Each week you will be given three or four questions pertaining to important topics covered in the materials provided in the question itself, the textbook, the lectures, the other materials provided, and my comments in my Live Session. You choose the one question you like and post a response of 125 words or more.
Perhaps more than any art form, opera combines multiple elements of the fine arts: extraordinary singing, musical composition and instrumentation, lyric, artistic stage sets, costume design, dance, acting, and storytelling. Often it is presented in a magnificent opera house with exquisite architecture and a dazzling array of sculptures, paintings, and interior design. I tell students they owe it to themselves once to pay out the heavy expense, dress up, and take the family to a good opera, at a good venue, with a decent seat. But, before going, go online and read all you can about the opera you will see—read up on the composer, read a summary of the story, and read translations of the songs.
The first three clips below are from works composed by Giuseppe Verdi. This great Italian opera composer is discussed in our course text. Verdi was both a realist and a pragmatist, a nationalist (don't forget, his native Italy only became a country in 1871), and came out of the dramatic Romantic tradition of music. Verdi was also a showman who played a key role in making opera a popular art form, not just an elite interest.
- Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto, Quartet from Act III.
- Chapter 30, page 1025.
- This tragic opera was composed in 1851. It is always helpful to read about an opera before listening to it or attending a performance. For background and a story summary, read NPR's Vengeance Reversed: Verdi's "Rigoletto."
- For more about Verdi, read pages 1025–1027 and explore the links below.
- Verdi: Aida, "Triumphal March."
- This opera, Aida, premiered in 1871 in Cairo, Egypt. It is mentioned in our course text on page 1033.
- This wonderful opera is also set in Egypt. For background on this opera, listen to NPR's Love Triangles and Pyramids: Verdi's "Aida."
- Verdi: Requiem, "Dies Irae."
- This is a musical presentation of a traditional Catholic funeral mass (or requiem). The Latin Dies Irae means "day of wrath"—the Day of Judgment. This musical presentation was composed by Verdi in 1874; what we have here is a small part of it. This part captures the drama of such a last day. Note that other greats have also composed versions of this—Mozart, Berlioz, and others. Verdi's composition is very well known and may sound familiar.
- Richard Wagner: Tannhauser, Act II, Scene 1, "Dich, teure Halle" (Thou, Beloved Hall).
- Chapter 30, pages 1027–1029.
- Wagner composed this opera in 1861; our selection above is an aria from this production. Read carefully pages 1001–1002 about the background and story of Tannhauser and also about Wagner's extraordinary contributions, along with his prejudices and adversities.
- Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, "Prelude."
- Chapter 30, page 1028.
- Wagner composed Tristan und Isolde in 1865; he called it "music drama,"' preferring that term to "opera." Read carefully pages 1002–1003 about the story presented in this work, but also about the concept of the leitmotif or "leading motif"—a brief recurring musical idea. After reading this three-paragraph description, see if you can pick up the leitmotif in this Prelude.
- Jacques Offenbach: Orpheus in the Underworld, "Can Can" (from Act 2, Scene 2).
- Chapter 21, page 728–729.
- Jacques Offenbach called this form "operetta"; it is also known as "comic opera." Read carefully page 852, and then listen to and watch the video clip. You will see why.