Musicology: Opera and Drama

The outline that you find below has been a very helpful study guide to assist students using the book A History of Western Music. I strongly recommend this book. With its contents, art work, and media, it's just gorgeous!

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France

  1. Background
    1. France as the operatic capital of Europe during the 1800-1850 period
      1. Gluck
      2. French Revolution
      3. Napoleonic Empire
    2. Gasporo Spontini (1774-1851)
      1. La vestale
        1. Opera seria
        2. Uses the heroic character of Gluck combined with the action of a rescue plot
    3. Luigi Cherubini
    4. Etienne Nicolas Mehul
  2. Grand Opera
    1. Background
      1. Rise of a powerful middle class
      2. After 1820, corresponding opera targeting less 'cultured' classes increases in popularity (Grand Opera)
    2. Grand Opera
      1. Leading figures
        1. Eugene Scribe (1791-1861): librettist
        2. Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864): composer
        3. Louis Veron (1798-1867): director of the Paris Opera theater
      2. Early operas by Meyerbeer
        1. Robert le diable (1831)
        2. Les Hugenots (1836)
      3. Style
        1. Importance of spectacle
        2. Emphasis on ballets, choruses and crowd scenes
        3. Insertion of 'public' ceremonies into the libretto
      4. Other important composers ca.1830
        1. Auber
        2. Rossini (Guillaume Tell, 1829)
        3. Jacques Fromental Halevy (The Jewess, 1835)
    3. Later works influenced by the early 19th c. genre
      1. Bellini (I Puritani)
      2. Verdi (Aida)
      3. Wagner (Rienzi)
  3. Opera Comique
    1. Characteristics
      1. Uses spoken dialogue instead of recitative
      2. Subject matter is lighter than grand opera
    2. 19th c. Subgenres of opera comique
      1. Romantic plots
        1. Boieldieu (1775-1834)
          1. La dame blanche (Paris, 1825)
        2. Herold (1791-1833)
          1. Zampa (1831)
          2. Le Pre aux clercs (1832)
      2. Comic plots
        1. Auber
          1. Fra Diavolo (1830)
        2. Opera bouffe
          1. Distinct from Italian opera buffa
          2. Type of comic opera that emphasizes witty and satirical plots
          3. This genre appears in the 1860s
          4. Offenbach
            1. Orpheus in the Underworld (1858)
            2. La belle Helene (1864)
          5. This genre influences operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan as well as Johann Strauss (Die Fledermaus)
      3. works incorporating both romantic and comic elements
  4. Lyric Opera
    1. Lyric opera as a hybrid form lying sylistically between comique and grand opera
    2. Characteristics
      1. Subject matter is romantic drama or fantasy, the scale is often larger than comique plots
      2. Emphasis on melody as in comique opera
      3. Uses recitatives rather than spoken dialogue
    3. Composers
      1. Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896)
        1. Mignon (1866)
      2. Gounod
        1. Faust (1859)
          1. Originally presented as opera comique (i.e. no recit.)
          2. Later revised to include recitatives
        2. Romeo et Juliette (1867)
      3. Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)
        1. Samson et Dalila (1877)
      4. Bizet
        1. Carmen (1875)
          1. Initially classified as an opera comique
          2. Plot is atypical of comique as it uses more realistic theme
  5. Hector Berlioz
    1. Most important French composer of French romantic opera
    2. Works
      1. Damnation of Faust
        1. Technically the work is not an opera
          1. Berlioz describes it as a 'dramatic legend' on the title page
        2. Consists of 20 scenes requiring 3 soloists, chorus and orchestra
        3. Similar to Symphonie fantastique and Romeo and Juliet, in that plot is already known, so composer can set only the most suitable scenes for dramatic compactness
      2. Operas
        1. Benevenuto Cellini (1838)
        2. Beatrice and Benedict (1862)
        3. Les Troyens (1856-1858)
          1. Text is by Berlioz
          2. Based on Vergil's 'Aeneid'
          3. As with 'Faust' this work is a 'condensation' of the original material

