La forza del destino

    By Giuseppe Verdi

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    Verdi’s War and Peace, writes Peter Conrad of this epic opera composed in 1862. It encompasses the extremes of a religious and secular existence – the worlds of the lovers pursued by an uncompromising fate and of the people in the scenes at the inn and on the battlefield. Despite its beautiful score…

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    Die Zauberflöte/Magic Flute

    By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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    With his last opera Mozart created a piece of theatre which defies categorization. In theory it is a Singspiel, a mixture of songs and dialogue, in which the spectacular effects and comedy fit naturally: they appeal today as much as they did when it first opened in popular Viennese theatre two hundr…

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    Tannhäuser

    By Richard Wagner

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    What can explain Wagner’s obsession with Tannhäuser, which he first conceived in 1845 and still considered unfinished at his death in 1883? Describing of the struggle of a man torn between erotic love and spiritual fulfilment, the opera contains the kernels of all his later works: man’s need for lov…

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    Don Carlos

    By Giuseppe Verdi

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    It used to be thought that Verdi miscalculated with this attempt at a “grand opera” in the French style. This guide demonstrates that Don Carlos was – and remains – an extraordinary achievement in melding two opposing visions of opera: the spectacular public aspect of the French tradition with the d…

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    Lohengrin

    By Richard Wagner

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    The legend of the Swan Knight who rescues a princess from the forces of pagan evil is one Christian Europe’s foundation myths. Lohengrin transformed Wagner into an international figure almost overnight, and it remained his most popular work throughout the nineteenth century. Thomas Grey proposes tha…

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    The Operas of Michael Tippett

    By Michael Tippett

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    Although it is impossible to trace any one particular theme running through the operas of Michael Tippett, the libretti of his four operas are fascinating to compare. The dense allusions of The Midsummer Marriage (1955), here annotated, gave way to the classical formality of King Priam (1962); the p…

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    Falstaff

    By Giuseppe Verdi

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    ‘A lyric comedy unlike any other,’ wrote Verdi about his last opera. That the last work of a composer who was almost notorious for his preference for tragic and gloomy subjects should be a brilliant human comedy was and remains one of the wonders of music. Michael Rose considers its status in Italia…

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    Macbeth

    By Giuseppe Verdi

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    Verdi came to Shakespeare through Italian translation and had never seen Macbeth on stage when he wrote his first version of the opera in 1847. Giorgio Melchiori draws a parallel between the conditions in which the playwright and the composer were working and compares their achievements. The superna…

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    The Operas of Monteverdi

    By Claudio Monteverdi

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    Monteverdi’s 1607 version of the legend of Orpheus is arguably the first masterpiece of opera. Composed for the court of Mantua, where Monteverdi was employed, it is very different from his two other surviving operas, which he wrote more than thirty years later to entertain Venetian audiences in the…

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    Madama Butterfly/Madame Butterfly

    By Giacomo Puccini

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    Madama Butterfly is one of the most popular operas of all time, despite its disastrous premiere, after which it was immediately withdrawn and revised. This guide explores how and why the libretto was softened to suit the tastes of European opera-goers, and the different variants are set out, side by…

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    The Stage Works of Béla Bartók

    By Bela Bartok

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    A product of Hungary’s political ferment at the start of the twentieth century, Béla Bartók’s works combine determination to participate in Western art movements was coupled with an enthusiasm for the folk traditions of a disappearing world. In this introduction to Bartók’s stage works, Julian Grant…

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    Götterdämmerung/Twilight of the Gods

    By Richard Wagner

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    Richard Wagner’s fifteen-hour operatic cycle The Ring of the Nibelung ends with this great music drama. Michael Tanner’s essay tackles the scale and meaning not just of this work but of Wagner’s whole undertaking, showing that Götterdämmerung is – for all its length – his fastest-moving drama. Compo…

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