Dr. Harry Dunstan takes you on an entertaining and engaging tour of The History of Opera complete with live and recorded musical examples and incomparable narrative and scholarship! ***** The history of opera is really the history of the western world. For almost 500 hundred years opera was the dominant mass media art form of the western world. More than any other art form it united cultures and nations (especially cultures/nations lacking a natural hegemony and/or linguistic unity) in an extraordinary comity of nations. Often seen as an elitist entertainment, opera has actually always been an art form employing and entertaining all social classes. It is the most immediately accessible of all musical forms. Opera has always been the greatest mirror of society and social evolution and, until very recently, the Opera House was where the most important issues of the day were discussed, business was transacted, the affairs and intrigues of life were pursued, and, by the way, there was always beautiful music and singing! The four sessions will trace the evolution of this spectacular art form and reveal how opera, while creating the new dominant art form of Cinema, is still thriving today in its own unique path.
More details.... Session One: 1600-1750 This session will explore how the exciting, burgeoning ideas of the Renaissance, especially Humanism, conflated with the new technology of printing, and the emergence of new vocal forms to “invent” Opera! As Astronomers, Mathematicians, Artists, and Musicians sought to recreate ancient Greek drama, they actually created new sonic worlds. Modern music, as we understand it, begins with the creation of Opera around 1600. In many respects this is the “big bang” moment for Western art music as within just a few years, Opera goes from a private entertainment to the most public of art forms. This session will range from Caccini and Monteverdi up to Handel and Vivaldi (who composed stunningly beautiful operas!) Attention will also be given to the tetchy, yet brilliant, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Discover how the opera houses were created and how the “operatic life” was invented.
Session Two: 1750-1830 This session will reveal how opera became the international form of entertainment sine qua non. Every nation in the Western world had a highly developed opera industry and even Napoleon and Joseph II (Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) took time every day to oversee the day-to-day operations of the opera houses. A large portion of every society went to the opera 3 -4 times a week! This session will trace the arc from to Glück to Mozart, with special attention paid also to Paisiello, Haydn, Salieri and Martin, and concluding with the axial figure of Rossini. The session will also explore how opera became an integral part of society and how comedy and satire became staples of the genre. For the first time we can begin to hear what history sounded like! The first operas to remain in the permanent, standard repertory are from this period.
Session Three: The 19th Century This session perhaps best represents the apotheosis of opera, before giving way to Cinema. During the 19th century (also known as the Romantic Era) virtually every nation produced a nonpareil opera composer and some nations produced several! This was the age of the diva and the virtuoso, where the mass hysteria surrounding opera stars would make modern rock concerts look like tea parties! This was perhaps the most dynamic period of Western civilization and nowhere is it more fully limned than with opera. This is the age of Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Bizet, Gounod, and so many others. The opera of this period ranges from the rise and fall of Napoleon to World War I. Discover how the magnificence and splendor of Parisian Grand Opera lead to the rise of Impressionism and the Belle Epoque.
Session Four: The 20th & 21st Centuries This session will explore how opera evolved and responded to the great social upheavals of the early and mid 20th century. The devastation of two World Wars produced major changes in the opera industry in both subject matter and all aspects of production. As nations rebuilt, the opera industry moved away from music of a common practice, toward a fiercely independent, autochthonous style which directly addressed the Zeitgeist of the era. This new self-reliance in operatic style produced a kaleidoscopic panoply of operatic masterpieces with compositional styles ranging from Debussy, Puccini, and Richard Strauss, to Stravinsky, Janacek, Britten, and Berg. Special attention will also be given to opera in English: both British and American opera. The question of “What’s happening now with opera and where is it going?” will also be pursued.
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