Monday, April 29, 2019

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, La clemenza di Tito (1791)

Possibly Mozart's last opera, depending on how you count: he completed Die Zauberflöte last, but this is the last one he started. What happened was, in the summer of 1791 he was busy with Zauberflöte when he was commissioned to write an opera seria to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II of Bohemia. The money was good, and he couldn't refuse, so he dashed this out in two and a half weeks. Let that sink in. By this time, opera seria--the dominant form of the eighteenth century--was more or less dead, and starting to seem very old-fashioned, but that's apparently what ol' Leo liked, so that's what he got. It's not a form that's had a lot of staying power, apart from the odd Handel and Vivaldi, but Mozart is of course Mozart. He has another earlier example of the form, Idomeneo, which I haven't yet seen.
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Giuseppe Verdi, Don Carlos (1867)

...or just "Don Carlo," if you're watching it in the Italian translation, as I was, though as I understand it both French and Italian are commonly performed.
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Friday, April 26, 2019

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, La serva padrona (1733)

This is a short opera buffa--one of the first of such--that was originally written as an intermezzo for a longer opera seria, Il prigionier superbo. That was considered a failure and kind of sank into obscurity (though you CAN get it on disc if you're so inclined), but the intermezzo took on a life of its own and--according to wikipedia, at least, I dunno--bridges the gap between baroque and classical music, and as such would have outsized influence on the future history of opera.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Luigi Cherubini, Medea (1797)

"Beethoven regarded Cherubini as the greatest of his contemporaries." This is what his wikipedia entry claims. I guess Mozart is probably a little too early to count as one of his contemporaries. Anyway. This is his best-known opera these days, largely because Maria Callas used it as a star vehicle. I saw a production from Moscow's Stanislavsky Music Theatre that was on Operavision; it's not there anymore, but I download these things for consumption at my leisure, so I had it just sitting around.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Gottfried von Einem, Dantons Tod (1947)

Here's an obscure one. It's based on an 1835 play by Georg Büchner (also the writer of Woyzeck, upon which Herzog's film and Berg's opera are based). According to wikipedia, this opera was instrumental in a post-war artistic rebirth, written by a young composer who wasn't implicated in any way in the nazi regime. Is it still performed? Seems so, though I doubt it's ever been done outside Austria or Germany.
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Jacques Offenbach, Les contes d'Hoffman (1880)

I'd been wanting to see this one for a while now, but somehow never got around to it. Hey, did you know that Offenbach wrote ninety-eight operettas? Or opéras comiques? These classifications somewhat elude me. Staggering in any event. He clearly knew how to write a crowd-pleaser. Certainly, he did based on this opera, not staged 'til after his death. It certainly pleased me.
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And now, the rare political post.

So there's been a lot of argument lately: should the Democrats impeach trump? I mean, obviously he should be impeached, but we live in Hell, so being obviously true doesn't necessarily mean that much.

One seemingly unanswerable thing you might say is: if we don't impeach him, why the hell do we even have impeachment? We've obviously decided that, at least for a republican, no level of corruption and malevolence is too great, so why not get rid of the pretense? Well, we're also obviously not going to take impeachment off the books, because admitting this to ourselves would make us uncomfortable, and besides, republicans would still want to be able to use it for some future Democratic President's equivalent of EMAILZ. So it remains. But the problem is: if it remains and Democrats don't even try to use it, aren't they tacitly suggesting that trump's crimes don't rise to that level? I mean, they're obviously just avoiding it for political reasons, however wise you think those reasons may be, but isn't that sorta kinda what it looks like? It is a vexed question.

You can make pretty plausible cases either way: that impeachment would be good for us, or that it would be good for them. But I think what we really have to admit that we've never had a case that's analogous to this in any useful way, and we just don't know. Comparisons to either Nixon or Clinton are just filled with holes. Here's what I'll say: if you're not going to impeach, then you'd better make damn sure you're keeping the issue alive through the next election cycle, by continual investigations and subpoenas and basically never shutting up about it. Keep them on the defensive. If you let this die as an issue, what the hell good are you? Republicans were able to create this stink of corruption around HRC based on literally nothing, and you can't do it with this cartoonishly corrupt crime boss? Granted, the worthlessness of our media makes it more of an uphill slog, but goddamnit, this is important. This may in fact be the most important thing.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Gaetano Donizetti, Rita (1860)

The story on wikipedia is that while Donizetti was waiting around for a libretto to be ready for him, he ran into Gustave Vaëz, who had written the libretto for Lucia di Lammermoor, and asked him if he could write a short something so he'd have something to occupy himself in the meantime. Vaëz dashed out this one-acter, and the rest is history. Sort of. It wasn't performed until after Donizetti's death, however.
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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Charles Gounod, Faust (1859)

This was the first opera that the Met produced in their inaugural season in 1883. That's fun fact. It was popular then, and it's popular now. It's basically the Faust story, similarly though not identically presented to La damnation de Faust. I do not have that much more to say about it, except that it really is pretty terrific: great music, great drama.
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Friday, April 19, 2019

