A few days before Christmas Amahl, a disabled boy, is playing in his bedroom with his toys when his mother calls for him to get ready for bed (Amahl! Amahl!). Playfully she teaches him about not telling lies (O Mother You Should Go Outside; Stop Bothering Me!) before she gets him to bed. Amahl drifts off to sleep (From Far Away We Come)…
Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie, Philip Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times.
The operas – “Einstein on the Beach,” “Satyagraha,” “Akhnaten,” and “The Voyage,” among many others – play throughout the world’s leading houses, and rarely to an empty seat. Glass has written music for experimental theater and for Academy Award-winning motion pictures such as “The Hours” and Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun,” while “Koyaanisqatsi,” his initial filmic landscape with Godfrey Reggio and the Philip Glass Ensemble, may be the most radical and influential mating of sound and vision since “Fantasia.” His associations, personal and professional, with leading rock, pop and world music artists date back to the 1960s, including the beginning of his collaborative relationship with artist Robert Wilson. Indeed, Glass is the first composer to win a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film and in popular music -- simultaneously.
b Paris, June 17, 1818; d St. Cloud, October 18, 1893
Charles-François Gounod emerged as one of the leading figures in French music during the latter part of the 19th century. Although the composer never achieved the titanic stature of Wagner or Verdi, his opera Faust once rivaled in popularity some of their most successful works.
The young Gounod showed early artistic talent, but his parents were determined that he study law. His preference for music eventually won, and at the age of 16, the rebellious teen began the official path of a typical 19th-century composer in France.
At the Paris Conservatoire Gounod studied with Halévy, Le Sueur and Reicha. Winning the Prix de Rome in 1839, he embarked upon a two-year study in Italy, during which time the composer first became familiar with the Faust legend.
Returning to France, Gounod quickly obtained a position in a mission church but was fortunate to befriend an influential soprano, Pauline Viardot, who maneuvered a commission for him from the Paris Opéra. Sapho, set to a libretto by Emile Augier, was a succès d’estime — but not a huge box-office draw. It was dropped after six performances.
Faust’s legendary deal with the Devil has intrigued creative minds for centuries, perhaps reaching its zenith in the music, visual arts and literature of the Romantic period. The story reaches back to early 16th-century Germany, an era of religious turmoil and upheaval, when it was commonly believed Satan was just around the corner. The namesake of the drama, Dr. Johann Faust, was educated at the University of Heidelberg and studied divinity at Wittenberg, but was forced to flee under suspicion of dabbling in the black arts. (Faust himself denied nothing, boldly referring to the Devil as his “brother-in-law” and the spirit of Helen of Troy as his mistress). It is said that he met with a violent end, perhaps by a sleight of alchemy gone awry.
Such a colorful figure hardly could have gone unnoticed, and various treatments of the good doctor’s life began to emerge almost immediately after his death. Festival puppet plays communicated the morality tale to the illiterate, and printed chapbooks began to circulate at county fairs for those who could. Johann Spiess’s Historia von Doktor Johann Fausten (1587) emerged as a popular version (sensationally translated into English as The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Dr. John Faustus) and inspired a dramatic interpretation by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Unlike Speiss’s moralizing fable, Marlowe crafted his play with a slightly lighter tone in mind. In this case it is Faust who aggressively pursues a contract with the Devil, and with Mephistopheles as his guide, he makes his way through the courts of Europe, creating tricks and feats of magic for heads of state. Throughout he is tormented by two angels — one good and one bad — and repentance is always a viable option (at least until the very end). Oddly out of character, Faust chooses that particular moment to make a pathetic plea to God for salvation, but it is too late — the Devil takes his soul as per their agreement. A moral message concludes the drama.
Cultural life in Paris during the 19th century evolved significantly amidst a whirlwind of improbable events. Tossed back and forth between democracy and autocracy, and transformed by an unlikely and unloved emperor from a medieval maze to well-ordered metropolis, the city’s turbulent history was reflected in its arts. Theaters were especially vulnerable; plagued with closures, relocations, bankruptcies and deadly fires, each competed aggressively for their piece of an upwardly mobile middle class. Out of the chaos emerged such disparate musical forces as Meyerbeer, Verdi, Wagner, Gounod, Bizet and Offenbach, all vying for the opera dollar.
