October 15: The End of Opera?
The two operas we will examine this week were premiered within a few months of one another in 1925 to 1926, both conducted by legendary conductors. One represents the end of traditional Italian opera, and the other is sometimes regarded as the perfect modernist opera, combining atonal techniques with a disturbing psychological analysis of its characters. Was this the one-two punch that was the beginning of the decline of opera?
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Giacomo Puccini, Turandot, Joan Sutherland, London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta
Premiered on April 25, 1926, at La Scala in Milan, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.
Libretto (in Italian only): Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, after a play by Carlo Gozzi, Re Turandot (1762) or actually after Friedrich Schiller's German adaptation of Gozzi, Turandot, Prinzessin von China, from 1802). Suites of incidental music for performances of the play were composed by Carl Maria von Weber and Ferrucio Busoni. Operas on the same story were also composed by Antonio Bazzini in 1867, and by Busoni in 1917
As for the "Chinese" sound of the opera, the closest Puccini got to China was listening to the Chinese musicbox owned by his friend Baron Fassini, who had been to China. Puccini supposedly derived some of the opera's main themes from this musicbox. His reading on Chinese culture and ritual was extensive, including a book by J. A. van Aalst, Chinese Music (Shanghai, 1884).
The opera was left incomplete (ending in the middle of the third act, after the death of Liù) at the composer's death in 1924; finished by Franco Alfano, in consultation with Toscanini.
Turandot will be broadcast live on radio from the Met, on January 29, 2005.
- Materials on Turandot (Met Opera Radio Broadcasts)
- From The Metropolitan Opera Archives: Notes on Turandot (information on the American premiere of the opera, at the Met, on November 16, 1926)
- Giacomo Puccini and Turandot (Pucciniana!)
- Puccini's "Turandot" turns Lebanese palace into Chinese imperial court (Living Portals News, July 5, 2004, about a production of the opera in Lebanon this summer)
- Giacomo Puccini's Turandot in the Forbidden City: An Introduction (production of the opera in Beijing in 1998)
- Enrique Subercaseaux, The Ultimate Turandot (Asia Week, September 25, 1998) (also about the production described above)
- Frank Johnson, Puccini scores—analysis of aria 'Nessun Dorma' (National Review, July 23, 1990)
- Jonathan Christian Petty and Marshall Tuttle, Tonal Psychology in Puccini's Turandot (Center for Korean Studies, Berkeley, and Langston University)
- Eric Teo, Trembling over China: Italian opera Turandot reveals unchanging Western prejudices about a 'paradise lost' (Channel News Asia, November 20, 2003)
- Robert Hilferty, Puccini/Berio: Turandot, Act III (Andante, 2002) (Luciano Berio's completion of Puccini's opera was premiered in 2002 in the Canary Islands, but has not been recorded, as far as I know)
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Alban Berg, Wozzeck, Hildegard Behrens, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Claudio Abbado (recorded live at the Vienna Staatsoper, 1987)
Premiered at the Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin, December 14, 1925, conducted by Erich Kleiber.
Libretto (in German only): by the composer, based on a play by Georg Büchner (1813–1837), Woyzeck (completed in 1837, published in 1879, first performed in 1913 in Munich). The play is derived from real events in Leipzig, in 1821, when Johann Christian Woyzeck, a barber and former soldier, had murdered his mistress, Frau Woost. His lawyer's defense of insanity was rejected by the court, and Woyzeck was hanged publicly in Leipzig's market square in 1824. The case was written up in a medical journal, to which Büchner's father, a doctor, subscribed.
Berg saw the first performance of the play in Vienna in 1914 and immediately began sketching out plans for the opera. World War I delayed his plans. The full score was completed in 1922, the cost of which was underwritten by Alma Mahler, to whom the work was dedicated.
Messiaen remarked that he hesitated to compose an opera, because he thought that nothing was possible after Wozzeck, which was typical of many at the time.
- Mark Morris, Berg's Wozzeck (essays on the works of Alban Berg)
- Maria F. Rich, Alban Berg and the Vienna of His Time (Opera Quarterly 3, no. 3 [Autumn 1985]: 38–67)
- Composer Profile: Alban Berg (BBC Music)
- Alban Berg's Lecture on Wozzeck (1929)
- Willem Pijper, Obituary: Alban Berg 1885–1935 (Musical Times, May 1936, translated by Herbert Antcliffe)
- Information on Alban Berg (Met Opera Radio Broadcast, including information on Lulu)
- Hildegard Behrens as Marie in Wozzeck
- Joseph L. Lockett, "As Good A Murder As You'd Ever Want To See": Human Reduction in Georg Büchner's Woyzeck (December 20, 1989)