

3. 20th-century topics.

4. Towards mid-century.

5. Mid-century perspectives.

6. Modern drama.

7. Chamber opera and music theatre.

8. Operas about opera.

9. Opera and literature.

10. Conclusions.

Opera, §VII: Production

1. Foundations.

At the very beginning of the century the particular dominance of Wagner and Verdi (who died in 1901, and whose final opera Falstaff had been first performed in 1893) had already been countered by the quieter Romanticism of Humperdinck and the down-to-earth lyricism of the early Puccini; while in France the alternative tradition associated with Gounod and Bizet lived on in Charpentier's Louise (1900). Composers from further east – the Russians Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, the Bohemian Dvořák – represented examples of vital and increasingly influential national traditions. From this perspective the emergence of Richard Strauss's mature operatic voice in Salome (1905) can be viewed as a re-engagement with the more forceful and intense aspects of the Wagnerian heritage that might otherwise have been lost (fig.23). After all, while most early 20th-century composers, whatever their regional accent, used a musical language in which chromatic and diatonic tendencies engaged in a flexibly organized dialogue, and to a greater or lesser extent followed the Wagnerian (and late Verdian) practice of large-scale, through-composed forms rather than the strongly contrasted, separate numbers and formal types of earlier opera, the temper of the times immediately before Salome had not led composers to seek out such controversial subject matter, nor to provide such disturbing, extravagantly insistent music.

After Salome and its immediate successor, the epic tragedy Elektra (1909), which brought the post-Wagnerian tradition of a large-scale, single-act drama to its zenith, Strauss himself changed direction and, with Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912) and Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), sought out a different world, in which the violent and the shocking were less all-pervading and comedy and romance might each find a prominent place. The success that gave Strauss the opportunity to move in this direction was in itself a result of cultural attitudes which regarded the presence of an opera house as a necessary part of a civilized social structure, thus creating, during the 19th century, the need for repertory at a time when the new was more highly regarded than the old.

The persistence of such attitudes into the 20th century was particularly apparent in the German-speaking countries. In the years before 1940, these countries sustained an operatic culture in which several second-rank composers were able to achieve regular performance with works whose style and subject matter reflected the achievements of Wagner, Strauss and Humperdinck without being so pale a shadow that their artistic value was utterly negligible. Such operas as Pfitzner's Palestrina (1917), Schreker's Der ferne Klang (1912), Korngold's Die tote Stadt (1920) and Zemlinsky's Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) display an adaptability, and the ability to feed off such potent sources as Wagner's myth-making, Strauss's ‘decadent’ Expressionism and Puccini's lyric realism, while adding something distinctive. Of such composers in the century's first three decades, no example is more remarkable than that of Siegfried Wagner, who composed 17 stage works between 1899 and 1930, several of which were successful. Few have been regularly revived since his death.

Opera, §VII: Production

2. Continuity and change.


While some of the greatest operas of the century's early years, such as Elektra and Puccini's La fanciulla del West (1910), acknowledged, and even helped to legitimize, the more radical harmonic practices of the time, such truly innovatory stage works as Schoenberg's 30-minute monodrama Erwartung (written in 1909) and his no less concise ‘drama with music’ Die glückliche Hand (written in 1913) both had to wait until 1924 for their premières. For all its technical radicalism, Erwartung can still be seen as a product of the Wagnerian obsession with female psychopathology (Isolde, Kundry), and the difficulty of avoiding some degree of intersection with Wagner is equally evident in the no less individual case of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (begun in 1893, completed and first performed in 1902; see fig.24). That Debussy's opera became one of the century's most widely admired and regularly performed is the more impressive for the fact that it exercised relatively little obvious influence on later operatic composition, and even works which are evidently beholden to it in some respects – Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle (1918), for example – are no less strikingly different from it in certain fundamental ways.

