Category Archives: 20th Century Opera

God, I love ‘Tosca’! Reason one: the arias

Even the libretto cover is lovely, no?

Even the libretto cover is lovely, no?

Editor’s note: This post marks the first of a Tosca week celebration on, in homage to the 114th anniversary of the work.

So, Tuesday the 14th of January marks the premiere of Puccini’s Tosca, written that date in 1900.

I want to shout it from the roof of my modest bilevel home that needs new siding: I LOVE TOSCA!

Why? The music, of course. Whenever I am listening to Opera Music Broadcast during the work day (and I almost always am live streaming it) and an aria from Tosca plays, I stop what I am doing, and take it in-completely–into every pour of my body.

Even though Cavaradossi is nearly drowning in his melancholy thinking of Tosca during the transcendently lovely”E lucevan le stelle,” I am transported to another plane of existence while he sings. Completely alive. Taking every note of the song into every pore.

But it’s not just the music. It’s the sentiment behind the music. The man is unequivocal, unapologetic, and consumed by his love for Tosca. That kind of devotion to a woman seems so unfashionable today, in this era of non-commitment. Perhaps that’s why I find his devotion so arresting and transformative.

Heavenly day, who wouldn’t want to be wholly loved like that! by a man like Cavaradossi!

Not convinced? Listen to Alagna singing the act three aria ‘E lucevan le stella.” Oh, and here is a translation of the lyrics:

“E lucevan le stella”

The stars seemed to shimmer
The sweet scents of the garden,
The creaking gate seemed to whisper,
And a footstep skimmed over the sand.
Then she came in, so fragrant,
And fell into my arms!
Oh! sweet kisses, oh, languorous caresses,
While I, trembling, was searching
For her features, concealed by her mantle.
My dream of love faded away, for good!
Everything’s gone now.
I’m dying hopeless, desperate!
And never before have I loved life like this!
And never before have I loved life like this!
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Filed under 20th Century Opera, anniversary, Classic Opera, Italian opera, verismo opera

Marion’s blogs celebrate her devotion to opera greats

Marion Lignana Rosenberg / c. Maeghan Donohue

Editor’s Note: Opera Bloggers’ Month continues with a Q&A with the always gracious and utterly captivating blogger, the intrepid Marion Lignana Rosenberg.

Many cyber-savvy opera lovers identify Marion Lignana Rosenberg  with the striking profile of Maria Callas via her Twitter profile @revisioncallas.

Marion Lignana Rosenberg is the esteemed host of the blog of the same name–“Re-visioning Callas”  which blends history, anecdotes, and insightful commentary–an homage to opera’s greatest diva Maria Callas using a multi-media platform.

However, Marion also authors the blog “Verdi Duecento,” which she created to recognize Giuseppe Verdi in anticipation of the bicentennial of his birth in 2013.

Marion  is an award-winning writer, blogger, and translator. At WHRB in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she produced what likely remains the most comprehensive broadcast ever of Verdi’s music, including many then-unpublished compositions.

Marion has published extensively on opera and the performing arts including  her essay “Re-visioning Callas,” which won a Newswomen’s Club of New York Front Page Award. She also wrote the entry on Maria Callas for Notable American Women: Completing the Twentieth Century (Harvard University Press).

An acclaimed broadcaster and journalist, Marion has contributed features, reviews, and essays about the arts to Newsday, Time Out New York,, Forward, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Magazine, Opera News, and Playbill. Besides her programs for WHRB,  she has offered commentary on WNYC’s “Soundcheck.”

Marion’s writing has appeared in the programs and season books of the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, and other companies in the United States and Europe.

So it is with great pride and distinct pleasure that I welcome Marion to

Re-visioning Callas by Marion Lignana Rosenberg

"Re-visioning Callas" by Marion Lignana Rosenberg

O: When did you start blogging and why?

Marion: I started blogging back in 2002, first as a way to give vent to political rage, and then to get the word out about my freelance articles for Opera News, Time Out New York, and other publications.

O: What is your biggest challenge? Biggest thrill?

Marion: My biggest challenges are my tendencies to monomania and perfectionism. I curate blogs about Callas and Verdi and related Twitter feeds. In the past year, I have translated a non-fiction book (Carlo Rovelli’s The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy) and a 150,000-word novel. I’m completing two book proposals. I’m always working on smaller translation projects (for example, English texts for Gianmaria Testa’s forthcoming CD, Vitamia). And I’m looking for a full-time position! I’m not complaining, but if I had my druthers, I would do one of these activities at a time with obsessive devotion. Instead, I breathe deeply, remind myself that “the best is the enemy of the good,” and carry on!

My biggest thrill is “meeting” so many deeply kind and intelligent people from all over the world. Thanks to my Callas blog alone, I correspond with lovely individuals in Greece, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Iran, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere.

O: What is your favorite post and why?

Marion: From my Callas blog, I like Callas de cire, Callas de son because, well, who knew that the great Serge Gainsbourg had (unwittingly, I’m sure) shed light upon Maria Callas’s existential dilemmas?

From my Verdi blog, I’m proudest of Massimo Mila on Verdi I. While study of Verdi and his music has flourished in the past thirty years, there remains a great deal of enormously important work by Italian scholars and critics that is largely unknown in the English-speaking world.