Italy

  1. Background
    1. Romantic movement affects Italian opera less than in France and Germany
      1. Opera as the central genre of 19th c. Italian music production
      2. Italian opera as a conservative genre
    2. Continued distinction between seria and buffa as two genres at the begining of of the century
    3. Early reformers
      1. Francesco Algarotti
      2. Niccolo Jommelli
      3. Johann Simon Mayr
  2. Gioacchino Rossini
    1. Principal Italian composer of the early 19th c.
    2. Output
      1. 32 operas
      2. 2 oratorios
      3. 12 cantatas
      4. 2 symphonies
    3. Operas
      1. Opera seria
        1. Tancredi (Venice, 1813)
        2. Otello (Naples, 1816)
      2. Comic opera
        1. L'italiana in Algeri (Venice, 1813)
        2. La Cenerentola (Rome, 1817)
        3. La gazza ladra (Milan, 1817)
        4. Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rome, 1816)\
      3. French operas (settles in Paris after 1824)
        1. Le Comte Ory (opera comique, 1828)
        2. Guillaume Tell (grand opera, 1829)
  3. Gaetano Donizetti
    1. Prolific composer of opera in the second quarter of the 19th c. and a student of Mayr
    2. Output
      1. 70 operas
      2. 100 songs
      3. Several symphonies
      4. Oratorios
      5. Cantatas
      6. Chamber music
      7. Sacred music
    3. Operas
      1. Opera seria
        1. Lucrezia Borgia (1833)
        2. Lucia di Lammermoor (1835)
        3. Linda di Chamounix (Vienna, 1842)
      2. Opera buffa
        1. L'elisir d'amore (1832)
        2. Don Pasquale (1843)
  4. Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
    1. Wrote 10 operas
    2. Important works (all serious)
      1. La sonnambula (1831)
      2. Norma (1831)
      3. I Puritani e I Cavalieri (1835)

Giuseppe Verdi

  1. Background
    1. The dominant Italian composer of the second half of the 19th c.
    2. Output
      1. 26 operas
        1. Almost all Verdi's operas are 'serious'
        2. Only Falstaff is comic
      2. Requiem
      3. 1 string quartet
      4. Sacred settings
      5. Several songs
    3. Verdi and nationalism
      1. Opera as a national style/genre loved by the people
      2. Verdi believed that the composer should cultivate the 'national' style
      3. Risorgimento
    4. Librettos
      1. Often based on adaptations of Romantic authors
        1. Schiller
          1. Giovanna d'Arco
          2. I masnadieri
          3. Luisa Miller
          4. Don Carlos
        2. Victor Hugo
          1. Ernani
          2. Rigoletto
        3. Dumas
          1. La Traviata
        4. Byron
          1. I due Foscari
          2. Il corsaro
        5. Scribe
          1. Un ballo in maschera
        6. Shakespeare
          1. Macbeth
          2. Otello
      2. Arrigo Boito (1814-1818)
        1. Adapted Aida
      3. Libretto styles
        1. Verdi preffered strong emotional situations, strong contrasts and fast action
        2. Plausibility was less important
        3. Formal aspects
          1. Most works use a 3 or 4 act division (sometimes prologue followed by 3 acts)
  2. Early Works
    1. Nabucco (1842)
    2. I Lombardi (1843)
    3. Il trovatore (1853)
    4. Rigoletto (1851)
    5. La traviata (1853)
      1. Introduces a new kind of expressive declamatory arioso
      2. Masterpiece of characterization, dramatic unity and melodic invention
  3. Middle Period
    1. Grand operas (both premiered at Paris)
      1. Les vepres siciliennes (1855)
      2. Don Carlos (1867)
    2. Italian works
      1. Un ballo in maschera (1859)
      2. La forza del destino (1862)
      3. Aida (1871)
  4. Late Works
    1. Otello (Milan, 1887)
      1. Utilizes more continuous music within each act
        1. Traditional solo, duet and ensemble structure is still in place
        2. Transitions between pieces are more subtle
    2. Falstaff (1893)
      1. Comic opera

