Music Theatre

In the 1950s, when attention generally was fixed on musical fundamentals, few young composers wanted to work in the theatre. Indeed, to express that want was almost enough, as in the case of Henze, self-consciously to separate oneself from the avant garde: Boulez, while earning his living as a theatre musician, kept his creative work almost entirely separate until near the end of his time with Jean-Louis Barrault, when he wrote a score for a production of the Oresteia ( 1955), and even that work he never published or otherwise accepted into his official oeuvre. Things began to change on both sides of the Atlantic around 1960, the year when Cage produced his Theatre Piece and Nono began Intolleranza, the first opera from inside the Darmstadt circle. However, opportunities to present new operas remained rare: even in Germany, where there were dozens of theatres producing opera, and where the new operas of the 1920s had found support, the Hamburg State Opera, under the direction of Rolf Liebermann from 1959 to 1973, was unusual in commissioning works from Penderecki, Kagel, and others. Also, most composers who had lived through the analytical 1950s were suspicious of standard genres, wanting new musical-theatrical forms that sprang from new material rather than from what appeared a long-moribund tradition. (It was already a truism that no opera since Turandot had joined the regular international repertory. What was not realized until the late 1970s was that there could be a living operatic culture based on rapid obsolescence.) Both from institutions and from artists, therefore, there was a pressure to invent new unions of music and theatre, while Cage's work -- especially the piano pieces he had written for Tudor in the 1950s -- had shown that no 'new union' was necessary, that all music is by nature theatre, that all performance is drama.


Opera and 'Opera'

Ligeti no doubt spoke for most of his colleagues in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he declared that 'I cannot, will not compose a traditional "opera"; for me the operatic genre is irrelevant today -- it belongs to a historical period utterly different from the present compositional situation.' No doubt he spoke for many, too, in going on to say that, nevertheless, 'I do not mean at all that I cannot compose a work for the facilities an opera house offers.'1 (At this point he had written Aventures and its sequel Nouvelles aventures, two pieces for three singers and ensemble that

____________________
1
Ursula Stürzbecher, Werkstattgespräche mit Komponisten ( Cologne 1971), 43.

-171-

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