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4 - Words and actions

from Part two - Trends

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2011

Mervyn Cooke
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

Subject-matter in twentieth-century opera has been shaped by influences as divergent as psychoanalysis, the cinema and television, the preference of many composers for chamber opera, the abandonment of verse or rhymed texts as the standard libretto, and an ironic scrutiny of the form of opera itself. ‘Can I find [an ending] that is not trivial?’, the Countess asks at the close of Strauss's last opera, Capriccio (1942). The problem of triviality confronted many composers after Wagner, whose music-dramas appeared as the pinnacle of operatic development. In the new century it was questionable whether opera as a viable art-form had not been consumed alongside Tristan and Isolde in the passion of the ‘Liebestod’, or the Teutonic gods in the fiery collapse of Der Ring des Nibelungen.

One solution was to make triviality itself into an operatic subject, as Křenek so successfully did with his Zeitoper, Jonny spielt auf (1927), which closes with the image of the black jazz violinist Jonny fiddling astride the globe. Another was to absorb Wagner's musical techniques and dramatic ideals into nationally inflected works: Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) owes much to Wagner, but its speech-melody closely resembles the contours of spoken French. A letter Debussy wrote to Ernest Chausson on 2 October 1893 shows how concerned he was to discover a Wagnerian element ‘appearing in the corner of a bar’ (Lesure and Nichols 1987, 54).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2005

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  • Words and actions
  • Edited by Mervyn Cooke, University of Nottingham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera
  • Online publication: 28 September 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521780094.005
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  • Words and actions
  • Edited by Mervyn Cooke, University of Nottingham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera
  • Online publication: 28 September 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521780094.005
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Words and actions
  • Edited by Mervyn Cooke, University of Nottingham
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera
  • Online publication: 28 September 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521780094.005
Available formats
×