In Pelléas, Debussy showed how a musical genre deeply indebted to Wagner's stylistic and structural procedures could achieve a notably individual accent by adopting a very different rhetoric and a dramatic subject which, if hardly non-Wagnerian in the sense of contemporary or naturalistic, along the lines of Louise or Puccini's Madama Butterfly (1904), was quite different in its emphasis on a purely human vulnerability. As Erwartung and Bluebeard's Castle both illustrate, progressiveness in early 20th-century opera was not simply a matter of replacing emphatic assertion with understatement; but the progressive aspects of the music and the unambiguous focus on the dark side of human psychology, in extremely concentrated structures, give both works a distinctively modern quality that distances them decisively from Wagner and Strauss. Even more radically, though very peripheral at the time, Holst's Sāvitri (completed in 1908, first performed 1916) adumbrated a kind of chamber opera, avowedly anti-Wagnerian in style which, if not naturalistic in subject matter, was very unlike any 19th-century variety of music drama. While even Sāvitri cannot escape all links with the still potent Wagnerian past, it represents a decisive shift of emphasis, and it served as a pioneering example to Benjamin Britten in his exploration of the world of chamber opera after 1945.



Opera, §VII: Production

3. 20th-century topics.


The kind of sympathy for human weakness and helplessness in the face of fate found in operas such as Pelléas and Madama Butterfly was, in the broadest terms, to provide a more fundamental theme for 20th-century opera than the Wagnerian epic world of gods and heroes. To this extent, the typical 20th-century operatic topic, in which vulnerability itself can attain either a heroic or an anti-heroic dimension, might be derived more directly from the ‘real life’ protagonists of Verdi or Musorgsky. It is not that gods and heroes disappeared from 20th-century opera (or that the gods and heroes of earlier operas, even Wagner's, are actually invulnerable), rather that 20th-century opera, in common with other artistic genres, tended to prefer a direct relation to the real world, even when that tendency reinforced the genre's own artificiality and unreality. A crucial factor is that 20th-century treatments of non-naturalistic subject matter – myth, allegory and fantasy – often acquired an ambiguous quality through the nature of a musical language that found affirmation and positive resolution far more problematic than did the language of the essentially tonal, consonant past.

20th-century composers also favoured those timeless yet familiar topics, such as the Orpheus myth, that had been explored in the genre from the beginning. Such infinitely adaptable topics are open to exploratory treatment while remaining within the perceived borders of the operatic genre. The adaptability of certain archetypal topics to treatment in an explicitly 20th-century style is one reason why new operas were heard with reasonable frequency despite the sustained preference for works from earlier periods. Far from relegating earlier works to the status of occasional revival, the production of operas composed in the 20th century was commercially and artistically possible mainly because the institutions seeking to promote them were primarily supported by a standard repertory that contained very few 20th-century works.



Opera, §VII: Production

4. Towards mid-century.


After 1914 an essentially late Romantic, heroic kind of opera maintained a powerful rearguard action, not only in Strauss, but in Szymanowski's King Roger (1926), Enescu's Oedipe (1936) and Busoni's Doktor Faust (unfinished, 1925), to cite only three of the most memorable. The evolution of atonal, expressionistic opera continued from Schoenberg's Erwartung to Die glückliche Hand, and on to the greatest example of the genre, Berg's Wozzeck (1925). The exploration of alternatives to large-scale theatrical presentation found in Stravinsky's ‘burlesque in song and dance’, Renard (1922) and Histoire du soldat (1918 – ‘to be read, played and danced’), led to forms of music theatre that achieved their greatest impact after 1950, while a no less potent naturalism reached its apex in Janáček's Káťa Kabanová (1921), a work that amply fulfilled the promise and personal style revealed in his much earlier stage work Jenůfa (1904, with later revisions). The possibility of coping with comedy, fantasy, or a mixture of the two while avoiding expansive Straussian or Puccinian lyricism was shown in Stravinsky's The Nightingale (1914), Busoni's Arlecchino (1917), Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges (1921) and Janáček's The Excursions of Mr Brouček (1920) and The Cunning Little Vixen (1924), as well as in Ravel's L'heure espagnole (1911) and L'enfant et les sortilèges (1925): and no account of the period should omit the crowning glory of Puccini's output, the not quite completed but highly characteristic Turandot (1926).

