The Opera - A Sketch of the Development of Opera. With full Descriptions of all Works in the Modern Repertory.If Music be, among the arts, 'Heaven's youngest-teemed star', the latest...


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The Opera - A Sketch of the Development of Opera. With full Descriptions of all Works in the Modern Repertory.

If Music be, among the arts, 'Heaven's youngest-teemed star', the latest of the art-forms she herself has brought forth is unquestionably Opera. Three hundred years does not at first seem a very short time, but it is not long when it covers the whole period of the inception, development, and what certainly looks like the decadence, of an important branch of man's artistic industry. The art of painting has taken at least twice as long to develop; yet the three centuries from Monteverde to Debussy cover as great a distance as that which separates Cimabue from Degas. In operatic history, revolutions, which in other arts have not been accomplished in several generations, have got themselves completed, and indeed almost forgotten, in the course of a few years. Twenty-five years ago, for example, Wagner's maturer works were regarded, by the more charitable of those who did not admire them, as intelligible only to the few enthusiasts who had devoted years of study to the unravelling of their mysteries; the world in general looked askance at the 'Wagnerians', as they were called, and professed to consider the shyly-confessed admiration of the amateurs as a mere affectation. In that time we have seen the tables turned, and now there is no more certain way for a manager to secure a full house than by announcing one of these very works. An even shorter period covers the latest Italian renaissance of music, the feverish excitement into which the public was thrown by one of its most blatant productions, and the collapse of a set of composers who were at one time hailed as regenerators of their country's art. But though artistic conditions in opera change quickly and continually, though reputations are made and lost in a few years, and the real reformers of music themselves alter their style and methods so radically that the earlier compositions of a Gluck, a Wagner, or a Verdi present scarcely any point of resemblance to those later masterpieces by which each of these is immortalised, yet the attitude of audiences towards opera in general changes curiously little from century to century; and plenty of modern parallels might be found, in London and elsewhere, to the story which tells of the delay in producing 'Don Giovanni' on account of the extraordinary vogue of Martini's 'Una Cosa Rara', a work which only survives because a certain tune from it is brought into the supper-scene in Mozart's opera. There is a good deal of fascination, and some truth, in the theory that different nations enjoy opera in different ways. According to this, the Italians consider it solely in relation to their sensuous emotions; the French, as producing a titillating sensation more or less akin to the pleasures of the table; the Spaniards, mainly as a vehicle for dancing; the Germans, as an intellectual pleasure; and the English, as an expensive but not unprofitable way of demonstrating financial prosperity. The Italian might be said to hear through what is euphemistically called his heart, the Frenchman through his palate, the Spaniard through his toes, the German through his brain, and the Englishman through his purse. But in truth this does not represent the case at all fairly. For, to take only modern instances, Italy, on whose congenial soil 'Cavalleria Rusticana' and the productions it suggested met with such extraordinary success, saw also in 'Falstaff' the wittiest and most brilliant musical comedy since 'Die Meistersinger', and in 'Madama Butterfly' a lyric of infinite delicacy, free from any suggestion of unworthy emotion. Among recent French operas, works of tragic import, treated with all the intricacy of the most advanced modern schools, have been received with far greater favour than have been shown to works of the lighter class which we associate with the genius of the French nation; and of late years the vogue of such works as 'Louise' or 'Pellas et Mlisande' shows that the taste for music without any special form has conquered the very nation in which form has generally ranked highest. In Germany, on the other hand, some of the greatest successes with the public at large have been won by productions which seem to touch the lowest imaginable point of artistic imbecility; and the ever-increasing interest in musical drama that is manifested year after year by London audiences shows that higher motives than those referred to weigh even with Englishmen. The theory above mentioned will not hold water, for there are, as a matter of fact, only two ways of looking at opera: either as a means, whether expensive or not, of passing an evening with a very little intellectual trouble, some social clat, and a certain amount of pleasure, or as a form of art, making serious and justifiable claims on the attention of rational people. These claims of opera are perhaps more widely recognised in England than they were some years ago; but there are still a certain number of persons, and among them not a few musical people, who hesitate to give opera a place beside what is usually called 'abstract' music. Music's highest dignity is, no doubt, reached when it is self-sufficient, when its powers are exerted upon its own creations, entirely without dependence upon predetermined emotions calling for illustration, and when the interest of the composition as well as the material is conveyed exclusively in terms of music. But the function of music in expressing those sides of human emotion which lie too deep for verbal utterance, a function of which the gradual recognition led on to the invention of opera, is one that cannot be slighted or ignored; in it lies a power of appeal to feeling that no words can reach, and a very wonderful definiteness in conveying exact shades of emotional sensation. Not that it can of itself suggest the direction in which the emotions are to be worked upon; but this direction once given from outside, whether by a 'programme' read by the listener or by the action and accessories of the stage, the force of feeling can be conveyed with overwhelming power, and the whole gamut of emotion, from the subtlest hint or foreshadowing to the fury of inevitable passion, is at the command of him who knows how to wield the means by which expression is carried to the hearer's mind. And in this factfor a fact it islies the completest justification of opera as an art-form. The old-fashioned criticism of opera as such, based on the indisputable fact that, however excited people may be, they do not in real life express themselves in song, but in unmodulated speech, is not now very often heard. With the revival in England of the dramatic instinct, the conventions of stage declamation are readily accepted, and if it be conceded that the characters in a drama may be allowed to speak blank verse, it is hardly more than a step further to permit the action to be carried on by means of vocal utterance in music. Until latterly, however, English people, though taking pleasure in the opera, went to it rather to hear particular singers than to enjoy the work as a whole, or with any consideration for its dramatic significance. We should not expect a stern and uncompromising nature like Carlyle's to regard the opera as anything more than a trivial amusement, and that such was his attitude towards it appears from his letters; but it is curious to see that a man of such strongly pronounced dramatic tastes as Edward FitzGerald, though devoted to the opera in his own way, yet took what can only be called a superficial view of its possibilities. ......Buy Now (To Read More)

Product details

Ebook Number: 16248
Author: Streatfeild, R. A. (Richard Alexander)
Release Date: Jul 9, 2005
Format: eBook
Language: English
Publication Date: 1907
Publisher Country: Philadelphia

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