Opera

Verdi, Wagner, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Humperdinck, Strauss, Puccini, Debussy

Date/time:
11 January – 15 March 2018
Thursdays 10.45am – 12.45pm
Venue:
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Lecturer:
Robert Hugill
Fees:
Full course (10 lectures) £499.00
Single lecture £59.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on Opera Course

“An amazingly thorough historical view”

In this course we will examine the impact that Verdi and Wagner had on the opera world and the composers who attempted to emulate or follow them and lay the foundations for modern opera. We will start by looking at Verdi and Wagner’s work, examining some of the operas in detail and we will follow the continued rise in popularity of Wagner’s Ring Cycle after the composer’s death. Wagner was followed by his own son, Siegfried Wagner, who composed 18 operas most of which are unperformed today, and by Engelbert Humperdinck whose opera Hansel and Gretel remains a popular cornerstone of the repertoire. But the most successful post-Wagner composer in Germany was Richard Strauss who created a remarkable body of work moving away from Wagner. In Italy, the search for a successor to Verdi took in the Verismo operas of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, as well as composers such as Cilea, and Giordano some of whose works still keep a toehold in the repertoire. But it was Puccini who forged his own path, writing some of the most popular operas today. There is one composer who is essential to this narrative, Debussy, and we will look at how Debussy developed his own ‘third way’.

Each lecture will concentrate on just one or two composers, and we will spend half the lecture listening to and discussing the music from one or two key operas.

In order to lay the ground work for our lectures, there will be two introductory sessions where we will talk in greater detail about how operas are put together, and about the various voices that sing them.

Martyrom of St. Sebastien, L. Bakst, Claude Debussy, 1912
Tosca Leopoldo Metlicovitz, Madama Butterfly, Puccini, 1904

Course outline

11
Jan
2018
Opera – what to listen for

An introduction as to how an opera is put together. With musical examples we will look at the different ways composers use the building blocks of opera, recitative, arioso, aria, duets, ensembles and so forth, in order to help listeners understand what composers were trying to achieve.

18
Jan
2018
Various Voices

Voice types have changed over the centuries and we have a different perception of how roles should be sung. We will look at some of the key operatic roles, and discuss the different types of voices that sing them. Copious musical examples will enable listeners to compare and contrast voices, both well known and lesser known.

25
Jan
2018
Verdi

Verdi changed the face of Italian opera as he moved from an operatic style, which owed a lot to his predecessors, to the forward looking dramas of Falstaff and Otello. We will look at these later operas and see how they laid the ground-work for future developments in opera.

01
Feb
2018
Wagner and After

We will look at Wagner’s ground-breaking Ring Cycle, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal, and follow their performances at the Bayreuth Festival (which Wagner founded specifically to perform his works) and around the world, as composers discovered them, creating strong reactions both for and against.

08
Feb
2018
Mascagni and Leoncavallo

Mascagni and Leoncavallo wrote a pair of the most popular operas of all time, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, yet neither managed to quite follow-up on this early success. We will look at how the operas arose out of the late 19th century Verismo literary style, but also at how the role of publishers changed in their search for successors to Verdi.

15
Feb
2018
Siegfried Wagner and Engelbert Humperdinck

We will look at the equivocal role of Siegfried Wagner, Richard Wagner’s son and inheritor of the Bayreuth Festival, but whose own operas played little or no role in the festival. We will also look at Engelbert Humperdinck who worked with Wagner in 1880 and 1881 and was Siegfried Wagner’s music tutor. Humperdinck wrote one of the best loved of all operas, the fairy-tale Hansel and Gretel.

22
Feb
2018
Verismo and Beyond

Musical styles in Italy after Verdi were far wider than just Verismo, and a number of composers were loosely grouped together in the giovane scuola. None would achieve lasting fame except the Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur and Giordano’s Andrea Chenier both of which have retained a place in the repertoire.

01
Mar
2018
Richard Strauss

The son of the principal horn at the Munich Court Opera, Richard Strauss heard his first Wagner operas at the age of 10. Starting out as an orchestral composer, he would develop into Germany’s leading opera composer in the early 20th century forging a strong relationship with his librettist Hugo von Hoffmanstal. We will look in detail at a pair of Strauss’s operas, Salome and Der Rosenkavalier.

08
Mar
2018
Puccini

Puccini was something of a late developer and his younger contemporaries seemed set to out-strip him but once he had written his first great opera, La Boheme, Puccini would go on to write a string of popular works stretching to Turandot. He was also a very particular craftsman, and we will look at a pair of his operas in detail.

15
Mar
2018
Debussy

Like many young French composers, Debussy was exposed to Wagner’s operas following a visit to Bayreuth. Wagner’s music made a lasting impact on Debussy’s music but he would synthesise the style into something completely new. Debussy’s setting of Materlinck’s symbolist play Pelleas et Melisande (his only completed opera) would provide a template for many 20th century opera composers.