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date: 18 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

One of the commonplace theoretical distinctions between opera and oratorio is that the former is staged, and the latter is not; opera has dramatic movement, but oratorio is essentially static, contemplative, and by implication somewhat boring. But was the division between grippingly “secular” opera and reverently dull “sacred” oratorio really so clear-cut? There have in practice been numerous successful stagings of oratorios from Handel’s day to the present, albeit often overlooked or stigmatized in music historiography. This chapter chronicles and evaluates the concept of “dramatic” oratorio with special emphasis on the intriguing performance history of Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Liszt’s St. Elisabeth on the stage. In challenging the idea of a comfortably neat distinction between the genres of opera and oratorio, and providing a broader aesthetic perspective on the staging of these supposedly unstageable works, it attempts to reevaluate ideas of drama in both genres.

Keywords: opera, secular, sacred, oratorio, performance history, staging, genre

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