Opera: when did it become highbrow culture?




“I’d hate this to get out, but I really like opera,” said former Commissioner of Baseball Ford Frick. What is it about opera that would make anyone hesitant to admit that they like it? It seems to have this reputation as highbrow culture, an entertainment only for the rich, the old, the white, and the snobbish. Two hundred years ago Italian opera had a reputation as mindless entertainment for lowbrows who didn’t appreciate good music. What happened? … Continue reading

Opera: how high is its brow?




“I’d hate this to get out, but I really like opera,” said former Commissioner of Baseball Ford Frick. What is it about opera that would make anyone hesitant to admit that they like it? It seems to have this reputation as highbrow culture, an entertainment only for the rich, the old, the white, and the snobbish. Two hundred years ago Italian opera had a reputation as mindless entertainment for lowbrows who didn’t appreciate good music. What happened? … Continue reading

Music Inspired by Romeo and Juliet




William Shakespeare has been regarded as England’s leading poet and dramatist since the latter part of the 17th century, first in England, and by the end of the 18th century all over Europe. No single work has inspired as many adaptations as Romeo and Juliet, including parodies, prose and verse adaptations, films, television shows, paintings, and music. In classical music alone, Romeo and Juliet has inspired a couple of dozen operas, some ballets, and considerable orchestral and choral music. This post will examine four acknowledged masterpieces, but first, let’s look at some of the earliest of the Romeo and Juliet … Continue reading

Perspective on yet another obituary for classical music




Another obituary for classical music appeared recently at marketplace.org.  It points out that classical music sales only amount to 1.4% of music consumption. It says that audiences of classical music are not diverse. It quotes a pianist as being “kind of tired of making music for the same people all the time.” The obituary in Slate by Mark Vanhoenacker that made the rounds last year said, “Classical music has been circling the drain for years.” Such pronouncements usually provoke a flurry of posts about how healthy classical music is. By “for years,” Vanhoenacker means since some time in the mid-20th … Continue reading

Summertime, by George Gershwin




Is it even conceivable that any series of outdoor orchestra or concert band concerts (at least in the US) has never presented someone singing “Summertime”? If a series has lasted more than five or ten years, its audiences have probably heard it sung multiple times—not to mention instrumental arrangements on those or a wide variety of other concerts. It’s one of George Gershwin’s best-loved works, and certainly his most recorded. Some people regard Gershwin as America’s greatest composer. Too many professional critics dismiss him, looking askance at the fact that he devoted most of his energy to (shudder) popular music. … Continue reading

Something odd about this Rigoletto video




The singing on this video of the quartet from Rigoletto is quite impressive, but the staging is unusual. And what’s with the costumes? And the “orchestra”? I have been so busy lately I haven’t had time to read and write as much as I would like. It’s times like these when I really appreciate the videos that I get by email. I don’t have to explain anything! I hope you have as much fun watching as I did—and as these people had making it. Oh, and tell all of us about it in the comments. … Continue reading

Children, music education, and opera




In an argument already almost two centuries old, some people claim that classical music is stuffy, old fashioned, and appeals only to a cultural elite. Popular music is new, up to date, and broad based. Opera seems to appeal only to a subset of the aging classical music crowd. School children know nothing of such philosophical arguments. They only know what they like. They like classical music, and even opera, just fine. I have written several posts about distinctions between classical and popular music, but I’d like to use “popular” in a broader sense for a while. It’s something a … Continue reading

The Garcìa family and a century of great singing




Spanish tenor Manuel Garcìa was the patriarch of four generations of singers. He and his children greatly influenced opera and singing in four countries for more than a century. In fact, his son lived for more than a century! Manuel Garcìa (1775-1832) Manuel Garcìa was born in Seville, Spain and educated in music in the choir school of the cathedral. He was a well-known singer, composer, and operatic conductor in Spain before his 18th birthday. His operetta El poeta calculista(1805) was successful not only in Spain, but in other countries as well. At the time, Spain was not a musically … Continue reading

Ironies in Rossini’s life and works: humorous anecdotes




The ironies in Rossini’s life and career are many: By the time he composed his last opera, William Tell, in 1829, he had long been the most popular operatic composer all over Europe. Then he stopped writing operas entirely. He composed 38 operas by the time he retired–at age 38–and yet he has an abiding reputation for laziness. While today we think of opera as a part of “classical” music, during his lifetime lovers of classical music uniformly despised Rossini. Although he had some formal study, he did not complete it, and his part-writing and counterpoint were full of errors. … Continue reading

The first woman to compose operas: Francesca Caccini




Until very recently, music was a man’s career. Women could be singers, but rarely anything more. Francesca Caccini became well known as an operatic composer early in the history of opera. That fact testifies not only to her talent, but also the fame of her father and the untimely death of a Grand Duke of Tuscany, leaving his wife and his mother as co-regents. Francesca’s father Giulio practically invented opera. At least, that was his version. He and some like-minded friends in Florence (seat of the Medici family ruling as Grand Dukes of Tuscany) invented a new, declamatory style of … Continue reading