Giuseppi Verdi's "Don Carlo" was a Behemoth, a lumbering monster. It featured variant openings, duets and trios and choruses to burn, ballet music that now only exists as a separate concert work, and most importantly, a great psychological/musical narrative frame -- the reason for all the elaboration and development.
What most of us know begins in a tomb in Spain and builds out an old and new subtext of European history, the battle of reactionary politics and the spirit of the Reformation. This background weaves this ideological struggle into a love story of great power.
Richard Wagner’s "Parsifal," his final opera, was created in parallel with his greatest creations including "The Ring" and "Tristan." It took him just over 30 years and several revisions before it was finally presented in 1882.
It is viewed as his most refined and elaborate work and it at times leaves people feeling that it is too profound to even applaud. In a comic twist, this bothered the composer; when Wagner would applaud a certain scene he would be hushed by members of the audience.
I couldn’t have timed better the decision to replay my all time favorite Masterpiece Theatre Classic, "The Forsyte Saga," than the week the Metropolitan would broadcast its "Carmen." I had never really considered the fact that the two works and their heroine’s were so close; more sisters than cousins.
Lasting works that are so much a part of our lives and the general culture have often had the most improbable origins; it is one of music's greatest ironies.
The arduous birth of Wagner’s "The Ring" is the stuff of legends, and decades of work, sacrifice and immense debt. Berlioz' "Les Troyens" was a desperate, singular throw of the dice urged on by his correspondence with Liszt's mistress and his lifelong love of Virgil. But what about Verdi’s overwhelmingly popular "Rigoletto"? What happened there?
There are essentially two views of Puccini. To his admirers he is one of the most beloved, most lyrical and at times moving composers of the modern period -- and successful beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings.
Detractors, however, have a different view. For all the dramatic (or melodramatic) force of his music and his undeniable lyric gift, finally he is enthralled by the mob. His lucrative populism is almost an embarrassment, and the joke he once told about his talent: "God touched me, but with his little finger," is perhaps, a truer saying than his fans care to admit.
Whether you believe that Mary Stuart was the most amoral, conniving and ruthless female of Elizabethan England or the most tragic victim of overwhelming and relentless circumstances and doomed to tragic grandeur, her life is one of the great historical dramas.
One of opera's most comical and telling facts was that Giuseppe Verdi was poised at the height of his middle period -- between "Rigoletto" and "La Traviata" -- to first tackle nothing less than "King Lear," until finally deciding on "Il Trovatore" (The Troubadour).
With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, Hector Berlioz, the composer, critic and conductor, stood poised to lay aside many of the usual tasks and distractions of his life and give himself up to the dream of a lifetime: The composition of an epic on antique themes inspired by Virgil's "Aeneid," Les Troyens.
It was habit in the nineteenth and early twentieth century to present operas, whatever their original language, in the language of the host country. Playbills of the past are filled with references toWagner's Il Sigfrido, or Mozart’s Il Fluto Magico, or Figaro's Hochzeit. The idea was, of course, to fill the seats. This is especially important in comedy, because what was the point if nobody got the jokes!