Musical Point of View.
Toward understanding where Opera has come from,
and where it might go.


By
John Mucci


List coordinator
operamusic@onelist.com


You can find out more about the author
through his C.V.

Operamusic

You are invited to join Operamusic, a discussion about opera as music, at operamusic@onelist.com. It is free to join, and anyone can discuss anything relating to the music in opera.


What this means to me is:

Opera has become a wonderful synthesis of all the arts—singing, orchestral music, theatre, dance, movement, visual arts, plastic arts, and now interactive and multimedia as well. What composers and librettists have in mind as they design and promote their works is a fascinating and rewarding study for anyone who is interested in any of the arts mentioned above.

It is an ideal which is seldom attained. I noticed long ago that listening to recordings of opera (added to an active imagination, I admit), rather spoiled live performances for me, as they never caught up to the magic of what opera should be. I always found the acting awful, the staging leaden, the egos ridiculous. I have long ago reconciled myself to the times when those elements become overbearing, but I have always loved so much of the music, that it never changes in its allure for me.

When I hear that Pavarotti is appearing in L'Elisir d'Amore so that he can get to sing "Una furtiva lagrima," it seems a little excessive; and in the case of "Nessun Dorma," it is a massive undertaking to surround that aria with all of Turandot.. These, to me, are not valid excuses for staging an opera, as much as I enjoy both arias, and Sr. Pavarotti's performances as well. So what this list is not about is discussing performer's personalities, or focusing on performances. All too often I find opera discussions turning to the latest CD's, or who is appearing in Covent Garden this year. While these are valid topics of discussion when talking things operatic, it doesn't appeal to me as a source of interesting material.

What interests me is discovering how opera evolved into an art form which, by the end of the 19th century, was the nec plus ultra of musical-theatrical experience. The twentieth century found it a little embarrassing to musically elevate passions to the same level as did the 19th century. Composers began to offer what they felt were more relevant works. How far they succeeded is debatable.

I am a devotee of such works as: Dido & Æneas, Lulu, Il Corsaro, Der Templer Und die Jüdin, Norma, A Witch of Salem, Isabeau, and Die Dreigroschenoper, to name a few. I am familiar with most of the Western Opera repertoire, and enjoy experimental as well as traditional works. There really are no bounds to how opera can affect an audience. I am an avid collector of recordings, mainly from 1878-1926, and am probably familiar with the singers of seventy-five years ago than today, which I admit is a fault, but a preference.

An enormous amount of operatic work remains unperformed. Much is still to be rediscovered. It has always been a quiet joke to myself to say that if I had an opera company, the first season would be Otello, Wozzeck, La Bohème, and Falstaff; and only after coming to the theatre would the audience find out that it was Rossini's Otello, Gurlitt's Wozzeck, Leoncavallo's La Bohème, and Salieri's Falstaff. That way you'd get an audience disposed to see the story they feel they know, but they'd be set on edge because it isn't what they'd expected to hear. Of course they'd all walk out because they felt cheated. But how else does one get to see and hear such great works?

At present, I am the champion of several composers whose work has fallen into obscurity, and undeservedly so. Among them are:

Luigi Mancinelli
Clemens von Franckenstein
Heinrich Marschner
Charles Cadman
I also believe that Leoncavallo's many operas have lain on the shelf for too long-- Pagliacci is one of my favorites, but it shouldn't sustain his whole career. Zazà is a beautiful work, as is his Bohème and even Edipo Re, which I doubt a handful of people have heard these days.

Also the work of Alberto Franchetti is worth another look; his Cristoforo Colombo was given during the Columbus 500th, but he wrote much, much more, including Germania, which suffers only from one of the stupidest librettos known to mankind: with a new book (and why not?) it would be a superb offering.

If you look up American Composers on Opera America, you'll see immediately how much effort we've put into creating something lasting from this country in the realm of opera, and how little it's appreciated. I think that's something which should be rectified someday.

I'd love to hear anyone's comments on this or let me know what you all are in to.

John Mucci
List manager