There are a handful of operas that define the genre; their time period irrelevant and their themes go to the very heart of the human condition.
We live with these creations daily without our knowing it and they are the very musical air we breath. They exist in the opera house, on the the concert stage (without scenery), in the recital hall (as excerpts, arranged for piano), in the elevator, on the radio, in the lightest cartoons and the darkest dramas - and yes, in the shower.
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.
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?
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).
There are so many genres of opera. There are the exquisite chamber operas that are close to plays like Strauss’ "Capriccio" of Gluck’s chamber operas. There are the operas of morality or ideology like Beethoven’s "Fidelio" or Mozart’s "Idomeneo." Some works highlight verismos raw emotions and atonal expressionism, decadent excesses like Berg’s "Lulu" or the opera of scandal, like "Salome" and the late romantic opera as epic poetry, "The Ring." The list goes on and on.