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Hector Berlioz: Bearer of Romanticism’s Torch: Part I

Bearer of Romanticism’s Torch: Part I

I’ve said a bit about Hector Berlioz now and then since I’ve been writing here. But in this and the next entry I hope to put my Berliozian thoughts together, to offer you the Big Picture as well as the details. Berlioz might actually be the high-point of romanticism. He believed, and his admirers echo him here, that he had taken up music at the point to which Beethoven had carried it, and continued … Continue Reading

Operatic History through a Shakespearean Lens

William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616)

Today I’d like to list (quite arbitrarily and subjectively) the ten greatest operas out of the many inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare.

Why Shakespeare? Because he has proven irresistible to so many great composers and librettists. He offers them, after all, a compendium of readymade, popularly known plots, characters, and images. Thus, invoking Shakespeare will serve us as an organizing principle to look at the development of opera as an art form over … Continue Reading

At The Met: Queen Dido Abandoned Yet Again

Deborah Voigt played Cassandra

Deborah Voigt played Cassandra

The Metropolitan Opera staged a performance of the great Hector Berlioz work Les Troyens this season. This production attracted a lot of attention in December ’12 and January ’13 for a couple of reasons: first because, an up-and-coming French-American tenor stepped in to save the day, capping an extraordinary year for him.

Second, simply because Les Troyans is very demanding for the singers, especially for Aeneas (in French, Énée). Its scale is part of the problem. … Continue Reading

Bruno Bartoletti is Gone: William Bolcom Lives On


Bruno Bartoletti (Sesto Fiorentino, 10 June 1926 – Florence, 9 June 2013])

Bruno Bartoletti, for decades a towering figure in the American operatic landscape, passed away this June.

For a man who died as Bartoletti did just a day before he would have turned 87, the traditional consolation is that he lived a long and full life. Here those aren’t just words: he did indeed!

In the photo above you see Bartoletti in September 2007, at the start of a rehearsal of La Traviata.

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The Five Greatest Trojan-War Operas

The Five Greatest Trojan-War Operas

A magnetic influence upon the whole of human culture, both through Homer’s texts and through Virgil’s, it remains: the Trojan War. Just to take one recent example of its pull: Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain (2003) begins with a classroom discussion of The Iliad, and specifically of the reason for the wrath of Achilles.

Here, then, is a list of what I have deemed the five greatest operas that work from the Iliad, the … Continue Reading

Voi Che Sapete In Performance: A History

Adelina Patti (19 February 1843 – 27 September 1919)

Who was Adelina Patti? She was one of the most successful sopranos in history. Born in Spain, but a subject of the King of the Two Sicilies, she was in her prime a pan-European figure.

Start the video below to listen to a recording of her voice.

The recording was made in Patti’s home in 1905, and is fascinating in part just because it represents an artifact from the early … Continue Reading

The Music For An Old And Lasting German Legend

The Music For An Old And Lasting German Legend

According to a very old German legend, one which has come to be expressed in every theatrical form from grand opera to puppet plays to Broadway musicals, a medieval scholar named Faust or Faustus made a deal with Satan, offering the Evil One his soul for unending post-mortem punishment, in return for elusive knowledge and worldly pleasure. The specific lure or combination of lures that led to … Continue Reading

Anton Rubinstein and Sacred Opera

Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

Imagine watching a pre-dawn scene. This is a building site. The master workman awakens his workers to continue their efforts on a tower. Only gradually, as you watch this ‘geistliche oper,’ this ‘sacred opera,’ do you realize which tower this is. For this is the tower of Babel – and in due course Nimrod himself will come on stage to boast that this tower shall reach Heaven and he shall speak face to face with God.

The opera is … Continue Reading