Category Archives: opera quotes

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

don’t quote me . . . the soprano hall of fame

An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.
–Maria Callas

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don’t quote me . . . the soprano hall of fame

“I felt I could do any coloratura soprano role; I always knew what I was capable of doing. In the performing arts you need ego, a certain self-assurance, or else you’d never have the guts to face an audience.”
–Beverly Sills

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don’t quote me . . .

Since I featured the novel Bel Canto yesterday, I thought I’d share a quote from the book:

“Try to concentrate on the music. The music is the truth of opera.”
–Ann Patchett

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retro Met? (don’t quote me)

Plácido Domingo

 

The one thing I hate at the Met is the note in the program that the public is requested not to interrupt the music with applause. That should be destroyed. What we need is to be encouraged to applaud.
–Plácido Domingo 

 
Fast forward to 2011: Rules about applauding at classical music concerts appear to be relaxing. Even in the bastions of classical music like the Metropolitan Opera, you are likely to hear premature clapping.

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Filed under North American Opera, opera quotes