Showing posts with label Opera. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Opera. Show all posts

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Beijing Opera - History and Characters

Bejing Opera - Photo: Flickr
The Beijing Opera, with its distinctive Chinese opera masks, is one of China's most recognizable cultural icons. Combining Music, Dance, Theatre, and Martial Arts, it has existed for over 200 years portraying Historical Events and Literature with beauty, style, and dynamic performance. It is most prominent in Beijing, but almost every Province in China has some form of Opera theatre. With its elaborate costuming, complex musical orchestrations and seemingly limitless Make-up and Mask designs, the Beijing Opera is seeing revitalization in popularity with both young and mature audiences.

What is now called the Beijing Opera originally came from a combination of several sources. In about 1790, four great theatre troupes from Anhui came to perform for the Royal Family. They brought arias and melodies called Xi Pi. Around 1828, performers from Hubei came to the same area and staged combined shows adding their local pieces of music called Er Huang. These performances were for the Royals but soon were to become more mainstream during Emperor Qianlong's reign as well as support from the notorious Empress Dowager Ci Xi. During this time, thousands of pieces of repertoire were developed covering the historical events, classic novels and stories of China as well as revisions of Western stories.

There are four basic categories of characters in the Beijing Opera style.

· SHENG- The main Male actors in a performance. Either civil or military, there are several different aspects of training for the various lead male parts.

i. LAO SHENG- Senior Male roles, middle-aged man with a beard of black, grey or white. A soft or pleasant voice with dignity.

ii. XIAO SHENG- Junior male role or young man. No beard and a high sometimes shrill voice that may, on occasion, crack denoting immaturity and adolescence.

iii. WU SHENG- Acrobatic male roles or roles that require much activity. Military plays or civil plays that demand high standards of acrobatics. Performs the stylized martial arts fight scenes with sword or spear. Not usually trained as an opera singer.

iv. WAWA SHENG- Kids and children roles. DAN- Female roles of several categories.

i. QING YI ( Ch'ing I)- Lady of good character. Quiet gentle disposition. Graceful flowing movements in "water sleeves" costume. Elegant but not vivid. The singing voice is high pitched.

ii. HUA DAN ( Hua Tan)- Flirtatious young girl role. Usually not as high a social standing as Qing 
Yi. Coy and quick movements. A very difficult part to play. Attractive eye movements and continually changing facial expression. Vivid costume featuring handkerchief to flutter in her hand. Strong voice but more speaking than singing.

iii. GUI MEN DAN (Kuei Men Tan) - Young unmarried girl. This role may turn into Qing Yi or Hua Dan. Mischievous but not as much as Hua Dan. Immature reactions and movements.

iv. DAO MA DAN (Tao Ma Tan) - Female Warrior role. Trained for acting and singing but performs highly skillful martial movements often with a feathered headdress. Still a very feminine role. The now-famous role of Disney's "MULAN" was based on Hua Mulan who disguised herself as a man to prevent her father from being conscripted into the military. She served for 12 years during the SouthNorth Dynasty and was decorated as a national hero.

v. WU DAN (Wu Tan) - Female Acrobatic roles. Steps into any role that requires high acrobatic ability. Purely an acrobat but role can demand a talented actress to make for a successful performance.

vi. CAI DAN (Cai Tan) - Female Comedians. Serves to add relief to stressful scenes in serious plays. See also CHOU roles.

· JING- Painted face male roles. These parts are known more for courage and resourcefulness than for scholarly intelligence. Often a high-ranking general or warrior/official. Jing actors are usually extroverts. A robust, sometimes gruff, bass voice. Full of swagger and self-assurance. There are many common color schemes associated with Jing roles but some of the more common are easily recognizable.

v Red- Good character and virtuous person.

v White- Treacherous and guile

v Green-Lack of self-control, rash, stubbornness

v Black- Brusque character

v Blue- Wild perhaps a Robber

v Gold/Silver- Used only for Gods and Spirits

The facial painting patterns also give information about a character. There are hundreds of patterns and designs for many situations and roles.

There are 3 main types of Jing roles:

i. DONG-CHUI- (T'ung Ch'uei) Also know as Hei Tou (Black Face) this role is a good singer and usually a loyal General

ii. JIA ZI- (Chia Tze) - A very good actor for more complicated characters.

iii. WU JING- Fighting and acrobatics. Seldom plays a prominent role.

· CHOU- Comedy Roles. Dim but likable and amusing characters. Sometimes slightly wicked perhaps a rascal or a scholar/Prince who would not command much respect. There are two basic types of Chou roles:

i. WEN CHOU- Civilian roles.( Jailer, servant, merchant, scholar)

ii. WU CHOU- Minor Military roles but skilled in acrobatics

Of special mention should be the popular role of SUN WU KONG -The Monkey King.
This is a famous story of a Monks journey from China to India to collect scriptures to bring back to China... He is usually accompanied by a Pig for comedic effect, a not-so-learned monk to mediate the many quarrels and the Monkey King. This is played by a Wu Sheng actor. Known for the bent knees and an arms forward stance that imitate monkey movements. He has mastered Longevity, the 72 transformations of his physical body and can do somersaults in the clouds. Sun Wu Kong is followed by a troupe of monkeys who behave in the same manner but have individual personalities (greedy, naughty, sleepy, etc.). The Monkey King continues to be one of the most popular storylines in all of Chinese Opera Theatre.