By the 1920s the musical battle lines had been drawn between an apparent radicalism (Schoenbergian serialism) that sought to submerge rather than celebrate its debts to the past, and an approach – neo-classicism – that celebrated the vitality of the confrontation between past and present, tonal styles and post-tonal techniques. In opera this led to such obvious and profound contrasts as those between Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus rex (1928) and Schoenberg's Moses und Aron (composed 1930–32), two treatments of epic-mythic topics that could hardly be more different in musical character and dramatic conception, even if they are closely related in their exploration of how, respectively, Oedipus and Moses move from positions of supreme power to tragic isolation. Differences and similarities may also be compared in two other near-contemporary works, Berg's Lulu (1937) and Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934). Each portrays the progressive degradation of the principal character with supreme conviction, even though the musical processes could scarcely be more different – Berg's progressive, Shostakovich's relatively conservative. Notoriously, the history of Lady Macbeth is bound up with the repressive cultural principles operative in the Soviet era, when the most challenging works by Russian-born composers, such as Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel (begun 1919, revised version completed 1927), could be heard only outside Russia, and the most profound operatic treatment of a Russian story was achieved by a composer from a different European country, Janáček, with From the House of the Dead (1930).

More fundamental, during the 1920s and 30s, was the contrast between the assumption, common to all the works just mentioned, that opera and its derivatives are forms of high art at its highest, and the view that the genre needed to come down from its Olympian heights and engage with reality much more directly, even didactically. It was not such a great step from Expressionist opera's use of ‘low-life’ contexts, as in the pub band in Wozzeck, to the more central focus on popular, jazz idioms in Krenek's Jonny spielt auf (1927). Far more radical was the wholesale shift of attitude embodied in the two Brecht-Weill collaborations, Die Dreigroschenoper (1928) and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930; fig.26). In accordance with Brecht's theory of ‘epic theatre’, the relationship between music and drama is intentionally ambiguous, and music is freed from its time-honoured operatic responsibility of supporting and representing what the words state and imply, just as the form of the work as a whole seeks to reject the highly unified, organic structures promoted during and after the 19th century. Yet Mahagonny, in particular, is scarcely anti-operatic: indeed, its importance is not in what it rejects, but in the way it revives the more stylized principles of the number opera and shows their suitability for the range of emotions and situations proper to a modern dramatic subject. With Mahagonny, as with Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1935) a few years later, the foundations were laid for the parallel development, later in the century, of relatively naturalistic subjects, stemming from Janáček, Weill and Gershwin, alongside the persistence of epic and fantasy.

Opera, §VII: Production

5. Mid-century perspectives.


By the early 1950s, with what can now be regarded as the masterwork of neo-classical opera, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951), the powerful political allegory of Dallapiccola's 12-note Il prigioniero (1950) and the lively traditionalism of Britten's early operas (Peter Grimes, 1945, fig.27; The Rape of Lucretia, 1946; Albert Herring, 1947; Billy Budd, 1951), as well as the first stage works of Hans Werner Henze (Boulevard Solitude, 1951; König Hirsch, 1956), the genre's health and survivability could not be denied – or denied only by young firebrands like Pierre Boulez who, on principle, associated opera with all that was most decadent and retrogressive in art. Boulez's recantation, which took the form of many remarkable performances in the theatre, including some of 20th-century operas (Debussy, Berg), as well as long-considered plans for a stage work of his own based on a play by Jean Genet, was at worst an acceptance of the inevitable, at best an acknowledgment that his earlier objections were mistaken.

With both Henze and Britten, early success fuelled the kind of regular demand for their work that required immense reserves of energy and creativity. As music dramatists, they are not obviously innovative, even though, in Britten's case, his preference after Peter Grimes for chamber opera, including the three ‘parables for church performance’ composed in the 1960s, represents a significant shift of commitment from the large-scale theatrical enterprise. Even if not strictly speaking chamber operas, given the resources required to stage them, Britten's last two operas, Owen Wingrave (1971) – originally intended for television – and Death in Venice (1973), have an intimate quality very different from the grander projections of Peter Grimes, Billy Budd or Gloriana (1953).

Britten and Henze both developed distinctively personal styles in their early years, and both, at their best, brought a strong sense of expressive depth as well as theatrical conviction to their work. Britten, in music never quite losing touch with tonality, provided a blend of intensity and austerity, and penetrated remarkable psychological depths in his obsessive study of vulnerable outsiders. Henze moved between social comment, or satire, and psychological exploration with an assurance matched by the supple adaptability of his musical language, more radical than Britten's and echoing both Berg and Stravinsky, while slavishly imitating neither. If one essential musical source for both Britten and Henze is Mahler, it is all the more striking that their works are, in the end, so different.

