Welcome to the final instalment of my series on the greatest operas of all time. We’ve come a long way from the precious melodies of Handel and Monteverdi, through empires and fads, world wars and ideological upheavals, and now we reach the 21st century. These last six composers – as well as my brief thoughts on a few others – surely only represent the tip of a musical iceberg. There are undoubtedly many other operatic composers working in their own countries, earning a reputation amongst musicians and musicgoers. I hope that – should I revise this list in ten or twenty years – I will have many more names to add from this era. (And, of course, as I’m only profiling composers who have made prominent strides in the specific field of opera, this shouldn’t be taken to be a survey of composers as a whole!)
Please feel free to comment across the ten weeks on composers, operas, and recordings that I’ve missed. I’m always keen to expand my knowledge, and there is so much more out there to be found.
And here we are, for the penultimate chapter of my listing of favourite operas. We’ve reached the ’90s, an era whose works are now receiving proper critical appraisal, and gradually reaching smaller opera companies and – in some cases – DVD releases. It’s a good time for reanalysis of these, primarily still living and working, composers.
In Part Eight of my ongoing series on my favourite operas, we’ve reached the late 1950s, and today we’re going to look at some fairly bonkers composers, and their attempts to push this artform into mayhem and inspiration.
My usual caveats apply: these are only my suggestions of favourite operas (not necessarily the objective greatest ever), and should be taken as such. And, of course, as we’re going chronologically, the number assigned to each composer is no indicator of quality!
Thanks for joining me for the latest chapter of my Annals of Opera, a look at my favourite works of opera from the last 400 years. We’re into the thick of the 20th century now, arriving at a group of men and women fascinated by experimenting musically, although we’ve plenty ahead of us in terms of experimenting theatrically…
To the one person still reading this, welcome to the sixth instalment of my Annals of Opera, in which I list my favourite operas from 1600 to the present day, and hopefully stumble upon enlightenment upon the way.
Last time, we reached the 1920s, where Romantic music gave way begrudingly to modernism, although a few composers said, “why bother?” It was a strange time in all artforms and, sadly but understandably, a time when artists’ desire to challenge tradition and accepted systems led them to create works that were important rather than artistically whole. It’s the era of Brecht, where it wasn’t just enough to evolve and subvert existing ways of telling stories. No, you had to completely dismantle the system. I sound bitter, although I’m not, because it ultimately led to the rich, explorative world we live in today. But it’s a shame to see that so many of the operas (and other works of art) produced in the ’20s, ’30s, and even ’40s are ultimately works of their time, and just don’t translate in the way that the great works of previous decades had achieved. Of course, populist opera was still being created – the Metropolitan Opera commissioned or premiered a lot of new works during these years – but, almost without exception, they’ve faded from view without so much as a single commercially-available recording. At the same time, the Great Depression and the subsequent political turmoil that led to World War II had a major effect.
Still, we’ve reached an important point. If you were to look at the average opera season – particularly in an English-speaking country – you could be forgiven for thinking opera ends here. Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Puccini’s Il Trittico had been the last works to enter the standard repertory. Puccini would follow it up posthumously with Turandot in the ’20s, and we looked last week at Korngold’s box office success with Die tote Stadt but, well, things were different. Audiences gradually became conservative but, at least for now, the vogue seems to have shifted to operetta and “light” opera, which – like mainstream movies – were prone to grow outdated very quickly. So, we’ll be moving through the ’20s and ’30s at a fairly brisk pace, with a more multicultural cast of characters. Shall we begin?
For the fifth instalment of my series on the greatest operas of the last 400 years, we’ve reached the 20th century. Whereas the 19th century had been dominated by the Romantic (and romantic) tales of Italy, France, and Germany, by the early 1900s, opera opened to both Eastern Europe and the barbaric English-speaking nations. It was also developing more ways of storytelling, with some composers taking opera closer to “straight” theatre, while others pulled away into more abstract and expressionist modes of music.
Like any era of great change and experimentation, the 1900s and 1910s seems to yield a lot of “exciting” works, but few that are anywhere near perfect. Still, many of the works I’m talking about today have at least a weak grip on the standard repertory, and they can be particularly enjoyable when done well. Opera was losing some of the things that made it great in the 1800s, but was also letting go of the sentimentality and pomposity. Now, the battle between what audiences wanted to see, and what artists wanted to create, would begin in earnest.
This is the fourth in my series of post looking at my favourite operas from the 1600s to the present day. We’ve journeyed through the heights of Romanticism in Italy, France, and Germany in the late 19th century, and now we reach that all-important turning point, as the 20th century dawned, and high art merged with the avant-garde… for a while, at least. Read More…
This is the third in my series on my favourite operas of all time – a deep passion of mine that is, sadly, not one shared by a great deal of my generation. So, I hope that this ongoing list may be of interest to newcomers or opera amateurs like myself. In Week One, I explored the origins of opera, while Week Two delved into the “golden era” of opera in the 19th century. This week, I take a look at the maturation of these forms throughout Europe as the 19th century came to its end. It is one of the defining periods of the artform, and a time of great… well, not fun exactly, but certainly brilliance. Let’s dive in! Read More…
Okay, here we are. Week 1 of 10. Over the next 10 weeks, I’m gonna have a go at listing out all of my favourite opera composers from the 1640s to the 2010s and the works of theirs I hold in high regard (with clips to illustrate!). Sometimes, they aren’t necessarily works of genius, but works that I like (yes, that is possible). And, occasionally, I can’t articulate my feelings, but I’ll try to focus my interest as much as possible. So… let’s have some fun, shall we? Despite its reputation as an elitist artform, opera is really – or should be – the climax of all the arts: music, song, theatre, design, dance. Great opera can touch us, can be hilariously funny, or can challenge, just like great theatre. From everything I’ve seen over the last few years, the opera world is thriving in all its sparkling variety. At the same time, it is an acquired taste, and – since it is one of my great passions in life – I would like to do my utmost to help others acquire it. Read More…