The Opera Theatre form suffered during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when all traditional pieces were banned. New versions became stories concerning "Class Struggle". The "Eight Model Plays" were a very popular theme, as were stories concerning Communist Activities, Anti-Japan sentiment, and the Civil War against Nationalists. The traditional stories were allowed to be shown in 1978 but by then they seemed out of date and the productions lacked historical and theatrical knowledge. Audiences lost to more contemporary forms of entertainment were hard to replace with the exception of those who were children when the Beijing Opera was at its peak. Many who lived through the Cultural Revolution preferred the newer versions and still favor those melodies.

Campaigns exist to bring back this lost art form as well as other Theatrical Arts. The Plum Blossom Award, sponsored by the Chinese Opera Journal, gives awards, judged by the Journal, to new artists. The actors and actresses must be under 45 years of age and come from all over China. These and other competitions are seen on the CCTV, China's main television network, and radio stations, particularly during the New Years special concerts. There has even been designated a Beijing Opera Month.

In recent years, performances worldwide of Beijing Opera theatre have brought this marvelous art form to broader audiences. It has served as ambassador to the West providing many new opportunities for people to enjoy a performance style that rivals any of the Grand Operas and Symphonies of Europe and North America.

Timothy Jordan was born in Detroit, Michigan where he began a career in music at a very early age. Having studied with the regions top teachers and performers he set off on his own "MUSO SHUGYO" or musical wanderings and ended up in Boston, Mass. While there he has performed in some of the top music groups, touring, and recording for the living, television, theatre, and movies. His percussion skills took him to Japan where he had an intensive study with the drummers of KODO. Mr. Jordan also has studied several martial arts styles including Iaido, the Japanese Sword. He continues today to further his cultural studies and is currently the owner of an Asian art and cultural goods Internet retail business, LIVE COMPLETE and ZENSHO PRODUCTS.com

Article Source: EzineArticles



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

MARIA CALLAS: Supreme Opera Diva

English: Publicity photo of Maria Callas (Dece...
Publicity photo of Maria Callas (December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977) as Violetta in La Traviata by Houston Rogers
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The 2004 Athens Olympics is over, but certain things linger on. My thoughts drifted to the ambitious opening ceremony that heralded its start. Only one among the millions of television viewers, I saw with much excitement and expectation the grand opening ceremony on yet another biggest sports show on earth. I also marveled at how the patrolling troops on land and air managed to guard the entire security operation. All for the game.

Athens played host to a beautiful and moving Opening Ceremonies in Olympic history. The spectacular and theatrical event featured a vast expanse of water representing the beautiful seas that surround Greece, massive flying artifacts, a rolling stage, among other magical visual displays. The audacious performance painted a dramatic picture of a country steeped in pride for its remarkable cultural heritage - civilization and its contribution to the arts and sciences, politics and society. And lest the world forgets, it was the ancient Greece that created the Olympic Games nearly 3,000 years ago.

Then the Olympic ceremony presented the 'Book of Life' part, where Eros swooped down to greet a pregnant woman, the final figure of the 'Clepsydra' parade. The background music clearly came from a distinct voice that I swore could only belong to one operatic diva, to me, the greatest of all: the voice of Maria Callas. By impulse, I got excited and stood up when I heard it. I said, "It can't be. It's Callas!" I was under the assumption that all performances were live. Naturally, I was right about the voice. Within a minute, the television commentator said so. Obviously, the Greeks are ever proud of the voice and the singer. Nevermind that she was born and raised in the USA. But she was born of Greek parents. Besides, a legend should be shared with the world. A legend is a child of the universe!

The American operatic soprano Maria (Kalogeropolous) Callas (1923-1977) was born in New York of Greek parents. She studied at Athens Conservatory and made her debut there in 1941. With a voice of fine range and a gift for dramatic expression, she excelled in opera. In 1947, she appeared at Verona in La Gioconda, winning immediate recognition. In 1949, she was married to Giovanni Battista Meneghini. She appeared at La Scala, Milan in 1950, at London's Covent Garden in 1952, and at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1956. Among her most famous roles was Bellini's Norma in the title role, and Amina in La Sonnambula, while her magnetic stage presence as an operatic actress yielded memorable portrayals of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata and in the title role in Puccini's Tosca. Callas sang with great authority in all the most exacting soprano roles, excelling in the intricate bel canto style of pre-Verdian Italian opera. Other operas include Madame Butterfly, Aida and Medea, and many more.

It's more than twenty-five years since her death, and yet Maria Callas continues to ignite the imagination of a new generation of opera-goers who never experienced her on the stage. I never did. My discovery of Callas is through my collection of her records, some almost warped to let go, perhaps no different from her recordings when she was just beginning to reach an international market, or when her career was still confined to Italy. Through the CDs, I came to love Callas's exquisite voice with all my senses engaged. Not that I don't admire the likes of Kiri Te Kanawa, Ely Ameling, or Joan Sutherland, among others. I have Maria Callas's 'First Official Recordings', mono dated 1953. And as I compare this recording with a more polished production, a recent 1997 EMI recording of a lifelong favorite Bellini's Norma, I can feel the same intensity of feeling, the ever-engaging sound of the voice itself.



I can go on and on and rave about this operatic diva, this legend whose greatest role was herself. For her life was an intense opera in itself - her tempestuous outbursts as sensational as her entrances and exits, as well as her doomed relationships. From 1959 until her death, she had an intense relationship with the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. But always, she remained the ever-consummate professional in her art.