During the second half of the 20th century many countries maintained a special commitment to operas by local composers: Australia, Finland and, not least, the USA had particularly good records in this respect, as well as Germany and Britain. Relatively few of these works crossed national borders, save occasionally in recorded form, and, apart from Britten and Henze, only a handful of composers achieved a sustained international reputation through their stage works – Tippett, Berio, Ligeti and Adams among them. These names indicate that success in opera since 1945 has not simply been the consequence of pursuing a relatively familiar, traditional musical style. Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach (1976) pioneered the use of minimalist techniques taken up by Adams and Louis Andriessen, among others, and the adaptability of the genre has extended to the breaching if not the decisive destruction of its domination by male composers. In Britain, for example, Judith Weir produced a particularly accomplished group of stage works, including A Night at the Chinese Opera (1987) and Blond Eckbert (1994).



Opera, §VII: Production

6. Modern drama.


While it might be argued that the easiest way for a composer to ensure performance for an opera is already to have achieved prominence in other genres, it is clear that many major 20th-century composers – Messiaen, with his single, relatively late work Saint François d'Assise (1983), is the great exception – attempted operas at a quite early stage of their careers. Michael Tippett is a striking case of a composer who believed so deeply in the special importance of the genre that he devoted six years (1946–52) to his first mature effort, The Midsummer Marriage (1955), even with little prospect of early performance. That work is particularly special in that, with its explicitly Jungian aura, it is difficult to imagine such a treatment before the age of modern psychology.

After his second opera, King Priam (1962), Tippett, no less strikingly than Berio (Un re in ascolto, 1984) and Ligeti (Le Grand Macabre, 1978; fig.28), preferred to create dramas which are penetrating if often oblique reflections on contemporary life, contemporary ways of thought, contemporary problems, even when presented in stylized rather than naturalistic fashion. Indeed, it seems difficult to deny that the most memorable operas of the years since 1970 have been either meditations on the perennial topic of the artist in the world (Peter Maxwell Davies's Taverner, 1972; Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus, 1986; or Stockhausen's seven-opera cycle Licht, launched in 1981 with Donnerstag), or morality plays about those aspects of life that psychology and modern history have brought most directly into question: and, in particular, the subject of social and political authority.

In a long and fruitful line whose specifically 20th-century strain can be traced from Wozzeck, the potential of representatives of the state for cruelty – despite occasional glimpses of more human sympathies – has been a theme ideally suited to the tensions and uneasy syntheses of modern musical language, and operas as different in style as Dallapiccola's Il prigioniero, Nono's Intolleranza 1960 (1961), Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten (1965), John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Maxwell Davies's The Doctor of Myddfai (1996) bear witness to that. This is not to suggest that all fantasy or comedy has been drained out of contemporary musical theatre, or that there is less generic flexibility in evidence than formerly. If anything, this flexibility is greater than ever since the example set by Weill in the Broadway musicals of his later years, and given that Leonard Bernstein was happy to write opera (A Quiet Place, 1983), musical (West Side Story, 1957) and ‘comic operetta’ (Candide, 1956). There may be little danger of confusing musicals with opera, whether they preserve spoken dialogue between numbers, like Stephen Sondheim's, or are through-composed, like Lloyd Webber's Evita (1978). Yet the application of the term ‘rock opera’ to the compositions of Lloyd Webber, or to a work like Stephen Schwartz's Godspell (1971), can be seen either as demonstrating strength through adaptability or as decadence through a change from sophistication to crudity. While an even better option might be to suggest that ‘rock opera’ has nothing to do with opera proper, it is dangerous to deny that opera can ever have a viably popular quality, especially in the light of the 20th-century operas in which young people and amateurs can be involved, from Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) and Britten's Let's Make an Opera (1949) and Noye's Fludde (1958) to Maxwell Davies's The Two Fiddlers (1978) and Cinderella (1980).

