Monday, February 23, 2009

Just When You Thought You Had Opera Figured Out...

If you are new to the world of opera, then this post will educate you on a little known fact that even some life-long opera aficionados do not even know and that I only came by quite recently; if, however, you have been an admirer of the art form for some time, you may be surprised to learn that some of the things you thought that you knew are subject to change depending upon what people are really conversing. If you belong to this elite latter group, or even if you belong to the former one and you have shown diligence in applying yourself to learning everything about opera that you can, you were probably just getting the hang of knowing precisely what someone means when they give you an Italian word such as appoggiatura, legato, vibrato, or crescendo, and you have probably been confident in your knowledge of what someone is saying when they refer to a 'florid vocal passage,' an 'extended line,' or an 'interpretation,' which is something everyone is supposed to understand, critique, and automatically dislike when a performer is not around, and I would wager you have even began to apply this knowledge of opera to what you see and hear, so you naturally know most of the composers for the major works of the repertoire, right? For instance, if I were to inquire of you who the composer of Manon Lescaut was, you would automatically be able to give me the right answer, but if that right answer is going to be Puccini, you could be sadly mistaken.

I recently learned that there was another version of Manon Lescaut, and it was composed by one Daniel Auber. It turns out that this version, which is even more remote from the novel by Abbe Prevost than Puccini's version, is written for a coloratura soprano, and it has many high F's. Here we find something interesting; why do works such as this, which are replete with vocal fireworks according to Wikipedia and to my limited hearing of the work, go out of fashion? There are other more frequent examples of this sort of thing especially among the Baroque composers, but I wonder exactly how many operas have the same title and are by different composers? Does anyone have any to mention?

Thank you all for reading, and thank you, Kim, for following my blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it! I look forward to reading your posts enthusiastically.



Kim said...

When I took Massenet's Manon out of the library last week, I didn't know that it was based on the same story as Puccini's Manon Lescaut. I just never put two and two together! It's funny to hear that yet another composer set the same story!

In all honesty, I was bored by M's Manon. I love Massenet, but this one was so boring. I was never thrilled by Puccini's either. The story seems like it should be interesting; I guess it's just that the characters bore me. A lot. Whatever. To everyone his own.

chelsea said...

Right off the bat I can think of Otello - Verdi and Rossini. Then there's Armida by Gluck, Lully, and Rossini and also given a different name but same story line is Handel's Alcina. Several composers set a score to the story of Faust. Those are some off the top of my head. I'm sure there's others.

I prefer Massenet's Manon to Puccini's, but I love Act IV of Manon Lescaut.

Rae-Mae said...

I think they "go out of fashion" simply because 1) no one wants to sing it or put it into production and 2) no one CAN sing it.

With the other Manon, you mentioned that there were many high F's in it. Sure, you could think of many high sopranos who could be great at it, but either no one will cast them in the part, or they have some sort of reason for not doing it (Think of "Norma" with Renee).

Either way, it seems operas and opera singers go in and out of "fashion" like most things, however much, much slower, and very rarely.