While writing this piece, I'm up to Callas Rarities. and almost always, I end my listening satisfaction with her interpretation of my all-time favorite: "Casta Diva"(Chaste Goddess) from Bellini's Norma. Her exquisite voice lulls me to divine slumber: "Casta diva ... tempra, o Diva, tempra tu de' cori ardenti, tempra ancora lo zelo audace ..." Translated in English: "Chaste goddess, ... temper thou the burning hearts, the excessive zeal of thy people."

To experience the magical voice of Maria Callas, I need only listen and take pleasure in the solace of her recordings.

    Tel Asiado is an Information Technology professional turned writer, author, and consultant. Employed by multi-national organizations in information technology, computing and consulting, she has several years of varied experience as project manager, business solution manager, process and information analyst, and as a business writer. Her writings also reflect her passions for inspirational/motivational and Christian insights and classical music. 
    Article Source: EzineArticles



Sunday, February 4, 2018

Theater Arts – Italian Opera

Le Prophète : illustration de presse de la scène du couronnement lors de la création londonienne de l'oeuvre au Royal Italian Opera (1849)
Photo: Wikimedia
Italian opera is the earliest known opera form. Although the Greek and Roman Theater had inspired it, it inspired many countries around the world, including most of Europe. Some say that the word opera has been derived from the Italian words “Opera in Musica” which means work in music. The evidence of the very first opera performed in Italy was at the wedding of Marie de Medici and Henry IV of France. The Italian opera had three stages namely the baroque, the romantic and the modern. 

Baroque period is the name of that period of Italian opera that originated in Italy in the beginning of the 17th century. The voice used was very high pitched along with the instrumental music. This style was known as monody and was developed by Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri. It was reflected in the opera Euridice that was based on the story of Eurydice and Orpheus. When there were no dialogues during the performance, there were songs with music. This type of opera inspired many other writes, one of them was Claudio Monteverdi who wrote La Favola D’Orfeo that had the monody style. It was his first play and it still is famous with the audience today. Monteverdi worked hard on synchronizing instrumental music with the words and showed this effort in Mantua, with large choruses with nearly forty instruments that created a really good effect.  He was named as the Maestro Da Cappella in Venice in the year 1613.

The first opera house for the public was opened in the year 1637. Monteverdi wrote many compositions for this theater and his works L’Incoronazione di Poppea and I Ritomo d’Ullise in Patria were prominent out of the many. He even brought the Bel Canto and Buffa styles into Italian opera. Bel canto had a more even tone and eased the singing stress. Buffa had more comic touch with amusing and mocking elements. All these acted as the stepping-stone for many other later composers. At the end of the century, there were three hundred and fifty opera created for the theaters of Venice alone. Many young artists were inspired to work in these theaters and bring out their talents. People came from outside Italy too.    

In the 19th century, romantic opera began to rise and Gioacchino Rossini was responsible for it. The romantic opera involved lots of emotions and imagination along with lots of music and arias. This music was so fine that it overshadowed the blunders in the stories. His composures such as La Cenerentola and Barber of Seville are famous until today. Many others such as Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Gaetano Donizetti followed him.  



Giuseppe Verdi changed the way opera was written at that time. Nabucco was his first work and it was a very big success because of the great choruses along with enormous liveliness in the music. He even wrote Va pensiero, a chorus presentation to inspire the warriors at the time of Italian independence struggle. The works, which followed this had a more patriotic theme and were also based on older romantic works. He began to venture into different musical forms and finally his creation Otello replaced Rossini’s opera. His last work Falstaff finally changed the conventional form of theater and made music and words more free-flowing. 



Friday, January 12, 2018

MOZART's Don Giovanni: How Women Become More Important Than Men

A scene from Don Giovanni as perform'd at the ...
A scene from Don Giovanni as performed at the Kings Theatre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Mozart used Don Giovanni as a means to show his affinity towards the female roles he experienced in his life. He was one of the first in the 18th century to show that women could be intelligent and vibrant in public life. This extrovert portrayal of the women would be more prevalent at the beginning of the 19th century when women played an important role in European salons and the literary circles. Mozart took the audacious move of showing a "mélange" of social classes. He also showed men to be weak and in need of women rather than the contrary. His men are shown to be pathetic creatures.

In the 18th century, women were given intellectual and artistic liberties as long as they were discrete. Their sitting rooms of the aristocracy had male servants and ladies-in-waiting. The dual existence was to show that their devotion to their husbands took precedence. Donna Anna was engaged to get married though she had been "scorned" by Don Giovanni. It would have put her aristocratic standing in question. Donna Elvira was also supposed to get married She was in constant conflict with Don Giovanni. Their love-hate relationship prevailed throughout the opera.

Sexual freedom was part of the social etiquette in the period of Enlightenment. It was quite common for both men and women to have discrete extramarital affairs in 18th century Europe. Mozart's wife tolerated his affairs only with the servant girls. She would not allow him to philanderer with the aristocrats or other women from the social elite. One must understand Mozart often wrote his female roles for specific women with whom he had a relationship. He was the man who had never found his mother. It was well-known.

Don Giovanni was never discrete. He had not come from the aristocratic class. Mozart was a Don Giovanni in disguise. He was not terribly discrete and he was still considered part of the court. He had his patron and worked under the orders of the Prince or the Church who employed him at the time of his musical composition.

By the end of the first act of the opera, the three women unite together to show they are capable of existing without the need of their male counterparts. In the second act, they work to get Don Giovanni.