George Frideric Handel, Rodelinda (1725)

So Bertarido is a king, of somewhere-or-other, only his throne has been usurped by Grimoaldo, a duke of somewhere-or-other, taking Rodelinda, Bertarido's wife, prisoner. Grimoaldo hopes to marry Rodelinda (even though he'd previously been involved with her sister-in-law, Eduige), since Bertarido is thought to be dead. But surprise twist! He's not. And with the aid of the loyal counsellor Unulfo, Eduige and Rodelinda are able to restore him to the throne and kill the evil counsellor Garibaldo and Grimoaldo regrets his ways and gets back together with Eduige and is forgiven and truly everyone is happy.
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Christoph Willibald Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride (1779)

Shows what I know: I thought the premise of this opera was some wild-ass fanfiction, but no, it turns out that it's largely based on a Euripides play. That's what I get for not knowing my Greek drama as well as I should! My punishment is harsh yet just.
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Monday, April 15, 2019

Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo (1607)

So I guess it's debatable whether this is actually the first opera per se, but it's certainly one of the first, and certainly the first that's actually performed these days. I did want to see Euridice, but it doesn't seem to be available anywhere.
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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Hector Berlioz, La damnation de Faust (1846)

There's some uncertainty as to whether this should be considered an opera; it's more often performed just as a concert due to Staging Difficulties. But I dunno; it sure looked like an opera to me, and according to Wikipedia, Berlioz wanted it to be while conceding that, due to technological limits of the time, it didn't really work as such. But now we have no limits! We can do anything! ANYTHING!!!  Except run a democratic society.  Oh well.
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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Alban Berg, Lulu (1937/1979)'s this. It's an opera, called be Some--by which I mean the people in the backstage interviews--as the Greatest Twentieth Century Opera. Berg left it unfinished at his death, but it was subsequently completed based on his notes by Friederich Cerha (boy, there's a name that means nothing to either you or me) in 1979, and that version is now considered standard.
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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Dmitri Shostakovich, The Nose (1928)

HOLY CRUD, PEOPLE. Let me tell you about this production. I'm sure it's not the most expensive one I've ever seen--certainly not with those Ring operas--but damned if it isn't the most elaborate and impressive. It was designed by the South African artist William Kentridge, and It involves collages of Soviet newspapers and who knows what all along with a combination of film and stop-motion shadow puppetry to create something the likes of which I've never seen before. I can't imagine what it would be like to see this live; there are parts where I am genuinely unable to conceptualize how this would look in person. One is drowning in words and images in a way of which I hope Shostakovich would have approved.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Verdi Triptych

It's all very well to watch lesser-known operas; sometimes you find real gems, and even if you don't, it remains an interesting exercise. But sometimes...well, the ultra-popular ones are ultra-popular for a reason. And nobody's more popular than ol' Giuseppe. NUMBERS DON'T LIE.

(I really like that list because it confirms my impression that most operas performed these days are either by Verdi, Mozart, or Puccini. It actually doesn't quite--to figure that out, you'd need to know how many are performed by composers who make the top ten--but it's certainly true that those three dominate.)

So anyway, I'd already seen the Verdi operas that would be most likely to appear in the Family Feud category "name a famous Verdi opera" (and what a world it would be if THAT were a thing), but he wrote a bunch, so I watched three others. These are they.
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Saturday, April 06, 2019

Carl Nielsen, Saul og David (1902)

Hey look, it's none other than my first Danish opera! There actually do seem to be a fair number of them from Scandinavia, but as ever with countries that we don't associate with the form, they're not widely shown overseas. Or so it seems to me. Anyway, there's a 1986 production on youtube right here.
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Carl Maria von Weber, Der Freischütz (1821)

Here is a pivotal opera in the develop of German romanticism! Please enjoy it! I suppose if I'm talking about works that feel definitively of one country, this is about as German as it gets.
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Thursday, April 04, 2019

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sadko (1898)

You know, I've only seen a handful of Russian operas, but of those that I've seen, they all feel really intensely Russian to me in a way that operas from other countries don't feel quite so Italian, French, German, or whatever.  Does that make sense?  It might be a nutty thing to say.  But regardless, here's another datapoint!  I keep hearing about Rimsky-Korsakov editing and completing operas that remained unfinished at the composer's death, but what about his own work? Hmm? This is basically a folk tale in opera form; I remember when I was small I really, really liked all these "folk tales from X" books I would check out of the library, so it definitely brings me back.
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Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Richard Wagner, Götterdämmerung (1876)

Götterdämmerung? More like Götterdumberung! Amirite? Or should it be "Götterdämmerdung?" Let's workshop this.
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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

William Godwin, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1791)

It had been a long time since I'd read an eighteenth-century novel, so I thought it was time. This one was hugely popular in its time, though clearly that hasn't particularly endured.
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