Tonight’s meeting (Monday 11 April) is entitled The Vienna State Opera season of 1955-56 to be given by James Murray: an intriguing title if ever there was one. Starts at 7:30 as usual and we look forward to seeing you there.
The Society was able to meet for the first time in many months at our normal venue off St Ann Street in Salisbury. Covid arrangements meant we could not offer refreshments unfortunately. Being back in person was good however.
The topic for the evening was the legend of Orpheus and the birth of opera. We tend now to think of opera in terms of major theatrical productions by Verdi, Wagner or Mozart etc replete with arias, an overture and full orchestra. It did not start out that way.
The presenter, Jeremy Barlow, introduced the evening with a discussion of the legend of Orpheus. This is a Greek myth and there are several versions but essentially, his wife, Euridice, is bitten by a snake and descends to Hades. Orpheus descends into Hades in an effort to see her again. Orpheus had been given a Lyre by Apollo and taught him to play which he did so well that few could resist his playing, even animals. Jeremy showed a number of artist’s representation of the myth and how the things like the instrument Orpheus played changed as those like the lyre went out of use.
Opera started he explained with things called intermedio which were short intervals between straight plays. These were put on during special court events in Italy such as feasts and weddings. After around 1600, operas as we now know them really began.
Monteverdi was not the first but is remembered because his music is still performed today. Various extracts from these earlier operas were played. Many composers through history have based their work on this legend.
A most interesting evening and the use of the monitor meant it was a new departure for the Society. Jeremy was able to mix legend with history and weave in musical examples to show the early development of the genre. We will almost certainly be using these methods in future and during lockdown, we were able to use YouTube to great effect.
The next meeting, on 27 September, will be ‘committee member’s choices’. We hope to see some returning members then. The full programme can be read here.
Members might be amused by this YouTube video. There are others in the same style but this is very good!
The last meeting of the Society took place on Monday 20 April. It focused on the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. He was the son of a baker in Lavorno and studied at the Milan Academy. He lived from 1863 to 1945 and in the 1930s and during World War II worked reluctantly, and with difficulty, under Mussolini’s fascist regime. He wrote 15 operas and one operetta.
In England we tend to remember him only for his one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana, the piece that made him famous overnight and gave him financial security for the rest of his life. At its first performance it received no less than 60 curtain calls. In his native Italy and elsewhere in Europe his works are better remembered and the presenter Ron Seaman played us some examples. He was seen as the heir to Verdi but as time went on, it was Puccini who wore that mantle. Among the pieces played were Mein ester Walzer, my first waltz; the Apotheosis of the Stork; and the ballet music for Fiori del Brabante. We also heard extracts from Cavalleria including the final scene; Intermezzo and the Easter Hymn. We also heard extracts from his last opera Nerone.
He is a composer who made it big early in his life and yet did not quite follow it up as he matured. Listening to the range of his work it was perhaps surprising that he never composed film scores as some of his compositions, which had strong melodic lines, could have been adapted.
It was interesting to hear some works not often performed to gain a wider perspective of this composer.