German Romantic Opera

  1. Background
    1. Romanticism flourishes most instensely in Germany
      1. Exchange between literature and music
      2. More experimental atmosphere of German art
    2. Singspiel as an antecedent
  2. Carl Maria von Weber
    1. Background
      1. Student of Michael Haydn and Abbe Vogler
      2. Director of the Opera at Prague in 1813
      3. Director of the Dresden Opera in 1816
    2. Chief operas
      1. Der Freischutz (Berlin, 1821)
      2. Euryanthe (Vienna, 1823)
      3. Oberon (London, 1826)
    3. Characteristics of German Romantic Opera
      1. Plots are drawn from medieval history, legend or fairy tale
      2. Story involves supernatural beings and happenings
      3. Stress on nature
      4. Scenes of humble village or country life
      5. Hero is 'redeemed' in the final act
    4. Contemporary composers
      1. Schubert
        1. wrote 6 operas and 6 singpiels
        2. Fierrabras (1823)
      2. Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861)
        1. Specialized in Romantic Singpiels
        2. Hans Heilig (1833)
      3. Albert Lortzing
        1. Zar und Zimmermann (1837)
        2. Excelled in the comic genre

Richard Wagner

  1. Background
    1. The outstanding German opera composer of the 19th c.
    2. Rienzi
      1. First successful opera
      2. 5-act grand opera perf. at Dresden in 1842
    3. Der fliegende Holländer
      1. wrote his own libretto (a patternt habit that would continue in later operas)
      2. Plot is based on a legend
      3. Drama is resolved with the redemption of the hero through the unselfish love of the heroine Senta
    4. Tannhäuser
      1. Grand opera perf. at Dresden in 1845
    5. Lohengrin
      1. Conducted by Liszt at Weimar in 1850
      2. Last of Wagner's German Romantic operas
      3. Story is based on legend and folklore
      4. Characters are more symbolic than in previous works (pointing to Wagner's later librettos)
      5. Musical style
        1. Use of leitmotifs
        2. Continuous music
        3. Declamatory arioso
        4. Recurrent/symbolic tonality
          1. Lohengrin's key is A major
          2. Evil F# minor
    6. Wagner in Switzerland
      1. Wagner lives in Switzerland from 1849-1859 as a result of political troubles in 1848-49
      2. Literary works
        1. Opera and Drama (1851 essay)
        2. Der Ring des Nibelungen
    7. Der Ring des Nibelungen
      1. Cycle of four dramas
      2. Das Rheingold, Die Walkure and the first part of Siegfried were finished by 1857
      3. Gotterdammerung completed in 1874
      4. First perf. took place in 1876 at Bayreuth
    8. Tristan und Isolde (1859)
      1. Gesamtkunskwerk
        1. Wagner's concept of a 'total-work' of art
        2. Two-fold nature of drama
          1. 'Inner' aspect: province of instrumental music
          2. 'Outer' aspect: sung words
    9. Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg (1867)
    10. Parsifal (1882)
  2. Musical Coherence
    1. Leitmotif
      1. Wagner's technique for creating continuity between action and music
      2. Definition
        1. A musical theme associated with a particular person, thing or idea
        2. Association is established by sounding the motive (usually by the orch.) at the first appearance or mention of the object of reference
        3. Successive appearances bring repetitions of the motive
    2. Formal Structure
      1. Acts often conceived of as large-scale bar form (AAB) or arch form (ABA)
        1. Forms are not entirely audible
    3. Key Relationships
      1. Ring, according to Alfred Lorenz, is based around Db
      2. Meistersinger around C
      3. Tristan around E
        1. Begins in A minor
        2. Ends in B major
        3. Polarized between its subdominant and dominant

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