Opera in History: From Monteverdi to Cage
Looking at operatic history from new and unexpected angles, this book examines the ways the operatic canon has been reshaped at key moments in the history of the form. Written with clarity and wit, it provides a richly rewarding experience for operagoers and scholars alike.
Opera in History examines the achievements of composers such as Monteverdi, Handel, and Rossini, whose operas were long neglected because of changes in performance practices, audience tastes, and musical aesthetics. It also looks at such well-established works as Wagner's Ring and Verdi's Aida in unconventional ways. Thus, the Ring emerges as a product of nineteenth century philology, Aida, as an embodiment of the new science of archaeology.
At a time when opera's popularity is fast increasing, this book examines some crucial issues that run through its entire history: its uneasy status as a form of high art and popular culture, the ways operas are embedded in history yet help give retrospective shape to that history, and the reinterpretation of the operatic past by composers and stage directors to legitimate the concerns of the present.
Using a comparative approach that juxtaposes diverse art forms and musical styles, the author views operatic history from a fresh perspective. Three exact contemporaries -- Monteverdi, Caravaggio, and Donne -- all influential masters in distinct forms, were virtually forgotten for centuries before they were revived to help legitimate early-twentieth-century modernism. Two later contemporaries, Rossini and Shelley, underwent a similar cycle of celebrity and neglect before their recent revival as avatars of postmodernism.
The book sets operatic orientalism within a context oforientalist art and literature, with examples from the menacing Turks of late-eighteenth century opera through the exotic sexuality of the late nineteenth century to the multiculturalism central to some celebrated operas of the 1990's. Two seemingly antithetical works of 1930, Schoenberg's Moses und Aron and the Brecht-Weill Mahagonny, are presented as complementary exemplars of the avant-garde of their time. John Cage's collage opera Europeras 1 & 2 serves as a model of postmodernist aesthetics, as well as a challenge to the aesthetic principles underlying earlier operatic forms. The book's finale is a quietly hilarious chapter categorizing today's operagoers according to five types: the Avid, the Passive, the Conscientious, the Faultfinding, and the Uncompromised.