By Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola Marymount University
Mozart commenced Idomeneo on January 27, 1780, his twenty-fourth birthday. After many modifications of Veresco's wretched libretto, it was produced sometime in February, 1781, the date of the first performance being unknown. A mixture of the Italian and French type opera seria, it is the French influence which accounts for the great choruses, the instrumental marches and interludes, and the nobly accompanied recitatives, closely modeled on the Alceste of Gluck.
ldomeneo, King of Crete, returning from Troy, lands with his Cretan soldiers who give praise to Neptune in the chorus Neptuno s'onori. They believe that they have been saved through the god's beneficence, when in truth ldomeneo had saved himself from the engulfing storm by a vow to sacrifice to the gods the first person he sees, unexpectedly his son ldamantes. To extricate himself from his obligation he determines to send ldmantes away from the island. Electra is to accompany him. As the people sing Placido e il mar (The sea is calm) Electra emerges with an aria expressing her joy at this good fortune. ldomeneo then reveals his promise and his people express their horror and dismay in the great and powerfully scored chorus O voto tremendo (O terrible vow).
In the final chorus of the opera, the people celebrate the accession as king of ldamantes, saved from the wrath of the gods through the abdication of ldomeneo.
Beethoven encountered numerous problems in working out the dramatic exigencies of Fidelio, for although he was a great dramatic musician, he was not endowed with the musical dramatist's instincts for the stage. Fidelio received its initial performance on November 20, 1805 in the Theater-an-der-Wien.
Leonore learns that the villanous Castellan Pizzaro intends to murder her husband, Florestan, who is in prison. Hoping to see her husband, she persuades Rocco, the chief jailer, to permit his prisoners to leave their cells briefly. Beethoven poignantly depicts the hesitant groping prisoners as they emerge from cruel confinement into overwhelming daylight. They voice their joy, O welche Lust even if but for this brief moment of freedom.
Howard Hanson was one of several American composers commissioned to compose works for the Metropolitan opera in the early 1930's by the then General Manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza. Two other composers who benefitted from this man's encouragement were Deems Taylor, with Peter lbbetsen and The King's Henchmen, and Louis Gruenberg with The Emperor Jones.
Hanson's contribution was Merry Mount, loosely based on Hawthorne's short story "The Maypole of Merry Mount," with some rather elaborate expansion of the plot. The opera deals generally with the confrontation between the Puritans and the Roundheads in colonial New England, and specifically with the character Wrestling Bradford and his inner struggles with the Devil. He succumbs to passion, and at the close of the opera he carries his loved one, Lady Marigold, into the burning fortress to their deaths.
The chorus in Merry Mount figures importantly in the drama, much as it does in Boris Godunov, and the composer acknowledged his debt to Mussorgsky. Hanson's musical powers came to the fore in his choral writing, nowhere so evident as in Merry Mount.
After his triumph with Cavalleria Rusticana, Mascagni never in any of his subsequent operas matched this masterpiece. He lamented once "I was crowned before I became King."
Composed in 1898, the tragic opera Iris is set in Japan. It deals with a story completely Japanese in character and content. The opera was first produced in the year of its composition in the Teatro Costanzi, Rome. As the opera commences, the Sun at dawn proclaims Inno del Sole, “I am I, I am life."
Carmen saw its premier at the Opera Comique, Paris, March 3, 1875. From Prosper Merimee's story Carmen, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy fashioned the libretto Bizet scored so skillfully and dramatically.
In the square of Seville, about noon just as the guard has been changed and Don Jose has entered the scene, a group of workmen announce the noon break of the girls in the cigarette factory with the chorus La cloche a sonne. Carmen, flirting with Don Jose sings the mocking Habeñera echoed and commented on by the gathered crowd.
In Act III a wild mountain setting depicts gathered smugglers together with a sextet of principals including Carmen and Don Jose. They sing Ecoute, ecoute, compagnon about the vigilence and caution their occupation imposes on them. Fate separates Carmen and Don Jose who do not meet again until, at the opera's denouement, Escamilla enters the bullring at Seville to the clamorous welcome of the populous in Les voici.
Samuel Barber composed Anthony and Cleopatra to a libretto Franco Zeffirelli derived from the Shakespeare play. Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to open the new house at Lincoln Center on September 16, 1966, this opera's musical values, including its use of large choruses, appear to have been quite overwhelmed by the cumbersome and excessively opulent production . The chorus sung this evening is the final one of Barber's revised score.
Peter Grimes established Benjamin Britten's reputation as a front rank contemporary composer. Montagu Slater elaborated the libretto from George Crabbe's poem The Borough. Aldeburgh, the site of so much of Britten's activities, actually was his model for the opera's fishing village setting. Commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Peter Grimes premiered at the Sadler Wells Theater, London, June 7, 1945.
In Act I, as the storm-sodden fishermen enter a pub, their raucous conduct leads to a spontaneous round of Old Joe Has Gone Fishing.
The final scene finds the misfit Peter Grimes pursued continually by ill fate and the hostility of the town's inhabitants. He is at last driven to commit suicide by putting out to sea and scuttling his boat. The villagers believe he is but another victim of the sea, as they calmly prepare to begin a new day.
Verdi composed La Forza Del Destino to a libretto of Francesco Piave after a play Don Alvaro by the Duke of Rivas, Angel de Saavedra, with an added scene from Schiller's Wallensteins Lager. This version, first performed in the Bolshoi Theater, St. Petersburg, November10, 1862, underwent revision because of additions by the librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni. It was then premiered at La Scala, Milan, February 27, 1869.
After Leonora has been cursed by her wounded dying father, and later flees unrecognized from her vengeful brother Don Carlo, who has sworn to kill her and her lover Don Alvaro, she, disguised as a man, encounters the Abbot of a mountain monastery, who offers her sanctuary. She and the monks pray to the Virgin Mary La Vergine degli angeli. Later, clothed in a monk's habit, Leonora leaves to seek solitude in a mountain cave. The Abbot and monks in the chorus Il santo nome di Dio then intone their blessing on her as they threaten anyone molesting her with heavenly wrath.
Wagner's glorification of the German nation's inventive musical genius in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg appeared first on the stage of the National Theater of Munich, June 28, 1868.
After all the twisting humorous maneuverings throughout the drama designed to determine who among the contestant Meistersingers would ultimately triumph with his Prize Song and win Eva's hand, the great day of the contest arrives. The Nurnbergers begin to assemble around the podium on the banks of the Pegnitz. The scene presents the festive procession of all the represented apprentices and guildsmen beginning with the chorus Sankt Krispin, Sankt Krispin /abet ihn! Hans Sachs receives the acclaim of the people in the chorus Wach ' auf, es nahet gen den Tag. Then later, after Walther's triumph, the music drama concludes with the male chorus initiating the final paean of praise for the German Meistersinger and his sacred art, in Ehrt eure deutschen Meister.