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A Night at the Opera
Why oranges? Find out in question 9.

A Night at the Opera

Since long before the days of film, opera has been both a vivid and sophisticated means of humans telling one another stylised and dramatic stories complete with words, acting, scenery and ~ of course ~ music to illustrate and illuminate the mood as no other human creation, or performance discipline, quite can. How well steeped are you in this remarkable creative world, its highlights and traditions?

1.
Which of these world-famous opera houses is the oddest one out?
La Scala, Milan
Sydney Opera House
Festspielhaus, Bayreuth
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
The Sydney Opera House is the most recent and architecturally distinctive; it is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. You might alternatively have argued for Bayreuth as being specifically constructed around, by and for the work of one particular composer rather than the operatic tradition in general
2.
Which are the correct statistics for Wagner's Ring cycle?
It contains three operas with a total running time of approximately 12 hours
... four operas over about 15 hours in total
... five operas totalling about 18 hours
... six operas totalling about 20 hours
Wagnerites will already be well aware of this, and others of you can pursue your own researches!
3.
Which term among these is the odd one out?
Aria
Recitative
Libretto
Chorus
The libretto (or, colloquially, 'lib.') is the 'little book' containing the words of the opera, and possibly occasionally stage directions, as for an un-sung 'straight play'; this is as opposed to the Full Score containing all the instrumental and vocal music, or at least the Vocal Score with the singers' parts plus a piano 'reduction' for rehearsal purposes. All the other terms are generic for sections of the music, depending on who is singing them or how: an aria is a solo song; recitative is where the character will sing ~ rather than merely speaking ~ relatively functional dialogue in between the arias, but not with a 'big tune'; a chorus is sung by several people onstage, usually in harmony with one another, by way of a 'crowd'
4.
The operatic tradition had already begun where, and by when?
By 1600, in Italy (so it was already happening concurrently with our Shakespeare's plays, for instance)
By 1700, in Germany
By 1789, in France (with plentiful reports of aristocrats attending it prior to the Revolution)
By 1820, in Central Europe, in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars
Jacopo Peri's first work Dafne was staged in 1598, and the tradition then spread. Italy is regarded as the cradle of the genre, possibly because its warm climes (and hence, light clothing) and clear-vowelled musical language encourage a theatrical level of gesticulation. Think of the 'typical stage Italian' (no offence!) and the genesis of it becomes entirely plausible!
5.
Another 'odd one out' selection ... odder than some, we might fairly say!
Farinelli
Pavarotti
Senesino
Moreschi
Pavarotti was renowned for his stout body and heroic tenor voice; the other three were classic castrati, i.e. each had undergone a surgical operation to prevent their pre-adolescent voices 'breaking'. This was relatively accepted practice prior to 1870 when Italy, a newly constituted and respectable republic, outlawed the practice; before then, parts were written and performed in which the hero role was sung by a (more or less) physically male individual with what we would now rightly regard as a strangely shrill vocal range, however beautifully their music performance was styled. There was a very slight overlap between the twilight years of the remaining castrati and the advent of the earliest recording technology; curious readers (in whatever sense of that phrase) are directed to a 110-year-old recording of Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) singing the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria in the treble stave in his mid-forties ~ Alessandro Moreschi (the recording may itself have been CEDARised ~ Computer Enhanced Digital Audio Restoration ~ but there can be little doubting the genuine acoustic basis of what one is hearing)
6.
The first 150-odd years of opera were dominated, largely, by increasing Baroque sophistication in their music and staging (within what was then technically possible) and it is now around 250 years since a drive began to make the inherently complex medium stylistically leaner, more elegant without a lot of padding and swagger. The opera Orfeo ed Euridice (with its famous ballet usually known as The Dance of the Blessed Spirits) was the work of which composer?
Christoph Willibald von Gluck
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Franz Josef Haydn
Jean-Baptiste Lully
... And the lead (male) role would, of course, have been sung by a castrato after the fashion of the time. How or why someone not fully a man could plausibly follow his lady love into the nether or after world, audiences were presumably not then expected to doubt. There is nonetheless much beautiful music which can still be attractively brought to life by lighter-voiced modern sopranos with skills and taste in early music, such as Emma Kirkby
7.
Who was the French composer that updated the Orpheus legend in 1858 (the same year as Moreschi was born), but in a far more buffoon-and-burlesque manner, including the famous 'Infernal Galop' known to most people as the Can-Can?
Leo Delibes
Camille Saint-Saens
Jacques Offenbach
Jules Massenet
This was most definitely Offenbach (born in Germany, the son of a synagogue cantor, but he settled in Paris and both caught and enhanced the mood of the times); though Saint-Saens borrowed the uproarious 'can-can' tune and slowed it right down to represent far more ponderous creatures in his Carnival of the Animals
8.
Another 'odd-one-out' ... or in this case, 'odd more-or-less-than-one' out, since three of these composers only completed one opera each. Who finished MORE or FEWER than one?
Beethoven
Debussy
Brahms
Gershwin
Brahms never ventured into opera, though he wrote the Deutsches Requiem for choral and solo voices and orchestra, which are clearly operatically-comparable forces. Beethoven wrote Fidelio, Debussy Pelleas et Melisande and Gershwin, Porgy and Bess. In that latter idiom you may also be surprised that Scott Joplin also wrote a 'ragtime opera' Treemonisha, which sadly failed and is believed lost
9.
The Love of/for Three Oranges is also known in French and Italian, but its music is by a 20th-century Russian composer: who?
Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Rachmaninov
Dmitri Shostakovich
Aram Khachaturian
The March from this work is well-known as an instrumental excerpt in its own right (possibly not quite so much so as the same composer's March for the Montagues and Capulets in his version of Romeo and Juliet, since iconically adopted as the sig.tune for a particularly bullish British reality-television series The Apprentice!)
10.
Which of these is the correct trio for the Three Tenors?
Domingo, Chaliapin, Pavarotti
Carreras, Pavarotti, Domingo
Pavarotti, Carreras, Caruso
Pavarotti, Domingo, Gigli
Who could forget them?

 

Author:  Ian Miles

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