Techniques | A Golden Age | Turn of the Century | Opera

Taken as a whole, the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the early years of the twentieth can be seen as golden age for opera. With Verdi and Wagner looking on from their vastly different perspectives, there was a commonality of language and purpose that made opera an attractive and highly expressive form of music. The increasing influence of symphonic elements in opera – whereby the music was increasingly conceived as one large, dramatic structure as opposed to a musically discrete series of songs and choruses – gave composers the technical means to write powerfully affective music. In partnership with the growing technological capabilities in theatres, audiences were given productions as stunning visually as they were aurally.

That opera was so beholden to fashion is just one indication of the central position it occupied socially and culturally. It is perhaps difficult to believe now that figures such as Schoenberg and Webern, who are often viewed as radical destroyers of their musical inheritance, were fulsome in their admiration of the great opera composers. The turn of the century brought particular musical as well as social difficulties for opera. The rapid developments in harmonic and rhythmic language coupled with the development of technologies such as cinema – and, later, the physical and psychological devastation of the two world wars – removed many of the elements that had enabled opera to take up such a strong position.

Techniques | Puccini & Wagner | Turn of the Century | Opera


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