Opera, §VII: Production

7. Chamber opera and music theatre.


For many 20th-century composers, rejection of the large scale and elaborate resources of traditional opera was perceived as the best route to a more intense and focussed kind of dramatic expression. If Holst's Sāvitri was an early attempt at chamber opera, Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire (1912) – first performed with its reciter in Pierrot costume and the instrumental quintet behind a curtain – was an early example of combining a chamber composition with an element of staging. This more explicitly hybrid enterprise, followed up as it was by Stravinsky's wartime theatre pieces and Walton's Façade (begun in 1921), explored possibilities of stylized and allusive dramatic presentation which were taken up with greater consistency and inventiveness after 1950.

Britten's commitment to chamber opera was manifest in the three church parables, Curlew River (1964), The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966) and The Prodigal Son (1968), each of which lasts about an hour and requires a performing group of at least a dozen (male) singers and eight instrumentalists. Another pair of works from the 1960s, Ligeti's Aventures and Nouvelles aventures (1966), is more typical of the time in its combination of expressionistically fragmented music and a surrealistic style of presentation. Music-theatre works by several of the most prominent younger composers are comparable to the Ligeti works in their challenging yet sharply controlled and economically structured designs: these include Birtwistle's Down by the Greenwood Side (1969), Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969), Henze's Der langwierige Weg in die Wohnung der Natascha Ungeheuer (1971) and Berio's Recital I (for Cathy) (1972). Although all these composers had also written full-size operas, and would write more, it was possible to imagine in the early 1970s that music theatre might supplant opera itself as the favoured medium of dramatic expression, at least for composers of a progressive turn of mind. That this soon proved not to be the case may have something to do with the extent to which music theatre could easily seem closer to the ‘happenings’ and multimedia events promoted by experimental composers, especially John Cage, than to more mainstream music drama: the co-existence of contrasts provided a more practical way forward than the kind of progress in which the new completely obliterates the old.


Opera, §VII: Production

8. Operas about opera.


The capacity of operas to contain elements of self-reference – by using actors or opera singers as characters, or the writing or performance of opera as a subject – has been evident since Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor (1786). Richard Strauss made significant 20th-century contributions in Ariadne auf Naxos and Capriccio (1942), while Britten, in Let's Make an Opera, contrived a simple yet lively way of involving audiences with a mixture of adult and child singers in rehearsing and performing an ‘entertainment for young people’, The Little Sweep.

At the other extreme, operas about opera moved into the surreal regions of John Cage's series of five works each called Europera (1985–91), a ‘homage to the genre’ which, at the same time, is a deconstruction of it. In these works Cage applied his characteristic chance operations to existing operatic materials, so that the singers perform 18th- and 19th-century arias for specified periods while the instrumentalists play operatic music that is likely to be quite different, and costumes, sets and all other aspects of production – even the programme synopses – are randomly selected.


Cage's enterprise in the Europeras, like other comparable experiments, such as Kagel's Staatstheater (1971), can be regarded as an extension of the kind of surrealistic attitude to the genre's traditional subject matter and formal principles found in Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947). No less modernist in its aesthetic concept than Cage's work, though very different in musical character, is Berio's Opera (1970, rev. 1977). Here the title's literal meaning, ‘works’, is used to promote alternation of and interaction between three quite different stories, represented in turn by Striggio's libretto for Monteverdi's Orfeo, a Brecht-like treatment of the sinking of the Titanic, and materials from the Open Theatre of New York's Terminal, a strong attack on the way in which terminally ill hospital patients are treated. If the topic of death ensures a common theme, the very different nature of the three types of material ensures that the structure as a whole is fluid and multivalent.

