Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Prelude to the Third Act

Earlier in the month, we explored Walther’s Prize Song from the end of the third act of Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Here, at the comic love story’s dramatic climax, Walther is declared the winner of the singing contest, a triumph which ensures his marriage to Eva. Harmonically, it is a moment which brings us “home” by reaffirming the preeminence of C major, the long-lost key of the mighty Prelude to Act I. Rewind …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Walther’s Prize Song from the Third Act

Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is a comic love story, set in sixteenth century Nuremberg. The historical Meistersinger (Master Singers) were a guild of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily middle class master craftsmen of various trades. The guild’s Tabulatur, or law-book, established an intricate system of rules which dictated the structure and performance of songs. In the opening scene of Wagner’s opera, Walther, a knight who has just arrived in …

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Wagner’s “Rienzi” Overture: A Glorious Remnant of Youthful Indiscretion

In his later years, Richard Wagner dismissed his five-act opera, Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes, as a “youthful sin.” Completed in 1840 when the composer was 27 years old, Rienzi stands in stark contrast with Wagner’s mature work. It was elaborately conceived as Grand Opera in the tradition of Meyerbeer. Wagner’s megalomaniacal intention was “to outdo all previous examples with sumptuous extravagance.” The premiere in Dresden on October 20, 1842 lasted over six hours with breaks …

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Stravinsky’s “Mavra”: A Neoclassical Comic Opera in One Act

Igor Stravinsky’s one act comic opera, Mavra, is delightfully intimate, colorful, and whimsical. Unfolding in a mere 30 minutes, the opera features two arias, a duet, and a quartet, performed by a cast of four characters. Based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem, The Little House in Kolomna, it has been described as a “satire of petit-bourgeois manners.” The libretto was written by Boris Kochno, a young assistant to the dance impresario, Serge Diaghilev. Set in …

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Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”: Three Powerful Excerpts

Manon Lescaut, Giacomo Puccini’s 1893 opera in four acts, tells a haunting story of ill-fated love. Des Grieux, a student living in poverty, falls in love at first sight with the beautiful Manon, who is being taken by her brother to live in a convent. Des Grieux convinces Manon to run away with him. Yet, soon she becomes restless and torn between a life of passion with Des Grieux and material wealth with Geronte, a …

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Remembering Teresa Berganza

Teresa Berganza, the legendary Spanish mezzo-soprano, passed away in Madrid on May 13. She was 89. Berganza was especially celebrated for roles in the operas of Rossini and Mozart, as well as the title role in Bizet’s Carmen. (The conductor, Herbert von Karajan, declared her to be “the Carmen of the century.”) She joined Plácido Domingo in a highly acclaimed 1977 Edinburgh Festival production of the opera, conducted by Claudio Abbado. Berganza recalled later that “Carmen …

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Rossini’s “La Cenerentola”: Two Enchanting Excerpts from the Final Act

Gioachino Rossini’s touching 1817 comic opera, La Cenerentola, retells the popular Cinderella fairy tale with a few wrinkles: The glass slipper is replaced with a bracelet, the wicked stepmother is, instead, a stepfather named Don Magnifico, the Fairy Godmother is replaced by the philosopher, Alidoro, and there is no magic pumpkin. Questo e un nodo avviluppato One of the opera’s most dramatic moments occurs in the second (and final) act when the Prince (Don …

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