Qualities of Leadership: Many of the CBC's Summer and Fall Saturday Broadcasts Follow the Exploits of Leading Figures from History and Fiction. Iain Scott Looks Back on Opera's Long-Time Fascination with Power and Power-Brokers

By Scott, Iain | Opera Canada, May-June 2006 | Go to article overview

Qualities of Leadership: Many of the CBC's Summer and Fall Saturday Broadcasts Follow the Exploits of Leading Figures from History and Fiction. Iain Scott Looks Back on Opera's Long-Time Fascination with Power and Power-Brokers


Scott, Iain, Opera Canada


"Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men," Groucho Marx wryly observed. "The other 999 are followers of women." But while leaders may be a rarity in many walks of life, they are abundant in opera. For 400 years, the operatic literature has repeatedly explored the moral dilemmas of leaders and the multi-facetted aspects of their leadership.

Since the time of Greek drama, art and literature have a tradition of attempting to instruct and warn the elite of society. This tradition was reinforced with the invention of opera, reflecting the fascination of its creators with the recently rediscovered myths and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. From its invention in 1600 until the emergence of sordid plebeian values in the verismo movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a core purpose of opera was to reinforce the importance of "duty and responsibility" for those in positions of power and influence. A secondary intent was to warn those same people of the dangers inherent in "self-indulgence."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Perhaps early opera composers and librettists had a defensive motive: to subtly remind the noblesse of their obligations. In the 18th century, opera plots were often designed to show the potential dangers whenever a ruler exercised absolute authority or a predominant class enjoyed unrestrained influence. Opera seria plots frequently prompted courtly audiences--discreetly--to show judicial mercy or accept the necessity of caring for their inferiors.

These concerns can be traced well into the 19th century. Even as opera gradually degenerated to become, for some, merely an entertainment, concerned with spectacular visual and vocal display, opera plots usually continued to have an implicit moral or social purpose.

Opera has always been associated with the plutocratic and governing classes (to the discomfort of modern-day marketers), at least to some degree because its inherent display of extravagance and exorbitant expense is closely aligned with their values. The sustained support of the elite is also explained because the topic of leadership itself is of genuine interest to them. They are readily able to identify with the call to duty and responsibility, and the lures of self-indulgence. Although Shakespeare suggested that the head that wears the crown lies uneasily, leaders have always been fascinated by the lessons and dynamics of the way others have handled the complexities of leadership.

Most opera librettists have followed the traditional "great man theory" of history, which holds that the destiny of nations can be shaped by a single individual. This was especially true in operas from the Baroque period (an age of enlightened despots), which often featured great leaders of earlier history. We can see examples in Baroque composers' fascination with the boundless ambition of Alexander the Great, the personal courage of Julius Caesar or even in the exploration of exotic non-Europeans leaders such as Tamburlaine.

By the 19th century, attitudes to leadership had become more complex. Europe had been shaken by lengthy revolutionary wars and the heroic, or perhaps demonic, career of Napoleon. Unusual aspects of leadership became the norm. Albert Lortzing became fascinated by the insatiable curiosity and unconventional audacity of Peter the Great of Russia in his Tsar and Zimmerman. Later, in Les Troyens, Hector Berlioz found inspiration in the ambivalent career of Aeneas, the most important literary heroic leader stemming from Roman culture. By the end of the century, it was even possible to portray leaders as seeming political failures, such as Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor or Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa.

As the century progressed, there was an evolution towards the concept of an anti-hero. This was reinforced by celebrations of anti-establishment leaders and failed revolutionaries. Gaetano Donizetti focused on the Venetian Doge Marino Faliero's failed attempt to rule in an alliance with the city's plebeians.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Qualities of Leadership: Many of the CBC's Summer and Fall Saturday Broadcasts Follow the Exploits of Leading Figures from History and Fiction. Iain Scott Looks Back on Opera's Long-Time Fascination with Power and Power-Brokers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.