Techniques | End of the Aria? | High Romantic | Opera
The demise of the aria, as suggested by Wagner and to a lesser extent by Verdi, never really happened. The aria, of course, had its disadvantages. To start with, it encouraged performers to show off and hog the stage for much longer than was justified. This was a real possibility as the fame of individual singers increased, and their egos expanded to match. However, even if this did not occur, arias interrupted the story and held up the action. There were, however, equally cogent arguments in favour of the aria. A well-written aria was a memorable melody that stuck easily in the minds of audiences and so prolonged their enjoyment long after they had left the theatre. An opera’s popularity, therefore, depended principally on its arias. Secondly, the aria served a dramatic purpose that nothing else in opera could do. Like the soliloquy in Shakespeare’s plays, it provided a niche for a character’s personal musings, fears or anxieties. It also acted like the theatrical ‘aside’, enabling characters to confide to the audience thoughts or information kept secret from the rest of the cast. Ultimately, the aria survived – albeit with a lesser prominence – and in the twentieth century arias featured in the works of neo-classical composers.
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