Joy H. Calico
This chapter considers three trends evident in recent research on opera in the period 1900–1945. Scholars tend to situate the genre, as well as individual works and composers, in relation to Wagner’s influence; they challenge and expand received wisdom about modernism, either admitting previously marginalized repertoire to that canon or proposing multiple modernisms; and they pursue nuanced analyses of the relationship between opera and Nazi/Fascist regimes. Precisely how one might define opera in a period of such great experimentation is also discussed. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny is presented as a case study in which all of these approaches are fruitful.
This chapter examines the issue of censorship in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s controversial decision to ban the final track, “A Day in the Life,” from the Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 due to its oblique reference to drug use. More specifically, it analyzes the factors underlying the BBC ban within the context of the cultural environment in which company executives interpreted the recording. The chapter also discusses the BBC mission and its “Green Book,” the BBC Variety Programmes Policy Guide for Writers and Producers, which establishes Britain’s standards for taste in broadcasting.
Acting and singing have often been considered incompatible activities, but most successful operatic performances depend in part on successful acting. Acting in opera is, however, different from acting in spoken drama. Realistic characterization is often difficult to achieve when acting with music, and often the formal gestures of a more rhetorical representation are more appropriate. A more vivid style of acting was initiated with the bel canto opera early in the nineteenth century, and later verismo opera required acting that brought out the unconscious motivation of characters. Wagner, Stanislavski, and Felsenstein all developed a style of acting that reflected the psychology of the character and encouraged ensemble. Modern operatic performance incorporates a variety of styles, but a combination of realism and minimalism may be most effective on stage. Callas’s performance in Act 2 of Tosca and Nicholas Lehnhoff’s production of Parsifal are analyzed.
John M. Clum
The article points out various aspects of acting in a musical theater. The acting was not always a primary concern in the history of musical theater. Stars of musical comedy were either singers or comedians who could sing competently or who couldn't sing at all. Traditional musical comedy was a hybrid performed by specialists. The chorus was split into singers and dancers. Serious actors usually avoided the musical entirely since there was enough serious drama on Broadway to keep them busy. Operetta, extremely popular in the 1920s, was built on stock characters that include the exotic romantic leading soprano and baritone, the comic mezzo and bass, the wistful tenor, and the perky soubrette. These same characters appeared again and again in different settings and costumes. Acting was definitely secondary to quasi-operatic singing. A singing star such as Ethel Merman was expected to sing and wisecrack with the comics, which she did in a succession of musicals in the 1930s and early 1940s.
The late 1950s saw an astonishing emergence of iconoclastic and modernistic approaches to the genre of the British musical. Directors like Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop company produced a number of dark, cynical, and experimental musicals in the late 1950s that provided British theatre professionals and audiences alike with an alternative to the dominant American style. Many attempted to bring this new and particularly British voice to the West End. An investigation of the musical, dramatic, and cultural context of the exceptional and important ‘Soho’ shows, which include Expresso Bongo, The Crooked Mile, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, and Make Me an Offer, reveals these works as microcosms of their cultural environment as well as marking new directions in British musical theatre. Culminating in Oliver!, arguably the best-known British musical of this era, this development heralded a time of experimentation, social commentary, and modernism.
Jessica Sternfeld and Elizabeth L. Wollman
The article focuses on some of the more important developments that have affected the American musical over the years. The amount of money needed to produce a musical has increased since the onset of the depression, but especially since the 1960s. The cost of production, coupled with the introduction of several cheaper, more widely accessible entertainment forms, has forced the musical to struggle financially and aesthetically at various periods during the postwar era. Periods of high inflation, such as during the 1930s, affected the criteria for hit status, for example shows had to run for longer stretches to be profitable. The marketing for the show at that time was particularly intense, and the spectacle aspect was strongly promoted by producer Garth Drabinsky, under the auspices of his Canadian production company, Livent. The longer average runs of Broadway musicals depended in part on an increasingly international audience, which was seen as transitory and ever renewing. Since the advent of rock, amplification has become increasingly common and this was for several reasons. Many actors needed microphones to protect their voices and to be heard above the electric instruments that accompanied them. Film and sound recording technologies exerted significant influence on the stage musical and advances in sound design have allowed theatrical productions to offer cleaner, more balanced sound from the orchestra pit and stage.
Can opera as drama save classical music? Pierre Boulez famously proposed “blowing up all the opera houses” in 1967, and the relationship between the avant-garde and opera has been adversarial for most of the twentieth century. But in recent years interest in contemporary opera has exploded, leading critics like Joseph Kerman to proclaim that music drama proves the continuing vitality of the classical music canon. A study of the two major US productions of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic shows the pitfalls of relying on literature and drama to “sell” twenty-first-century opera as classical music: weaknesses in the libretto and staging led many intellectuals who attended the opera to dismiss it—and opera as a genre—in the harshest possible terms, reopening questions about the propriety of setting dramatic texts to music that composers had thought settled in their favor by the end of the seventeenth century.
Michael P. Steinberg
This article discusses the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a musical group composed of various musicians from Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries. They show how music is a thing of the world, through their performances of works by various composers, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The article takes a look at the double agenda of the Divan, its pedagogical transformations, and their translations, techniques, and use of melancholy.
This chapter examines how Alban Berg plotted to survive as a composer during the Third Reich. Berg’s opera Wozzeck premiered in Berlin on December 14, 1925, achieving undisputed success. When Adolf Hitler became the leader of Nazi Germany, the works of many atonal composers, whether Aryan or not, were banned from performance in Germany. Drawing on Berg’s personal documents held in the Austrian National Library, including musical sketches and drafts of letters, this chapter considers how Berg repackaged Lulu in order to survive as a composer amid the harsh political environment during Hitler’s reign. It also comments on Berg’s desperation as a result of the Nazi government’s censorship of performances of Wozzeck. Finally, it considers Berg’s anti-Semitic tone in his opera, as well as his self-promotion to the point of aligning himself with Nazi Germany.
This chapter considers the topical competency of late eighteenth-century amateur players and listeners. Focus is on selected string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, and Pleyel. The analytical strategy is comparative, and therefore the analyses are limited to movements governed by clearly defined topics. The troping of learned and galant elements is the focus of discussion of three minuet movements, all of which incorporate contrapuntal techniques to varying structural and expressive ends. Parametric density is the focus of discussion of four chasse movements. In both sets of examples, issues considered include topical content and syntactical function, topical dissonance, and social and cultural associations.