opera composers and literary counterparts

A few days ago, I sent a question out into the Twittersphere? Who are the literary counterparts to the greatest operatic composers? I got a nice response comparing famous cinematic directors to opera greats but no feedback regarding authors and composers.   

While I understood the comparisons between Puccini and Martin Scorcese and Verdi and James Cameron, I was still searching for a literary framework. Fundamentally, my first language is writing, not music composition. Cinema is a distant fourth or fifth. Finding no definitive work that likened composers to writers, I decided to create my own.   



Puccini and Shakespeare    

Giacomo Puccini’s operas including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Shakespeare wrote heartbreakingly romantic tear-jerkers such as Romeo and Juliet that remain the most performed works in the dramatic repertoire. Puccini’s opera’s like Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted for modern audiences: Rent (Puccini), West Side Story (Shakespeare). According to The New York Times, Shakespeare, like Puccini, was “a notorious artistic poacher, so much so that tales of Shakespeare’s actual poaching of game have attached themselves to his legend.”   



Verdi and Dickens  

 With 28 operas to his credit,Verdi’s operatic output is staggering, , many of which contain arias that have made their ways into popular culture and become mainstays. His mature period produced “Nabucco,” “Ernani,” “Macbeth” (after Shakespeare),” “Luisa Miller,” “Rigoletto,” “Il Trovatore,” “La Traviata,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Don Carlo,” his most famous work: “Aida,” “Otello,” and “Falstaff” (both after Shakespeare).   

Charles Dickens wrote 31 novels comprising the mainstay of most-read works. References from many of Dickens’ works have infiltrated popular culture. Who doesn’t know what a Scrooge is? Who among us doesn’t recognize the Miss Havishams and Oliver Twists illuminated in contemporary literature? Like Verdi, he could do comedy and tragedy with equal aplomb.   



Wagner and Homer   

 Of the top ten longest operas, seven of the epics are by Wagner. Götterdämmerung, the last of the Ring cycle, is 6 hours long. His operas are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The four dramas, which the composer described as a trilogy with a Vorabend (‘preliminary evening’), are often referred to as the Ring Cycle, “Wagner‘s Ring“, or simply The Ring.  Wagner wrote the libretto and music over the course of about twenty-six years, from 1848 to 1874. He was not precocious. He was slow, thoughtful and philosophic; and music did not attract him so much as letters. His  four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen is gargantuan. It has also been said that the art of filmmaking would be set back 500 years, had Wagner not existed.   

 Homer was a legendary ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homeric poems developed gradually over a long period of time. Many other works were credited to Homer in antiquity, including the entire Epic Cycle (comparable to the Ring Cycle?)   

Mozart and Kafka



 Mozart was the most gifted musical genius in history, the most famous genius of any field in history, and is considered to be the perfecter of classical music. He wrote 41 symphonies, 27 piano concerti, a large amount of chamber music, 23 operas, 18 sonatas for piano, 36 for violin, for cello, church sonatas, organ pieces, 18 masses, including one Requiem, four horn concerti, 20 string quartets, serenades, divertimenti, and many others.   

Likeswise, Franz Kafka was a genius among literary geniuses. One Kafka expert claims that The Trial can be read “in any place, in any time, and it becomes about that place and time.” All his novels are classics, even minor ones. Vladimir Nabokov considered Kafka “the greatest German writer of our time.” Similarly, Mozart is considered the gold standard among musical composers. The entire ouevre of classical music is categorized around Mozart.   

So, there you have my framework for comparing opera greats to literary greats. How about it–those of you who are both literati and operaphiles? Do you agree with my comparables?

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