Donna Anna, who was engaged, would have had a waiting room with either a man-servant or a lady-in-waiting. She was an strong-willed young woman who obviously pretended as though she had been humiliated. Don Giovanni would never have had access to her inner chambers. Donna Anna shows her aristocratic intelligence by running down the stair singing she had been scorned. Perhaps it was only her pride or ego which had been insulted. She is the stronger of the two showing Don Giovanni running away from her. Mozart liked strong, intelligent women.

Donna Elvira also is a strong-willed aristocratic woman who had been deceived two times by Don Giovanni. She unites with Donna Anna. The two of them go looking for him. They find themselves at a tavern. Mozart mixed the social classes again. Don Giovanni who had tried to get into the aristocratic class is now singing to Zerlina, a young tavern girl who was also supposed to be engaged. Mozart shows three women who are off-limits to the outside world.

The three men in the opera can be analyzed as weak and capricious. At the end of the 2nd act, the three women see Don Giovanni for whom he really was He is a young weak man who never gets what he wants. He goes after women who are impossible to have. The father who becomes the stone statue when he loses his life in a dual asks for Don Giovanni to repent. When he refuses, the Commendatore pulls him into the earth. Perhaps they both have been pulled into hell?

The opera shows the social tension. The pride of the woman's public reputation is more important than her own personal integrity. The duality of reputation over sexual freedom behind doors is used by Donna Anna to her benefit. She frees herself from Don Giovanni and she keeps her reputation. No one will ever know what happened. Donna Elvira forgives Don Giovanni and asks him to change his ways. He loses interest in her. Donna Elvira spends her life in a convent. Zerlina is free to go back to her fiancé. Donna Anna refuses requests to get married as her father only just died. Did she want her freedom as Mozart implied, or did she want to respect the year custom after a parent died? Mozart made a mockery of the different social customs



Mozart made a courageous stand by showing that women's existence did not depend on men. Women stood together and achieved what they were after. In the opera, the three women stand together. Mozart was ahead of his time. They were strong, vibrant women who took control. Don Giovanni, the frustrated young man, looks for the mother he never finds. Mozart was a prolific composer who died a pauper. His infatuation with women and his low esteem for men would be the vice which would be his downfall.




Monday, December 18, 2017

Titans of OPERA: A Brief Biography of LUCIANO PAVAROTTI

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadiu...
Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadium, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There was no greater opera singer during the latter half of the twentieth century than tenor Luciano Pavarotti [1935-2007], whose spectacular and distinctive voice, plus a larger-than-life career, made him the top-selling classical recording artist of all time. Born in Modena, Italy, Pavarotti learned to sing opera from the records in his father's collection -- inspired by great tenors of the past such as Caruso, Gigli, and Di Stefano -- and enjoyed his first musical success as a member of an all-male choir that included his father, winning first prize in an international competition in Wales. Pavarotti continued vocal instruction with several local teachers, one of whom also taught Pavarotti's childhood friend, Mirella Freni. The pair would enjoy significant worldwide operatic careers, and they appeared onstage together in a number of productions.

In the Italian town of Reggio Emilia, Pavarotti made his professional debut in 1961 as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohéme, a role that would become one of his favorites throughout his career. Two years later, his first performances outside Italy took him to the Vienna Opera House, where he sang Rodolfo and also appeared in Verdi's Rigoletto as the Duke of Mantua. Later that year he replaced his mentor and idol, Giuseppe Di Stefano, in this same role at Covent Garden (London) when the elder tenor fell ill at the last moment. After being "discovered" by Joan Sutherland, Pavarotti was invited to perform alongside the famous soprano on a tour of Australia. He gave his first U.S. performance in Miami -- hardly an opera hotbed -- in February 1965, appearing as Edgardo opposite Sutherland, who sang her signature role of Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.

In 1972, Pavarotti's first appearance at New York's Metropolitan Opera was as Tonio in Donizetti's comic opera La Fille du Régiment, where the aria "Ah, mes amis" includes nine high Cs. His effortless performance of what is generally considered the most difficult lyric tenor aria in the repertoire prompted 17 curtain calls, and a legend was born. During his career, he performed hundreds of more times on the Met's stage, and he was also featured in the very first television broadcast [1977] of the series Live from the Met. For that program, Pavarotti reprised his role of Rodolfo in La bohéme, with Renata Scotto as Mimi. He continued to appear on opera stages throughout the world -- his favorite roles also included Manrico in Verdi's Il trovatore, Nemorino in Donizetti's Le elisir d'amore, and Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca -- including La Scala [Milan], where his performance in Radames in Verdi's Aida in 1985 was one of the most heralded in the long history of that particular venue.

His fame grew even greater as one of the Three Tenors -- Placido Domingo and José Carreras were the others -- whose performance in Rome prior to the 1990 World Cup finals resulted in the best-selling classical recording of all time. Their continued appearances throughout the decade in front of stadium-sized audiences helped raise awareness of opera with much of the general public. Pavarotti's final Met Opera performance (as Cavaradossi) took place on March 13, 2004, and his farewell tour of 2006 was cut short when the maestro was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July. He died at home in Modena in September of the following year.

    The two video clips that accompany this article are from two distinctly different periods of his career, but both show off his magnificent voice. The first is a recital performance (piano accompaniment only) of "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La bohéme, recorded in 1964 when he was 29. The second is "Vesti la giubba" from a live performance of Leoncavallo's I pagliacci at the Met in New York in 1994, when he was 59.

