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Thread: Contemporary Opera

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  1. #1

    Contemporary Opera

    This is a thread to debate about contemporary opera. The opera that is being composed in our own days.

    Of course, the obvious question is: "what is the limit of our own days?".

    For the sake of this thread, let's define contemporary opera as any opera written after 1980. This gives us more than thirty years, and is a reasonable time for a genre that tends to think in centuries.

    Perhaps some OL members that are fans of Opera, are not very familiar with the latest new things in the genre. Or they are afraid only avant-garde Opera is being composed now. We will see that this is not the case, not by any means. There are new operas for (almost) everyone to enjoy, no matter what is our personal taste.

    Philippe Manoury, (Tulle, 1952) is a French composer living in the US, with some important success in his career. He has been working with electronic music, as well as large orchestras.

    In the field of Opera, his best known piece is K, premiered the year 2001, in Paris. This is relatively short opera, that was the recipient of several awards in France. It's based on Kafka's Der Prozeß (The Trial), and it's quite interesting:

    This year Manoury has premiered his fourth opera, La Nuit de Gutenberg, in Strasbourg.

    It seems rather nice as far as the instrumental music goes, but the vocal treatment can be suspected, something like the usual sprechgesang for the male singers, and the high coloratura roles for females.
    Last edited by Schigolch; August 31st, 2012 at 06:51 AM.

  2. #2
    Ok, so you are a lover of traditional melody, and bel canto singing. You think contemporary opera is not for you. It's a kind of avant-garde noise, with people mumbling instead of singing, except for a few (out of tune) shouted high notes.

    Well, there are many new operas that will somehow fit your description, and will reinforce your beliefs.

    But then, there are others that you can, perhaps, enjoy.

    Take for instance Laurent Petitgirard:

    This composer premiered a very nice opera some years ago, Joseph Merrick, dit Elephant Man. The storyline is the unfortunate biography of Joseph Merrick, afflicted by neurofibromatosis, and abused like a freak in the circus. It's not based on the David Lynch's movie, it comes right from doctor Treves' memories and other contemporary documents, being compiled by Petitgirard's writer, Eric Nonn.

    I bet most of the people loving traditional singing will like this beautiful choir:

    Petitgirard's second opera, Guru, seems to be created in the footsteps of the first. It was premiered the year 2010 in Budapest, and we get a recording by Naxos.

    It's a story about a charismatic and manipulative character that rules over a sect with apocalyptic inclinations comprised of 50 followers living in seclusion on an island. One recent adept, Marie (a spoken role, to underline her basic sanity), opposes him, but finally all people go suicidial except for her.

    Last edited by Ann Lander (sospiro); January 4th, 2018 at 09:00 PM.

  3. #3
    Some of the new operas are coming from Latin America.

    Brazilian composer Jorge Antunes premiered the year 2006, in São Paulo, Olga. The piece is based on the life of Olga Gutmann, a German communist activist, that was the romantic interest of Brazilian leftist politician Luis Carlos Prestes. She was deported from Brazil to Germany, in 1936, while she was pregnant, and was murdered six years later, gassed in an extermination camp. After the war, she was made a model for revolutionary women, in the RDA.

    We can watch the opera in youtube:

  4. #4
    Senior Member Involved Member CountessAdele's Avatar
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    I'm glad you suggested Laurent Petitgirard because unfortunately I can't get into the more 'avant-garde' operas as much as I want to, and I do try. It just isn't for me.
    Only the positive!

  5. #5
    Not everything is for everyone!, don't worry.

    Avant-garde opera is more of an acquired taste for many of us. Perhaps you will like it in the future, perhaps not. But this is not a problem, there are many 'non avant-garde' contemporary operas you can enjoy today.

    Have you read the interesting novel Bliss, by Peter Carey?. Or watched the movie?.

    Australian composer Brett Dean decided to take the story to the operatic stage, and was able to premiere the piece in Sydney last year.

    An executive suffers a stroke, and is clinically dead, but the doctors are able to revive him. After this extreme situation, he realize his wife is cheating him with his best friend, his son is into selling drugs and her daughter into consuming them. On his side, he fells desperately in love with a hippy whore named Honey...

    This is an intelligent, funny and well written opera.

    Bliss - Beginning

  6. #6
    Senior Member Involved Member StLukesGuildOhio's Avatar
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    I'm glad you suggested Laurent Petitgirard because unfortunately I can't get into the more 'avant-garde' operas as much as I want to, and I do try. It just isn't for me.

    I'm quite interested in Laurent Petitgirard as well. While I quite enjoy any number of musical works that fall under the more experimental or avant garde rubric... including some operas, I have long despised the notion that the extremes of artistic experimentation represent the only art of any merit. The term avant garde is surely something of a misnomer as it denotes the body of troops heading in advance of the army as a whole... and yet none of us knows where music (as a whole) is heading.