Opera, §VII: Production

9. Opera and literature.


Opera is neither Berio's most successful nor his most conventional work for the theatre: Un re in ascolto has a particularly rich and consistent musical character, serving to project a story which, like Tippett's The Knot Garden (1970), refers to Shakespeare's Tempest as one particularly effective way of declaring solidarity with the longstanding tradition of theatre as a magical, transcendent enterprise. Operas embodying such allusions seem to have achieved greater artistic success in the later 20th century than those more directly based on great works of literature, though even here the level of achievement varies: Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra (1966, rev. 1974) was more widely admired on revision than in its original version, while Aribert Reimann's Lear (1978) has a powerful impact, even if of necessity (it is set in German) it is far removed from the full, elaborate rhetoric of the Shakespearean original. By contrast, Dallapiccola's Ulisse (1968) seems too deeply in awe of its Homeric source, while Iain Hamilton's Anna Karenina (1981) appears merely parasitic in the sense that, like many television adaptations of major literary texts, only the bare bones of plot and character are preserved; perhaps because the music has little of the strong sense of contemporaneity found in the original novel, the result is more a trivialization than an enhancement of the original. Such failures at least invite a more positive appreciation of more successful adaptations, from Prokofiev's War and Peace (begun 1941, completed 1953) to Henze's Der Prinz von Homburg and The Bassarids (fig.29) and Britten's Death in Venice, where the intensity and personal identity of the music enable a good deal of the stature, if not the actual style, of the literary sources to be preserved. Among younger composers contributing to the operatic canon, none has shown a stronger or more inventive commitment to adaptations of major dramatic sources than Wolfgang Rihm: his works include Die Hamletmaschine (1987), a fantasy using Shakespeare as its starting-point, and Oedipus (also 1987), which similarly places its Sophoclean topic within a context of more modern commentary. Alfred Schnittke contributed to the long list of operas based on the Faust story, in his Historia von D. Johann Fausten (composed 1983–94).

Opera, §VII: Production

10. Conclusions.


Musical life in the 20th century involved an intricate interaction between old and new, progressive and conservative. Opera houses that were built, and rebuilt, reflect 20th-century principles of design and use specifically 20th-century materials, but at the same time represent concepts of the role of musical composition and performance within society that are not fundamentally different from what they were before 1900. The rebuilding of the Vienna Staatsoper after 1945 was one particular prominent example signifying a deep-rooted belief in the continuing vitality of opera as an institution not requiring radical rethinking in the light of changing social and cultural conditions. New or newly restored opera houses were not primarily intended for the performance of 20th-century operas. For most operatic administrations, experiment was focussed less on challenging new works than on encouraging radical productions of operas from the standard repertory; and touring organizations, which do not depend on a large, fixed establishment, performing instead in a variety of non-standard venues, preferred slimmed-down versions of Le nozze di Figaro, Carmen, La traviata, even The Ring, to new or neglected 20th-century works. The engagement of opera with the 20th-century mass-media of radio and television was no less tangential, and even operas dealing very directly with contemporary subject matter, such as John Adams's Nixon in China (1987), tended to be conceived with the traditional resources of the old-style opera house in mind. (See Television, §IV.)

Because several of the most popular operas – Madama Butterfly and Der Rosenkavalier, in particular – have been written since 1900, it is not strictly possible to categorize 20th-century opera as an entirely peripheral phenomenon. Yet with a few exceptions, of which Wozzeck is probably the most striking, operas using the 20th century's more progressive compositional techniques have not attracted regular performance in the theatre. Many have nevertheless achieved a certain permanence through issue on CD and video, and the reciprocal relationship between live and recorded performance, if it continues, is likely to play an important role in assisting the dissemination of the more experimental kinds of opera. In this respect such an enterprise as the issue in 1995 of a 1993 Salzburg Festival performance of Luigi Nono's ‘tragedy for listening’, Prometeo (1985), is especially significant.


Many of the finest opera composers of the 20th century successfully explored a notable variety of dramatic subjects. Since Strauss followed Elektra with Der Rosenkavalier, and Stravinsky moved (over a much longer period) from Oedipus rex to The Rake's Progress, Henze explored the very different worlds of The English Cat (1983) and Das verratene Meer, while Birtwistle relished the contrasts between Gawain (1991; fig.30) and The Second Mrs Kong (1994). Such contrasts show the adaptability of a consistent musical style, rather than an ability to transform style itself from one kind of opera to another, and that ability may be no less apparent in major composers (for example Puccini and Britten) in whom such wide contrasts of dramatic topic are less evident. This adaptability is one reason why opera, along with associated forms of music theatre, may have a healthy future. If, as seems conceivable, music in the 21st century pursues a kind of classicism that attempts to integrate elements that 20th-century modernism sought to keep separate, then opera is no less likely to benefit from the development than other traditional genres which, despite all the odds, have survived the great 20th-century experiment.

Opera




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