    Article Source: EzineArticles


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL and the Hallelujah Chorus


George Frederick Handel (23 February 1685 - 14 April 1759) was a German-English Baroque composer who was born in Halle, Germany (Halle is the largest city in the German State of Saxony-Anhalt.) Handel moved to Hamburg in 1703 after being unsatisfied as the organist at the local Protestant cathedral. He got a position as violinist and harpsichordist in the orchestra of the opera house. In 1706 Handel travelled to Italy at the invitation of Gian Gastone de' Medici, whom Handel had met in 1703/1704 in Hamburg. In 1710, Handel moved to Hanover Germany to become Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover, who would become King George I of Great Britain in 1714. In that year Handel moved back to London and stayed there for 35 years with yearly salary for the rest of his life.

Handels was influenced by his father and the duke: Handel's father wanted him to become a lawyer and have nothing to do with music or playing an instrument however a clavichord was smuggled in with muffled strings so his father would not be able to hear him play. His father took him to Weissenfels where his playing on the chapel organ attracted the attention of the duke. The duke was amazed by Handel's abilities in the chapel that he insisted that Handel is allowed to study music. The duke thought it would be a crime to rob the world of such genius.

Handel wrote many works including:

Operas eg. Araphina which brought him fame in Italy in 1709 and Rinaldo which brought him fame in London in 1711
Dramatic Oratorios eg The Messiah in 1741 which is famous all around the world and Athalia in 1742 which is famous in Dublin
100 Cantatas and 20 Chamber Duets
Church Music eg. Gloria Patri (1707), Funeral Anthem (1707)
Orchestra-eg. Water Music (1717),
Instrumental And Chamber Music ~ Including 9 Trio Sonatas, 5 Concerti for Orchestra.
Vocal Music eg. Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713)



Oratorio:
An oratorio is a musical play based on a bible story or scripture. It uses choruses, ensembles and solos to tell a story and usually, an organ or orchestra accompanies the singers. Oratorios are not acted out with costumes or props. The Messiah is an oratorio. You go along and listen to it or sing along to it near Christmas time. This is because The Messiah is about Christs' life and Christmas Day is his birthday.

The Messiah:
In 1741 Handel began putting Charles Jennens' Biblical libretto to music, and 24 days later Messiah was complete (August 22 - September 14). The Messiah was written because Handel was discouraged with his opera writing and after being sent libretto from Charles Jennings Handel felt inspired and immediately began setting the work to music. Legend says that when Handel had finished his work, a servant of his heard him exclaim "Hallelujah Chorus," "I did think I did see all of the heaven before me and the great God Himself!"

The Hallelujah Chorus:
A chorus is a musical ensemble of singers who perform the non-soloist parts of an opera or musical theatre production (or sometimes an oratorio). Handel was known as the master of the oratorio where no composer before or after has surpassed his abilities in writing them. The Hallelujah Chorus was typical of his writing because he wrote 27 oratorios in the later part of his life and wrote many operas which indicate he enjoyed composing music which consists of instruments and singing.

The Hallelujah Chorus is a typical piece of music written in the Baroque period because of the religious text used and the use of English to please the middle class. Religious text is found throughout the Hallelujah Chorus including in bars 36-51 where the text states that "He shall reign forever and ever." referring to Christ. Another thing that makes the Hallelujah Chorus typical of the Baroque period is the way Handel used a mix of homophonic, polyphonic and a small amount of monophonic texture eg. Bars 33-41 of the Hallelujah Chorus is homophonic and bars 41-51 are polyphonic.




Thursday, October 26, 2017

Richard WAGNER - Titan of Opera

RichardWagner.jpg
Richard Wagner - Photo Wikipedia (CC)
Because of the lack of discrimination in ascertaining how the composers used t motives, we can understand Massenet's et Cie. ambivalence about Wagner's influence. The Wagner system was not only about motives but also in how they were employed and what kinds of things they were meant to symbolize, that was all part of the "system." Other composers broke with that system by using motives entirely differently, Verdi, for example, used them extremely sparingly and kept them intact, to him they were used as recontextualized reminiscence.

Massenet followed that path as well, his theme usage in Manon and Werther are sparse. They highlight just a few issues and moments within the work. Though their job was to see these discrete techniques and artistic conceptions, critics at the time became partisans and polemicists and Wagner's breakthroughs led to a decade of deep creative frustration and ambivalence.


A look at Manon and Carmen shows how "Mademoiselle Wagner" was as much an inheritor of Bizet and of traditional opera as he was an acolyte of Wagner. Though published at a time when operas had firmly become "Music Drama" Manon is comfortably within the same family as its famous predecessor.

Some of the scenes in both operas are startlingly parallel. They open with huge tableaux showing us all these slices of life scenes, the changing of the guard and the cigarette girls in Carmen and the Inn at Amiens were the townspeople chatter and gossip waiting for Guillot and De Bretigny to arrive. The music here is boisterous festive and self-referential. Both composers here are concerned with evincing extended local colors and flavors, hardly a Wagnerian concern.

In the first act, we already see Bizet employing the limited use of motive that in 1874 already got tarred as Wagnerism. The use of Carmen's fate theme, which is one of the devices that allows Bizet to connect his opera between the individual "numbers" is much in the same vein that Massenet uses his themes. It's true that in Bizet these themes are not employed as subtly as in Manon but a decade separates these works and innovation and aesthetic temperament grow and change.