    One more experimental... and yet still exquisitely beautiful opera that I have come across is Pascal Dusapin's Perelà, Uomo di Fumo:

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    Last edited by Ann Lander (sospiro); January 4th, 2018 at 09:01 PM.

  7. #7
    I've watched Perelà, "Uomo di fumo" live in the theater, in Paris. I'm not very fond of the opera, though there are some interesting passages, it's perhaps too long (just over two hours) for the musical ideas of Dusapin at the time.

    The biggest success of Dusapin so far is perhaps Faustus, the Last Night, with a published DVD:

    Claimed to be based on Marlowe, it has been presented also in USA, at the Spoleto Festival. This doesn't follow a typical, lineal storyline, but is rather a debate between Faust and Mephistopheles about divinity and the creation of the world. Again, this piece could be somewhat challenging for people loving traditional opera, but it is rewarding, both the music and the vocal writing.

  8. #8

    Some years ago, I watched Graciane Finzi's Le dernier Jour de Socrate at the Opéra Comique, in Paris. Recently she has premiered another opera, Et nous le monde, with a libretto written between Jacques Descorde and the students of a 'lycée' placed in a troubled neighbourhood in the banlieues. The students themselves recite the text while we heard Finzi's music and interventions from the Choir:

    De ma fenêtre

    Le matin

  9. #9
    Some members will be familiar with Stephen Schwartz's work as musical and soundtrack composer.

    After several years in the making, the first opera by Schwartz, Séance On A Wet Afternoon, based on a 1960s movie, was premiered at the NYCO.

    Schwartz reflects on how Opera can be a living and thriving Art in the US:

    Of course, Schwartz's early collaborator, Leonard Bernstein, comes immediately to mind when thinking about bridging the Broadway–opera divide — specifically Bernstein's works Trouble in Tahiti and A Quiet Place, which just enjoyed a much lauded City Opera revival. "Lenny was more of a classical composer to begin with," points out Schwartz. "If anything, he crossed over to Broadway from classical music, not the other way around." Schwartz pauses. "Opera is undergoing a resurgence just now that I think Lenny would like. Composers from other realms, like Rufus Wainwright, are writing operas. Rufus has an opera, Prima Donna, that I know City Opera is interested in doing. [The company has announced that it will mount the opera in spring 2012.] Musical-theater composers like Michael John LaChiusa and Ricky Ian Gordon straddle both worlds. Do I think this is a good thing? I do. The idea of opera as a museum piece is not a particularly good situation. There was a time when opera could only be either a museum piece or 'contemporary' and obtuse. If it was simply accessible to an audience, then it was viewed as cheap or not worthy — it needed to be difficult, and the audience had to struggle with it, to be good. I don't think that's particularly helpful either. But that fact is changing."

  10. #10
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    I got this newsletter from PTMW (Polish Modern Music Society) today:

    World Premiere of Zygmunt Krauze's Opera

    "The Trap"

    Wroclaw Opera, 17th December 2011

    Music: Zygmunt Krauze
    Libretto: Grzegorz Jarzyna, Zygmunt Krauze after Tadeusz Rozewicz's drama "The Trap"
    Musical Director: Tomasz Szreder
    Stage Director, Set Designer: Ewelina Pietrowiak
    Costume Designer: Malgorzata Sloniowska
    Choir Master: Anna Grabowska-Borys

    Orchestra and Choir of Wroclaw Opera

    Franz: Mariusz Godlewski,

    Łukasz Rosiak
    Father: Radosław Żukowski, Wiktor Gorelikow

    Mother: Elżbieta Kaczmarzyk-Janczak, Barbara Bagińska

    Otla: Aleksandra Kubas

    Max: Jacek Jaskuła

    Felicia: Joanna Moskowicz, Iwona Handzlik

    Greta: Katarzyna Haras

    Shoemaker: Rafał Majzner, Edward Kulczyk

    Józia/Shoemaker's wife: Dorota Dutkowska

    Opera sung in polish
    Duration: approx. 100'
    Not particularly interested myself but I thought I'll share this more or less important news for contemporary opera with you.

  11. #11

    Krauze was a student of Nadia Boulanger, and he has written several operas.

    This one, Star, was premiered in different version in 1981, 1994 and 2006. This is the last version:

    He also wrote Yvonne, Princess from Bourgogne, based on Witold Gombrowicz, six years before the very good piece with the same name by Philippe Boesmans.

    Before "The Trap", his last lyrical venture was this Polieukt, based on Pierre Corneille's "Polyeucte", premiered last year in Warsaw:

  12. #12
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre from Budapest, in 1998. Three artists are listed: Gonzales, Toth, Gulyas.

