Makers of Opera

Makers of Opera

Makers of Opera

Makers of Opera

Excerpt

The alliance of music and drama is an old one. From primitive times man has used plot, word, pantomime, dance -- in short, dramatic action of one kind or another -- in his festival rites. Music early played a primary rôle in these spectacles, and the Greeks, to cite a classic example, emphasized the importance of music in their dramatic performances. We should not forget that chanted choruses and orchestral accompaniments of lyres and flutes were integral parts of the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles.

It is not a simple feat to hitch two such different steeds as music and drama to the same chariot. Each has strong individual characteristics, each presents many problems of its own. In most cases, one has dominated the other; only occasionally have they been evenly matched. The combination is also open to attack on the grounds of being artificial, and hybrids are generally suspect. Still, the crossing of breeds can produce eminent results. Hybrid corn, for instance, is the finest of any, though it needs continual re-creation from differing species. The same principle might apply to music drama, since opera bred from opera is rarely satisfactory. The important milestones in its evolution have usually been achieved by a fresh blend of pure music and pure drama -- genuine products of their period and place.

The development of opera in its three and a half centuries of existence has been remarkable. Yet it has not found favor in all quarters. Lyric drama has never meant as much to the English-speaking world as to the Latins and the Germans. The major works all have Italian, French or German texts, and the translation of librettos entails serious difficulties. As a result, the English have tended to shun serious lyric drama in translation and have produced relatively few dramatic composers of their own, though the humorous aspect of the art-form has attracted them -- witness Gay, Dibdin, and Gilbert and Sullivan.

The repertory of international opera houses today is limited. MAKERS OF OPERA discusses seven composers who date from periods preceding the nineteenth century, but of these only Gluck, Mozart and occasionally Pergolesi are still performed in the United States. Peri, Monteverdi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Lully and Rameau, though vital forces in the evolution . . .

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