Both these operas concern themselves with a heroine too morally ambivalent to serve as a Wagnerian philosophical prop. The story of their journeys from the desire to defiance to death is firmly in the traditional school of operatic stories and despite hysterical criticism that the orchestras in each of these operas dominated the singers (!) these works show no great leap from that last international opera composed for Paris, Verdi's Don Carlos in 1867.


That Wagner's influence is tremendous is obvious. I have not even gone through the changes he made in the theater such as the hidden pit and the completely unlit performance hall. It is hard to believe that before him orchestra pits were public affairs and those operatic spectacles were viewed with the house lights on. This does not mention his advocacy for chromatic horns, the invention of the Wagner horns, and the standardization of the orchestra as we know it nor his role in the primacy of the conductor. His idiom is still the idiom of popular classical music to this day, in television, films and video games, the scores are composed with Wagner in mind. To have to deal with that influence, particularly at its first great plateau must have been an enormous preoccupation. The terror that Brahms and Schubert had of Beethoven even pales in comparison. For classical music, particularly opera, this age was the birth of the anxiety of influence, and the French composers of that time must have realized that they would not live long enough to see themselves understood or appreciated for their personal contributions.



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

CHINESE OPERA

Beijing opera, more commonly known as Peking opera to westerners, is deemed the national opera of China. The accompanying music, singing and costumes are all fascinating and artistic. Full of Chinese cultural facts, the opera presents to the audience an encyclopedia of Chinese culture as well as unfolding stories, beautiful paintings, exquisite costumes, graceful gestures and acrobatic fighting. Since it enjoys a higher reputation than other local operas, almost every province of China has more than one Beijing Opera troupe, who is called "piaoyou" in Chinese. This kind of opera is so popular among Chinese people, especially seniors, that even a "Beijing Opera Month" has been declared.

Ópera de Beijing - China, Mar2012
Beijing Opera - Photo  by  Ana Paula Hirama 

It has existed for over 200 years. It is widely regarded as the highest expression of the Chinese culture. It is known as one of the three main theatrical systems in the world. Artistically, Beijing Opera is perhaps the most refined form of opera in the world. It has deeply influenced the hearts of the Chinese people. Although it is called Beijing Opera, its origins are not in Beijing but in the Chinese provinces of Anhui and Hubei. Beijing Opera got its two main melodies, Xi_Pi and Er_Huang, from Anhui and Hubei operas. It then absorbed music and arias from other operas and musical arts in China.

In the ancient times, Beijing Opera was performed mostly on open-air stages in markets, streets, teahouses or temple courtyards. The orchestra had to play loudly and the performers had to develop a piercing style of singing, in order to be heard over the crowds. The Beijing opera band mainly consists of orchestra band and percussion band. The former frequently accompanies peaceful scenes while the later often follows scenes of war and fighting. The commonly used percussion instruments include castanets, drums, bells and cymbals. One person usually plays the castanets and the drum simultaneously, which are the conductor of the whole band.



It is said that the facial painting art derived from the Chinese opera has different origins. But no matter what its origin is, the facial painting is worth appreciating for its artistic value. The paintings are presentations of the roles of the characters. For example, a red face usually depicts the role's bravery, uprightness and loyalty; a white face symbolizes a sinister role's treachery and guile; a green face describes surly stubbornness, impetuosity and lack of self-restraint. In addition, the pattern of the facial painting reveals the role's information too. In a word, the unique makeup in the opera allows the characters on the stage to reveal them voicelessly.

Liyuan Theater inside Qianmen Hotel in Beijing is an ideal place for you to enjoy some Beijing Opera.



Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Life Of LORENZO DA PONTE: Talent Flies; Practical Reason Walks

Portrait (engraving) of Lorenzo da Ponte (1749...
 Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838)
 (Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)
Among the world’s favorite operas, we find three of them with a libretto penned by Lorenzo Da Ponte and music by none other than the astonishingly delightful Viennese ear-confectioner Mozart. The list is a delight in itself: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovann, and Così Fan Tutte.

We learn in the new book, The Librettist of Venice, by Rodney Bolt, that Da Ponte grew so close with the unequalled Mozart – both of whom, we learn, were not only talented but vain, insecure and ambitious – that while writing Don Giovanni, they worked in adjoining lodges and shouted to each other through their windows.

Da Ponte even dared to contend with Mozart, who believed the text should be subservient to the music, while Da Ponte was certain that the words should be primary, in fact, that without his poetry even Mighty Mo’s music would be nothing.

Yet how Da Ponte tumbled from the heights. Hard as it may be to imagine, he wound up in New York, running, at one time, a grocery store on the Bowery.

Brilliant as an artist, he was apparently, in his personal life, a managerial moron. Or, said another way, while talent flies, practical reason just plods along, like a relative moron.

Da Ponte, born Jewish, was, as a result of his father’s having decided the family should become Catholic for the easement of a life of trade, ordained a priest. But his real vocation was married women. His exploits, we learn, rivaled Casanova, who became his pal and, if we believe such a thing is possible in the category at hand, his mentor.

Da Ponte himself admitted a shortcoming in comparison with his rival for insincere relationships: he didn’t have Casanova’s purported talent for fleecing the women he falsely wooed. In fact, Da Ponte claims he actually loved the ones he made out with.

He also considered himself adroit politically, but his moves were disastrous. He upset the successors of Joseph II so much he was exiled from Vienna.

