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dr bartolo
1241224.  Sun Jul 02, 2017 9:40 am Reply with quote

Some in this thread have been discussing the most influential/deadly operas. I would add to this list Hai Rui dismissed from office Granted, it is a Peking opera ( quite different from western opera) but in terms of effect, i'd say it would beat any of the above operas hands down.

The opera was written by Wu Han, a historian and one-time vicemayor of Beijing. The protagonist, Hai Rui, was an official in the Ming dynasty. Hai rui rose up the bureaucracy from a humble birth, and was well-known for his uncompromising honesty—even daring to criticise the emperor himself. As a result of his criticism of the emperor, Hai Rui was dismissed from office.

As delightful as the story is, it was a dangerous time to write it. Mao’s great leap forward had failed spectacularly. Many officials critical of Mao were purged from the party. It did not take long for a critic ( on Mao’s suggestion) to find a parallel in recent history --The dismissal of China’s Defence minister Peng Dehuai for criticising Mao’s policies. This was a most deadly charge.

The ramifications of this were immense. Wu Han’s superior Peng Zhen was a member of the so-called “Five-man group”, a committee in charge of exploring the possibility of a “cultural revolution” in China. He was also a senior member in the Communist party of China. If the play was indeed a political statement, Peng Zhen would also be implicated along with the play’s author. It did not help that Peng was a supporter of Liu Shaoqi, the President of China. Liu was also one of Mao’s rivals.

In an attempt to quell the controversy ( which was simmering on for some time), the five-man group issued a report to the effect that the play was an academic, rather than a political statement.

But this was too late. Peng Zhen was purged from the party, for his “revisionism”, and the five-man group disbanded. They were replaced by a group of radical supporters of Mao, the Central Cultural Revolution Group. The powers given to the new group were immense.

This was the start of ever increasing waves of fanaticism in support of Mao. The alleged presence of “bourgeois elements” in the party necessitated drastic purges. At length, all of the “old” Chinese culture was also singled out as being anathema to the resolution; and had to be destroyed. The resulting vandalism, and indeed, loss of life was immense. Ironically, the very genre of Peking opera was not spared; new “model operas” with suitably revolutionary themes took their place.

While Hai Rui dismissed from office was certainly not the only cause of the cultural revolution, one cannot deny its role in that dreadful period of history.

1241681.  Thu Jul 06, 2017 10:34 am Reply with quote

Dear Reader,

Wolfgang Mozart's operatic works are some of his most ingenious and prolific works. But, as any young man, he was prone to mischief and procrastination when devising these works.

Quite famously, he wrote the infamously difficult "Der Helle Roche" (or "The Queen of the Night Aria" for a soprano who used her head to aid her in reaching notes: raising her head for higher notes, and lowering it for lower notes. He made it extremely jumpy and flighty just so that, when she sang it, she would look "like a chicken".

He also proved himself to be, despite his seemingly supernatural gift, a normal human being by writing the overture to "Don Giovanni" on the morning of the debut performance. That always makes me feel better when I am delayed in my studies.

Kindest regards,


1241849.  Sat Jul 08, 2017 2:38 pm Reply with quote

dr bartolo wrote:
Operatic recycling is quite a thing:

There have been around seventy operas sharing the same plot: the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.

On a similar vein, a single liberetto ( Artaserse) by the Italian liberettist Metastasio was apparently set to music around ninety times.

The overture that we associate with Rossini's Barber of Seville was actually originally written for another opera, Aureliano in Palmira. Two years later, he recycled it into yet another opera (Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra). It was only in 1816 when the piece of busic became attached to the Barber

It may be interesting to note that the title role of Aureliano in Palmira was written for a castrato, possibily the last major work to be done so.
In case anyone has yet to recognize it, my username is actually that of a character from The barber of Seville ;)

Dear Reader,

The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has been tackled by many composers, but the most famous of all is Offenbach's satirical "Orpheus in the Underworld" which borrows heavily from his predecessors. It borrows most notably from Gluck's take on the tale, and downright copies the main motif from "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice" in Act 1. In Offenbach's version it appears in Acts 2 and 3: firstly as Orpheus tells the gods of his lost wife with pantomimed grief just in order to get the job done, and then the theme acts as entrance music as he finally arrives after the gods have caused mischief (including the raucous Can-Can the operetta is so famous for) in Hades. Gluck's version is also typically performed with a woman in the role of Orpheus, whereas Offenbach wrote his for a tenor. Quite cheap then.

This version additionally focuses less on plot, and more on the satire of the rich that Offenbach was living among. The bored, gossiping Gods represent the rich, using their powers to amuse each other and not to aid the mortals (the lower classes). It also pokes fun at Napoleon, and how most of the great powers were owned by his family (in the way that Jupiter gives power to his incompetent and unruly children).

Having been in it myself, you can also hear influences from other composers such as Mozart (many of the more dramatic moments in the Act 1 duet between Orpheus and Eurydice echo late classical operatic works, especially with the unison of strings and high winds) and other practicing Romantic composers (The Invocation is a complete satire of the popular tragic operas of the time) .

I hope that this proves interesting to somebody.

Kind regards,


1241853.  Sat Jul 08, 2017 3:35 pm Reply with quote

EpistoralWoman wrote:
Wolfgang Mozart [...]also proved himself to be, despite his seemingly supernatural gift, a normal human being by writing the overture to "Don Giovanni" on the morning of the debut performance.

I'd call that arsy behaviour - having no respect for the musicians who'd have to play by the seat of their pants.

1241862.  Sat Jul 08, 2017 4:04 pm Reply with quote

"Seat of pants" playing is very much part of the job. But with the parts written out by hand... ouch!
Sometimes a commission came with a very tight deadline - for example music for a royal funeral (Handel, Queen Caroline). There wouldn't be much time for rehearsals. You wouldn't want the late queen to go off too much.
And think of Bach who had to deliver fresh music if not weekly, then at least for the larger feast days, everything written out by hand, some of the choral parts sung by boys. And he wrote bloody complicated stuff!

1241863.  Sat Jul 08, 2017 4:06 pm Reply with quote

Oh, and I forgot... the skill of sight reading/playing is taught as a separate subject at conservatories / music degree courses. At that level you're expected to be able to do it.


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