In 1852 Richard Wagner issued instructions to opera houses planning to stage Tannhäuser. It had closed after only four performances when it opened in Dresden in 1845 – conducted by the composer without most of the scenery, delayed in transport – but was now attracting wide attention. His essay (14,309 words in English translation) was typically didacti ... More
Mozart's third great collaboration with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, Così fan tutte, has enjoyed a chequered performance history since its première in the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1790, a year before Mozart's death. Its initial series of performances were interrupted by the death of Emperor Joseph II, and bad luck seemed to dog the opera throughout much o ... More
British director, Nicholas Hytner, remarking on its indestructibility, once observed that one could set The Marriage of Figaro on the moon as long as the doors were in the right place. In fact, not such a strange idea, as Mozart’s great contemporary, Joseph Haydn, had set his opera Il mondo della luna (‘The World on the Moon’) exactly there.... More
Cunningly promoted by her recording company, EMI, the Callas myth took off after her death on 16 September 1977 and continues to resonate to this day. Undeterred by Franco Zeffirelli’s excruciating screen homage to the diva, Callas Forever (2002), Callas projects starring Meryl Streep and Noomi Rapace have been announced.
Like most my ... More
Orpheus – composer and singer of his own song – is regarded as the founding figure of opera. One of the most arresting images of Orpheus is of his death – his dismembered head on his lyre floating down a river, still singing. Opera’s history is dogged by its own death wish; the art form has been pronounced dying, or even dead almost from its inception, yet z ... More
In the argument over the programming of Broadway musicals by Australia’s opera companies, it is usually assumed that audiences know the difference between the two forms. But even superfi More
‘In my Eden a person who dislikes Bellini has the good manners not to get born,’ wrote W.H. Auden in his poem ‘Vespers’ (1954). Like much of Auden’s table-talk, this may seem rather extreme, but those who attended last Thursday’s concert version of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani may have gone away with similarly exclusive thoughts.
Though ... More
Writing to a friend in 1898, Giuseppe Verdi said of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville:
You may say things about Rossini and they may be true regarding the borrowings, the speed of composition and so forth, but I confess that I cannot help believing ‘The Barber of Seville’ for abundance of ideas, for verve and for truth of dec ... More
A music teacher in Thomas Mann’s early novel, Buddenbrooks (1900), when presented with some piano arrangements of Tristan und Isolde, recoils in terror: ‘I won’t play this ... This is not music ... It is pure chaos! It is demagoguery, blasphemy, and madness! It is the end of all morality in the arts. I will not pl ... More