Now,still technically a priest he was married to a younger but more wisely practical woman named Nancy Grahl, but even she was unable to keep the man out of bankruptcy in London and again in America, where they moved in 1805, because her family had settled here.

He attempted to establish Italian opera companies when English-speaking audiences had little interest in them. To add onions to opera, the grocery business failed.

He finally became a teacher, bookseller and wannabe impresario.



On the positive side, New York turned out to be the most agreeable spot for him. It was relatively liberal, and Da Ponte found himself a favorite of the cultural elite.

He became the first professor of Italian at Columbia University. While the position was pretty much ceremonial, Da Ponte has the double distinction of having been the first Jew and first priest on the school’s faculty.

He lived on into his 80’s, revered but regarded as eccentric.

He was charming man who made a profession of being European when such a state was still considered novel.

Yet when one compares his everyday doings with his winged collaboration with Mozart, one can only shake his head with the recognition of how quicksilver brilliant the remarkable syntheses of talent are, way up in mental processes we can only hope will drop answers into our expectant consciousness, compared to the "first we do this and then we do that" plodding of the practical but still invaluable mind.



Saturday, December 31, 2016

WAGNER's Goetterdaemmerung in Melbourne

Goetterdaemmerung as it happened

Wagner's Goetterdaemmerung completes the operatic tetralogy 'The Ring of the Nibelung', an allegory of greed and power set to addictive music of considerable complexity. In a nutshell: Siegfried, after rejecting his betrothed Bruennhilde, succumbs through Hagen's treachery to the curse Alberich has put on the ring, whereupon Bruennhilde returns the ring to the Rhine and causes the destruction of Valhalla, the new home of the corrupted gods.

English: Richard Wagner, Munich Slovenščina: N...
Richard Wagner, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Goetterdaemmerung broadcast from Melbourne (13.12.13, the final night of the third Melbourne cycle) is very disappointing so far, not matching up to the hype at all. Pietari Inkinen's orchestral opening had no mystery. Tired, unruly, small voices were not able to convince in the Prologue. The orchestra was much too prominent. Siegfried's horn call lacked boisterous enthusiasm and the performance of his Rhine journey by the orchestra was pedestrian. Hagen and Gunther have redeemed things vocally somewhat in Act I and the blood-brotherhood duet between Siegfried and Gunther was powerfully delivered. Bruennhilde's sister Waltraute (Deborah Humble) at last injected some drama into the proceedings.

I am hoping for mystery at the beginning of Act II. In the event, at least on the radio, Warwick Fyfe as Alberich has a live presence, no figment of the sleepy Hagen's imagination. He makes Alberich's complex music portray sharply the dwarf's dangerous and elemental nature.

Hagen's famous call to the vassals was tremulous, but introduced real excitement into the wedding and revenge scenes. Susan Bullock as Bruennhilde sounded genuinely shocked and distressed. Barry Ryan's regal anger as Gunther was also evident. The revenge trio was a vocal and dramatic climax to the Act.



Superb singing from the Rhinemaidens at the beginning of Act III. Apparently they are dressed like Follies; I think I am glad I can't see the production (I'm watching The Ashes cricket concurrently, with the TV's sound off).

Siegfried's Erzaehlung is going very well (I'm taking a leaf out of a cricket commentator's book); Stefan Vinke has now warmed up vocally, and the orchestral accompaniment has receded into the background: perhaps he's right at the front of the stage.

Hagen's 'Meineid raechte ich' descended totally into melodrama, but Vinke has restored the intensity with the conclusion of his monologue. The orchestra have at last excelled themselves in Siegfried's funeral music and Susan Bullock has found opportunities for a chamber-music restraint, rich with sorrow. Her Immolation is shaping up to be the emotional and vocal high point of the performance. The orchestral playing at the conclusion, offering hope for the future of mankind, is powerful and convincing.

What a trajectory. Rather like Australia's first innings in Perth.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Best Loved OPERAS - PUCCINI's La Boheme


Composer Giacomo Puccini in a studio photograph.
Composer Giacomo Puccini 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Puccini's opera La Boheme is one of the most popular and loved pieces. It will sell out at opera houses around the world many times over. It seems opera lovers simply can't get enough of this work. Why is it?

Perhaps the story of love at first sight and the simply stunning music are two things that make it so popular. The story is one that many people can relate to. It is about real human emotions and situations rather than fairies and emotionally out of touch characters.

Most aspiring professional opera singers have one of the many arias from La Boheme on their wish list. Most characters have one or two outstanding songs which is also why you will often hear arias as well as duets from La Boheme sung at opera galas of popular opera.

What is the story then? La Boheme is an opera in four acts based on a story of bohemian life set in the Latin Quarters in Paris in the 1840s. The world premiere was in Turin in 1896 and was conducted by a young Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini would later become one of the most well-known and highly regarded conductors of opera of all time. It was an instant hit and immediately became part of the standard opera repertoire.