    The opera is very interesting. Very unusual orchestra with a huge number of percussion instruments. To give you an idea, the overture is played by several car horns.

    Everything is very bizarre, it's a pre-apocalypse scenario in an imaginary country called Breughelland. Not for the faint of heart with some very explicit scenes including a lengthy sex act duly accompanied by dirty talking during the lovemaking.

    The main character is Death, who is providing a comet to destroy Earth. Several chaotic scenes follow, with stylized, insane characters - a sadomasochistic couple, two lovers, a prince, a black minister and a white minister, a drunkard, a secret police chief, etc. Roles receive names such as Clitoria, Spermando, Gepopo, Go-Go, Mescalina... Death (The Great Macabre) fails to bring about the apocalypse, all survive at the end, and the two lovers deliver a final optimistic farewell in a passacaglia.

    Orchestration is provided by a full orchestra, plus "instruments" like the above mentioned car horns, typewriters, electric doorbells, sandpaper, a whistle, etc.

    Of course this is not for someone who doesn't like contemporary music. It premiered in 1978, and was revised in 1996 - it is fairly successful for a contemporary opera, having received more than 30 productions. It does include musical elements recovered from Beethoven (movement 4 from the Eroica), Rossini, and Verdi (they are barely recognizable, though, since they are 'manipulated' by Ligeti - references to Rossini come about in soprano coloraturas, and to Verdi in ominous trumpets).

    I love it. It is very interesting, absorbing, curious, and the various sounds are enticing. There is lyric singing that at times gets to be quite beautiful. It's a very wild ride, but a very fulfilling one.

    This particular performance is very good, with talented actors/singers and very successful scenarios that convey very well all the craziness of the plot.

    I believe that this opera is extremely creative. Highly recommended (needs to be watched rather than just listened to though, otherwise the effect won't ever be the same).

    This opera really deserves a commercial DVD release.

  13. #13
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Gian Carlo Menotti's Goya, premiered in 1986, English libretto authored by the composer, I watched a version of it on TV.

    Conductor Raffael Frühbeck de Burgos directs the Orchestra of the Kennedy Center Opera House.

    It's from the Washington National Opera, in 1986 (it was the world première). Sung in English. There are subtitles in English.

    Plácido Domingo is Francisco Goya
    Victoria Vergara is the Duchess of Alba
    Karen Huffstodt is María Luisa, Queen of Spain
    Louis Otey is Martín Zapater
    Stephen Dupont is Manuel Godoy, Prime Minister
    Howard Bender is Charles IV, King of Spain

    This opera doesn't exist on commercial DVD. It does exist on CD:

    This is a contemporary opera but it is melodious and in tonal music. If feels very old-fashioned for something that premiered in 1986.

    This opera is interesting, with good theatricality. Plácido here tends to yell a bit much but does OK. Vergara is attractive and sings well. The other female lead, American soprano Karen Huffstodt, is also attractive (from the backstage interviews) but gets a make-up with a fake nose to make her unattractive which is what her character needs to be.

    Acting and singing are very adequate. The period staging was directed by the composer himself.

    It is a beautiful opera but doesn't add much to existing works. Recommended, but nothing major, you may as well pass.

  14. #14
    Gerald Barry is an Irish composer, born in 1952, that wrote in the year 2005 one of the best 21st century operas so far, The bitter tears of Petra von Kant:

    Barry-The Bitter tears of Petra von Kant

    But the one below is his first opera:

    The Intelligence Park, premiered in 1990. The action is set in 18th century Dublin, and is about an opera seria composer, (a longtime lover of an impresario) that, in the middle of a creative crisis, should marry a young soprano that he doesn't love, while he suffers a 'coup de foudre' with a beautiful castrato, that on the other side is already engaged in a romantic relation....

  15. #15

    Benoît Mernier, (Belgium, 1964) is a Belgian organist and composer, a former student of Philippe Boesmans, that, after working primarily in the field of chamber music, was given the job of composer-in-residence at La Monnaie, Brussels. He premiered there his first opera, Frühlings Erwachen, back in the year 2007. There was also another production in Strasbourg. There is a published CD/DVD:

    The opera is based on a play by Franz Wedekind (author of Die Büchse der Pandora, (Pandora's box), that inspired Alban Berg's Lulu, one of the best operas of the 20th century). The plot is about some youngsters growing up, discovering sex, and the tragic suicide of one of them.

    Mernier's music, at first, seems a little bit dry and monotonous. However, in a second hearing, some interesting findings reveal themselves. Vocal writing is nice, the singing and also the sprechgesang in the more dramatic situations.

    A fine production, too. The first video is really good:

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