Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
THE NEW OPERA: BERG, HINDEMITH, WEILL, KRENEK, HONEGGER, MILHAUD, GRUENBERG, ETC.

THE twilight of opera has long been prophesied, but as long as there are opera stars who stir the enthusiasm and curiosity of a public which still loves La Traviata, Madama Butterfly, Rigoletto, Lohengrin, Carmen, Faust, and Tannhäuser, there will be opera. In a few countries, such as Italy, for example, and pre-war Germany, the love for opera seems as deeply rooted as the love for folk music.

Of course, there are several opera publics and some who flock to Il Trovatore and Cavalleria Rusticana cannot be driven to Die Goetterdaemmerung, Tristan und Isolde, Elektra, Salome, Boris Godounoff, or Pelléas et Mélisande. And there is a third public, a much smaller group, interested in experiment and desirous of seeing the spirit of twentieth century music, dance, and theater inculcated into opera. The feeling has been growing, especially in Europe, that a new vitality must be brought into the music drama, for it obviously has not kept pace with our changing age.

There are two types who listen to the old Italian operas: those who have heard them all their lives and love the familiar melodies, and those for whom they have an historical value.

Opera reform is not a new story. Since the days of Monteverdi, it has raised a hue and cry. So we have had our Glucks, Lullys, Rameaus, Mozarts, and Wagners. (But not many of them!) Wagner, a genius, was able to handle his reforms, but his formulas in the hands of less gifted men proved detrimental rather than constructive. Verdi, strongly entrenched in Italian tradition, was little disturbed by Wagner, and the Verdi of Falstaff and Otello has been the line of least resistance for the "realism" of Puccini and the later Italians, even for Pizzetti Fra Ghirardo and Respighi La Compana Sommersa (The Sunken Bell). Malipiero has some reforms to offer in Italian opera.

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