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Is Opera Dead In America?

New York City Opera declared bankruptcy and shut its doors after 70 years in the business. This past summer, the company’s director, George Steel, made an urgent fundraising plea. He claimed the company needed 7 million dollars to continue the rest of its season. Though nearly 2 million was raised to save the company that had made affordable tickets its mission in New York, it wasn’t enough, and City Opera closed last October. The death of City Opera was more than just the unfortunate shuttering of one company—it signaled the serious problems opera faces not just in New York, but across the United States. The Metropolitan Opera, the country’s most prestigious company, has weathered money issues for years. Most notably, the company was saved from ruin by philanthropist Ann Ziff, who donated 30 million dollars in 2010. The problem is the average age of the typical opera-goer in the U.S.  In the U.S., 75% of the audience are 65 or over. And 30% are over 75. Those are people who are so old that they can’t go the Met, to the theatre, any more. It’s his hope that by making opera available in high definition broadcasts in movie theaters around the country, the art form will find a younger audience.

Great women composers from the earliest periods

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) Not only a composer of some 70 works, Hildegard was a writer, mystic and visionary. As a Benedictine Abbess, she founded two monasteries. One of her compositions, the Ordo Virtutum, is the oldest surviving morality play.

Francesca Caccini (1587-1640) Singer, lutenist, poet and teacher, Caccini was the daughter of the great Renaissance composer, Giulio Caccini. She became one of the most influential female European composers but very little of her music survives. Her stage work, , is considered to be the first opera by a woman.

Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) At 16, Leonarda entered a convent where she stayed for the rest of her life. She was one of the most productive woman composers of her time, as well as a teacher for the other nuns. Her ‘Sonate da chiesa’ was historic in that it was an instrumental composition rather than vocal.

Gustav Holst was born on 21st of September

“Music, being identical with heaven, isn’t a thing of momentary thrills, or even hourly ones. It’s a condition of eternity.”

Gustav Holst was one of the great originals of English music, who was born on 21st of September in 1874. He enjoys a reputation that rests almost entirely on one masterpiece: The Planets. Each movement tells the story of each of the planets characters – but he didn’t write a movement for earth! Mars – the bringer of war, Venus – the bringer of peace, Mercury – the winged messenger of the gods, Jupiter – the bringer of jollity, Saturn – the bringer of old age, Uranus – the magician, Neptune – the mystic.

Seven of the most influential pieces of the 20th century

whose sounds ring out clearly in today’s contemporary music, according to Bachtrack.


Igor Stravinsky’ ballet, Le Sacre du printemps, 1913

Alban Berg’ opera, Wozzeck, 1925

Olivier Messiaen, Turangalîla-Symphonie, 1949

Pierre Boulez, Le Marteau sans maître, 1955

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Gesang der Jünglinge, 1956

Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story, 1957

György Ligeti, Atmosphères, 1961

Mozart places to visit in Salzburg: Hagenauer-ház

In 1747, the composer and Salzburg Royal Chamber musician Leopold Mozart moved with his wife Anna Maria into the third floor residence at 9 Getreidegasse. It was here in January 1756 that their son Wolfgang Amadeus was born, the last in line of seven children born to the couple, of whom only one other survived – Mozart’s older sister Maria Anna. Understandably, the house became a pilgrimage site for music fans, and in 1880 the International Mozarteum Foundation established a museum on the premises. Here, you can see relics such as the violin the composer played as a child, and the keyboard he used to write The Magic Flute.

Arvo Pärt “Play your heartbeat.”

Born on 11 September 1935 Arvo Pärt is an Estonian classical composer and one of the most prominent living composers of sacred music, whose shimmeringly beautiful music is a curious and compelling blend of the secular and the sacred. At school he studied piano, percussion and oboe, and at 14 he began composing. Within three years he had written Meloodia, a solo piano piece in the style of Rachmaninov, which was commended in a young artists’ competition. Pärt studied at the Tallinn Conservatory with Heino Eller, then a leading Estonian composer. He was the first Estonian composer to apply the principles of serialism to his work and was criticised at the time for using such a “decadent” Western technique. In 1968 the authorities criticised Pärt’s work Credo, because its religious title seemed to challenge the pillars on which the Soviet Union was built. Pärt’s music relies on his deeply held faith and is infused with the centuries-old traditions of European church music. Pärt was once asked by a musician in rehearsal at what speed he should play a piece of his music. “What speed do you want?” replied the composer. “Play your heartbeat.”

Opera based on the Wall

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was in Montreal earlier this year to reveal his collaboration with the Opera de Montreal on an opera due to be premiered next March based on the rock band’s 1979 release the Wall. Waters acknowledged at the press conference that he hadn’t been overly enthusiastic about the idea initially. “It had been my experience that experiments in collaboration between the worlds of rock and roll and the worlds of symphonic music were generally disastrous” he said. But he was ultimately won over when he heard some of the music prepared by the Opera de Montreal for the performance. The opera was composed by Quebec composer Julien Bilodeau. According to one reporter at the press conference, where a demo of the music was played, it sounded like a “solemn choral oratorio,” and anyone not familiar with Pink Floyd would never have guessed the composition was inspired by a rock song. “Julien has nodded gracefully at the work I did all those years ago,” Waters told the Globe and Mail, “but he has also developed it in a sophisticated way that I wouldn’t attempt.”

Daniel Barenboim sees the piano as a neutral instrument

“My father made me very aware very early on that the piano is a neutral instrument. Any weight you put on the keys produces sound. Try to do to that on the violin or the oboe and you get nothing. Therefore the piano is a very neutral instrument and the piano becomes interesting only when you put colours on it, when you orchestrate on it. The piano is like a white wall, the other instruments all have a colour – red, yellow.”

Pianist brings hope through music in Syrian war-ravaged neighbourhood

As the civil war in Syria rages on, a 27-year-old pianist has begun to draw attention for his determination to bring music to a war-torn refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. Ayham Ahmad began taking an old, battered piano on to the streets of Yarmouk in January 2014. Ahmad intended to bring some hope to this devastated neighbourhood with music. In an interview earlier this year, Ahmad described the response to his piano appearing in the middle of a war zone. “For people to see an actual piano in the street was a phenomenon for them. And to have music spreading in the street in times of war, under siege and in such a place gave an impression that life could still be good,” he said. Unfortunately, getting this message out has become even harder for Ahmad over recent months. A reporter who spoke to him in April revealed that his piano had been destroyed in a recent attack on Yarmouk by Islamic State militants. He has moved his family out of the neighbourhood, but continues to commute daily to teach music lessons at a local school on a keyboard which he has borrowed from a friend.

Are you familiar with the history of Symphonic Poems?

Composers followed Franz Liszt’s lead and resorted to the symphonic poem. A musical realizing of a “literary principle”, it gave more creative freedom to composers, as it focused more on extra-musical perceptions than on the formal rules that were the basis of a symphony. Symphonic poems drew inspiration from countless sources: Greek myths, history, folk tales, pastoral landscapes, patriotism and, in typical late 1800s fashion, orientalism. In 1876, Stéphane Mallarmé wrote the poem Prélude à l’Après Midi d’un Faune, which became a seminal work in symbolist poetry. 17 years later, Debussy set it to music, and the result was a symphonic poem of the same name: the opening flute solo, with a chromatic descent to a tritone below the original pitch and a subsequent ascent, is a very well-known passage in orchestral music, and the woodwinds play the lion’s share in evoking the underlying eroticism of the poem. After all, in Mallarmé’s original, the faun was playing his pipes before being aroused by passing nymphs. When the score was adapted to a ballet, it caused an uproar due to explicit obscenity portrayed onstage.

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