* * *

You can follow Marion on Twitter @revisioncallas. Please do stop in on her exquisite blogs Re-visioning Callas and Verdi Duecento. You can learn more about Marion here.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, 21st Century Opera, Best of Operatoonity, Classic Opera, Interviews, opera blogs, profiles

the anniversary of an opera that launched legendary tenor’s career

Plácido Domingo as Don Rodrigo in his US premiere at NYC Opera, 1966

Today (July 24) in 1964 marks the premiere of composer Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Don Rodrigo, a three-act opera based on the last Visigothic king of Spain, was Ginastera’s first. It was a 12-tone opera, a method of composing devised by Schoenberg that gives all 12 tones in the chromatic scale (more or less) equal importance thereby avoiding a key.

The NY Times called Don Rodrigo brilliant in the 1964 review of its premiere though it was considered unsuccessful in Argentina, despite being commissioned by Municipality of the City of Buenos Aires.

Less than two years later, on February 22, 1966, Plácido Domingo had his international breakthrough by singing the (difficult) title role of this opera at the US premiere of the work by New York City Opera, which coincidentally marked NYC Opera’s inaugural performance at New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (now the David H. Koch Theater).

Because of this Lincoln Center premiere of Don Rodrigo, a 25-year-old Spanish tenor became a household name.

The YouTube clip below has interviews with Domingo and Julius Rudel, General Director and Principal Conductor at NYC Opera from 1957 to 1979.

The excitement Rudel shares about his company moving to Lincoln Center and the sheer joy that Domingo conveys about premiering at Lincoln Center are palpable.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Modern opera, opera firsts, Premieres, tenors

Stravinsky: birthday boy disliked opera but wrote (one) anyway

Today, June 17, marks the 129th anniversary of the birth of Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky, who is widely regarded in the operasphere for his revolutionary compositions despite harboring a lack of fondness for opera.

At the tender age of 31, Stravinsky said on record,  “I dislike opera.” He went on to explain that music can be “married to gesture or to words” but not both without committing “bigamy.”

The Tavern Scene, Hogarth's Rake's Progress

In spite of his dislike of opera, he wrote several operatic hybrids that fall somewhere between opera and ballet (The Nightengale, Mavra, Oedipus Rex, Renard, Perspephone, The Flood). But he composed only one pure opera in three acts, The Rake’s Progress, inspired by a series of prints by artist William Hogarth. Hogarth’s eight paintings, created in 1735,  show the decline and fall of Tom Rakewell, a spendthrift heir of a rich merchant. Rakewell comes to London and squanders all his money on decadent living including prostitution and gambling, is imprisoned, and ultimately loses his senses and is committed to Bedlam.

The Rake’s Progress that has been labeled a difficult opera because of its complex, multi-tiered score. Its quirky music borrows from classic tonal harmonies of  Mozart and Monteverdi. Of course, it wouldn’t be Stravinsky if it didn’t interject dissonance that catches you by surprise and those trademark off-rhythms.

Glyndebourne's Rake in 2010 / photo by Mike Hoban

A quick search on Bachtrack shows numerous stagings of Stravinksy’s The Nightengale (Le Rossignol)  in the coming months. No major house is currently mounting Rake’s though Glyndebourne Opera Festival did a critically acclaimed version last summer.

The Rake’s Progress, with a libretto by W. H. Auden, premiered in Venice in 1951. It is considered the defining work of Stravinsky’s neo-classic period.  The  Metropolitan Opera first presented it in 1953.  In its first season in 1957, Sante Fe Opera did the work with Stravinsky in attendance, marking the beginning of his long association with the company, including a 1962 Stravinsky Festival the Opera House staged in honor of the composer’s 80th birthday.

Here’s a clip from director Robert Lepage‘s spirited restaging of The Rake’s Progress set in decadent Las Vegas rather than 18th century London:

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, anniversary, Classical Composers, opera history, opera quotes, Premieres

a ‘Butterfly’ wing . . .

Circumstances–namely a full day’s work and a luncheon engagement,  followed by church choir practice–have prevented me from writing a review of the splendid Butterfly I saw at the Kennedy Center yesterday presented by the Washington National Opera (WNO) today. Instead, I’ll offer a piece of information on a tidbit from the opera program that intrigued me mainly because of its incongruity.

According to the program notes in the playbill, Madama Butterfly was not well received when it premiered in Milan, Italy, in February of 1904. Not well received? Really? In fact, it is said to have flopped.

What a surprise to learn this about the premiere of this opera, especially since Butterfly followed two great successes for Puccini in La bohème and Tosca. I consulted several of my favorites sources as to why this would have been so.

No one is quite sure why it was a resounding failure. Paul England suggests the following reasons:

  • the Italians didn’t like Japan as a stage setting–too unfamiliar;
  • the original cast of singers was inadequate;
  • originally the opera was only in two acts;
  • Pinkerton’s role was too thin–eventually Puccini added an aria for him in Act II.

Only a few months later, a revised work, slightly shorter with Act II  now in two parts, was presented in Brescia, and was a resounding success, and would continue to be regarded as such ever after.

According to Opera AmericaMadama Butterfly is the most performed opera in North America today. With performances like the WNO’s yesterday at the Kennedy Center, it’s no wonder.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Premieres