English: Poster for the 1896 production for Pu...
Poster for Puccini's La bohème
Artist: Adolfo Hohenstein (1854-1928)
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)
The beginning of the opera sees four men in an attic space. There is Marcello (a baritone) who paints, the writer Rodolfo (a tenor), Colline (a bass) who is a philosopher, and the musician Shaunard (a baritone). They have very little or no money and in order to keep warm they burn one of Rodolfo's failed manuscripts. The three men go out to Café Momus around the corner and Rodolfo will join them later after having finished the article he is writing. There is a knock on the door and Mimi (a soprano), a seamstress who also lives in the building, enters. She asks Rodolfo if he has any matches as her candle has blown out. This is the start of their great love story and it is where we hear two of the most famous arias ever written. First there is Rodolfo's aria Che gelida manina (What a cold little hand) followed by Mimi's Si, mi chiamano Mimi (Yes, they call me Mimi) where they tell each other of their backgrounds and interests. This leads into one of the most well known duets in the entire operatic repertoire, namely O soave fanciulla (Oh gentle maiden). The melodies are beautiful and the music is thick and bursting with emotion. There is something so simple and human about the love between Rodolfo and Mimi.

Act two starts with the four men and Mimi at Café Momus in the Latin Quarters. Soon, there is quite some commotion and a very elegant and sexy woman enters the scene. This is Musetta (another soprano), the former girlfriend of Marcello. She is now with an old rich man, Alcindoro (a bass) and it is quite clear she is fed up with him. When she sees Marcello she starts singing another aria which is one of the most popular ones ever written called Quando m'en vo (When I walk along) to make him jealous. In this very risque aria she talks about how walking down the street everyone admires her and thinks she is amazing. Act two ends with a great ensemble in which Rodolfo and Mimi, and the now re-united couple of Marcello and Musetta, are singing together.

At the start of act three Mimi is seen wandering the streets looking for Marcello whilst coughing severely. Rodolfo has left her and she is bereft. Later on Mimi overhears Rodolfo telling Marcello that he left Mimi because he is afraid she is dying and he can't cope with it as he has no money to pay for doctors or medicine for her. He hopes she will find a rich man who can give her what he can't. Mimi's coughing reveals her presence and the two unite again for the time being. Here Mimi sings her second aria Donde lieta usci (From here she happily left), and soon after this Musetta arrives and is seen arguing passionately with Marcello. There is a very funny quartet where the two couples and singing together; the one couple reconciled and full of love, and the other one fighting and calling each other quite hateful words.



The final act sees the action back in the attic room from the start of the opera where Rodolfo and Marcello both mourn the loss of their respective lovers leaving them. Soon Musetta arrives with Mimi whom she found wandering around in the streets severely ill. Musetta and Marcello leave to sell Musetta's earrings in order to be able to afford medicine for Mimi. Here in the finale of this fantastic masterpiece of an opera, Rodolfo and Mimi recall their first meeting and their happiness together. Mimi dies in Rodolfo's arms and the opera ends with Rodolfo's crying out Mimi's name in anguish as he weeps uncontrollably. It is one of the most dramatic and heart wrenching endings of all time. You can feel the despair and loss of Rodolfo, and the sadness of all the friends who have arrived back in the attic room just as Mimi dies.

    By Margaret Cooke
    If you haven't yet heard a recording of the masterpiece or even better seen it live, you must. Even hearing bits of it at corporate entertainment events or at an opera gala will give you a glimpse of just how marvellous this opera is. The drama and music will continue making this one of the best loved operas of all time.
    To find out how opera can transform your event visit http://www.operabespoke.co.uk/

    Article Source: EzineArticles


Thursday, November 17, 2016

CANTONESE OPERA

Would I want to be a Cantonese opera singer? I attended a workshop at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and found the answer to that question. I learned there are 350 kinds of Chinese opera- each based on a different Chinese dialect. Cantonese opera is the genre most common in Hong Kong. The young woman who was our opera workshop instructor had been studying opera for five years. She told us she was only a beginner. It takes more than twenty years to become a really good performer. This explains why many 'opera stars' are over the age of fifty. Our guide taught us how to distinguish between male and female, and comic and tragic opera characters by their dress, make-up, voices and body movements.

Cantonese Opera exhibit at the Museum
Cantonese Opera exhibit at the Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After she had introduced us to the plot line of an opera we tip toed into a theatre where an opera was in progress and watched it for about twenty minutes. The female character sang in a falsetto voice all the time. The singers didn't always seem to know where the tune of their song was leading them and the audience was talking throughout the performance. Later our guide told us there are no written or designated notes in Chinese opera scripts. 

Actors are provided with only a set of lyrics. The singers make up the tune as they go along. The tradition of female characters using a falsetto voice is an ancient tradition stemming from a time when only male performers were allowed on the stage. They used a falsetto voice to sound feminine. A Chinese opera is apparently performed as a tribute to the gods. Since the deities are the intended audience, the human audience can talk and even eat or play games like mahjong or chess while the opera is going on without insulting the performers.

The second part of our tour took us through a museum exhibit where we saw opera costumes. They are extremely ornate and very expensive to create. Our guide explained the thick face paint worn by characters. Evil villains wear mostly white make-up, while good heroes have predominantly red faces. The museum had a computer program set up that allowed you to put on the make-up and costume of a classic opera character. You chose a character, positioned your face on the computer screen and then waited for your face to appear in the costume and make-up of that character. I chose a Warrior Woman. I thought I looked quite stunning in my Cantonese opera persona and even took a photo of myself.



Although I thought I looked quite powerful and exotic in my costume I found out several things about Chinese opera singers during the workshop that would make me think twice about becoming one. Cantonese operas are between four and five hours long. Actors must memorize thousands of lines. Opera costumes weigh many pounds and female actresses wear narrow toed, high-heeled shoes. Most performances are held outside in the humid heat. Although it was fun to learn more about Cantonese opera and even see how I would look as a Chinese opera singer, I don't think I'd like to be one.