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When Les Bouffons Tipped Off the Enlightenment

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

An old proverb, dating perhaps to the demise of Richard III at Bosworth in 1485, tells us that the loss of a single horseshoe nail can trigger the fall of a Kingdom.

Chaos theorists tell us that a butterfly, flapping its wings in one way rather than another, can influence the movement of a hurricane across an ocean.

It may be, likewise, that an argument over the performance of a single troupe of comic actors helped create that great shift in … 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

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

Celebrating Ireland’s Recovery With Its Music

Celebrating Ireland’s Recovery With Its Music

The best Eurozone economic news in a long time is that which has come out of Ireland in recent weeks. Ireland is well into recovery, the statistics all tell us, and the rating agency Fitch has upgraded the outlook on its sovereign bonds from negative to stable.

The website of the U.S. news network CNN ran the above photo of some cheerful Irish folk when it noted this turnaround. They are clearly making music and celebrating, although I don’t know … 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

Five Big 2012 Music-News Stories

Whitney Houston (August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012)

We at Just Sheet Music would like to bid a fond farewell to the year 2012, as we look with hope to the New Year 2013.

Here, in emotive order, are five stories that especially caught our attention. We’ll begin with a death that saddens us, and move on to a recent dust-up in the operatic world that, in its resolution, has given us reason to hope about the future, musical and otherwise.



Whitney Houston

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