A little political history might be in order. Following the revolution of 1789, which displaced Louis XVI and the ancien régime, the Jacobin Republic was established by 1791, followed by the Thermidorian Republic in 1794. As war was declared on the new government by Europe’s other powers (especially Austria, whose royal family member, Marie-Antoinette, had been executed by the rebels) France began to push beyond its national boundaries, and the new government found among its generals one of stellar quality. Little did they know young Napoleon Bonaparte would seize enough power to install his own Consulate in 1799 and crown himself emperor in 1804. His glory was short-lived, however, as his expansionist designs turned back at him — by 1814 he was ousted and exiled, and Louis XVI’s brothers, first Louis XVIII then Charles X, were restored to power.
The more I learn about opera, and become immersed in this world, the more I realize opera is everywhere. You may think you don’t know anything about this art form, that you don’t like opera, that it’s stuffy and boring and for gray haired old ladies – but several Hollywood directors would disagree with you. If Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Elvis think opera is cool, I can get on board too.
1. The Habanera from Bizet's Carmen
Carmen is one of the most performed operas in North America and the Habanerahas been performed and recreated in everything from Disney cartoons to Walmart commercials.
The original: Maria Calla sings the Habanera
Movies you’ve heard it in: Trainspotting, Pixar’s UP, Hudsucker Proxy
Le Gateau au Chocolat ‘Eminence Brune
Adapted from Julia Child’s Kitchen, Alfred Knopf, 1975
2 teaspoons instant espresso
1/4 cup boiling water
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup extra fine sugar plus 2 tablespoons
4 ounces soft unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup cornstarch
Chocolate Filling and Glaze
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon instant espresso
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsalted butter.
Yield: 8 servings.
ROBERT ORTH is the best baritone in his price range. A man of average looks and more than adequate vocal skills, he has somehow made the difficult climb from Chicago Opera Theater (his first operatic engagement) to Opera Grand Rapids (his most recent). It has often been said of him, “He has clawed his way to the middle.” A high baritone, he has been referred to as “half man, half tenor.” But it’s Mr. Orth’s abilities as an actor, not as a singer, that have put him in demand to sing Figaro in THE BARBER OF SEVILLE in such cities as Syracuse, Toledo, Corning, and Wilmington. Critics have often commented on his “windmill arms,” his “toothy smile,” and his general tendency to “overact.” Nevertheless, audiences have tolerated him in roles from Morales in CARMEN to Mr. Gobineau in THE MEDIUM. The Metropolitan Opera may not be interested in him. (“We don’t think you’d hear him in our large theater.”) But he is a regular in Indianapolis and Memphis, where the big stars seldom shine. Last year Mr. Orth created the role of Harvey Milk in the opera HARVEY MILK, based on the life of the famous dead homosexual. Though a few critics did not like the opera, most noticed that Mr. Orth tried really hard. A devoted family man, he is away from his wife and children for 7 to 8 months each year. So it’s probably just as well that he has no work for 3 months this summer. But next January he will spend his 50th birthday freezing in Calgary, Alberta, and after that he will make a triumphant return to Grand Rapids, Michigan. His career may be nearly over, but he refuses to give in, a trooper to the end.
In a 1978 Saturday Night Live sketch (episode 74), she was parodied by Dan Aykroyd continuing with a cooking show despite ludicrously profuse bleeding from a cut to his thumb, and eventually expiring while advising “Save the liver”. Child reportedly loved this sketch so much she showed it to friends at parties.
b Lucca , December 22, 1858; d Brussels , November 29, 1924
Puccini was born into a family of court composers and organists in the historic city of Lucca , Italy. With a strong feeling of tradition in the Puccini family, it was expected that Giacomo would assume his deceased father’s position as maestro di cappella when he came of age — by 14 he already was playing organ in a number of the town’s churches. But at age 18 a performance of Verdi’s Aida inspired him to devote his life to opera. In 1880, Puccini began composition studies with Amilcare Ponchielli at the Milan Conservatory of Music. There he was introduced into the professional artists’ circle, to which he would belong for the rest of his life.
He was not a prolific composer. Unlike most of his contemporaries, there were long intervals between his operas, partly because of his fastidiousness in choosing subjects, several of which he took up only to abandon after several months, and partly because of his constant demands for modifications of the texts. Much of his time, too, was spent in hunting in the marshes around his home and in trips abroad to supervise revivals of his works.