MUSIC OF NOTE ♫

ELIZABETH HANDLEY’S

HISTORY AND APPRECIATION OF MUSIC LECTURES, COURSES AND WORKSHOPS

D. OPERA LECTURES

(1 or 2-hour lectures with musical illustrations; PowerPoint slide presentations may be prepared on request)

                                     La Scala, Milan

  1.  PUCCINI’S La Bohème

 This introductory lecture is designed to thoroughly prepare the audience for performances. We define “opera”, examine the “ingredients” (musical components) thereof, and place Puccini into historical context.

We see where this much-loved favourite is placed in the context of Puccini’s life and work, and examine the background to this glorious masterpiece.

Pointers are given regarding Puccini’s unique musical style and characteristics, including his use of “signature” themes for his characters. The plot is outlined, with key excerpts, and the main characters introduced.

We conclude with a summary of Puccini’s significance, his innovations, and the important influence he exerted on the process of operatic composition.

 

  1. PUCCINI’S Madame Butterfly

           Puccini: “Madama Butterfly” – Arena, Verona

We begin this introductory lecture by defining the term “opera”, and exploring the idea of the synthesis of the arts, which this art form ultimately is. Puccini is placed into historical context, and the concept of verismo (realism), as expounded by his contemporaries in other art forms.

This glorious masterwork is placed into context in Puccini’s life and work, and the background explored, followed by an analysis of Puccini’s musical style and the Japanese influence. We are familiarised with the plot, and the main characters and their musical leitmotifs (“signature tunes”) – what to listen out for during the performance.

We conclude with a word about Puccini’s significance, and the influence he exerted on musical stage craft with his imaginative use of orchestration, and his innovative handling of traditional operatic forms.

 

  1. VERDI’S Aida

This “opera appreciation” lecture begins by placing Verdi into historical context, specifically during the ousting of foreign occupying powers and the unification of Italy, his Italian operatic contemporaries, and the stifling conventions that governed the composition of opera in those days.

We continue by placing Aïda into the context of Verdi’s life and output – his ever-popular “middle period” operas, and examine the background to this perennial masterpiece.

The structure of the opera, the plot, characters and themes are explored, and we conclude with a summation of Verdi’s considerable significance and contribution to this popular stage genre.

 

4.  MOZART’S The Magic Flute

This lecture was prepared at the request of my students in Johannesburg and Cape Town specifically for performances of William Kentridge’s production of Mozart’s well-known stage work. This marvellous South African artist brought a fresh and imaginative approach to this popular singspiel (opera including spoken dialogue), focussing on the Masonic elements of the work. He also introduced the theme of colonialism, relating it to the age-old battle of good/light and evil/darkness.

We begin by placing Mozart and his oeuvre into historical context, and the philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment. The Magic Flute is placed into the context of Mozart’s short life – it was composed in 1791, his last year – and the significant themes in the opera are explored.

Listeners are familiarised with the plot, main characters, and structure of the work, and its reception at the time of the first performances in Vienna.

 

  1. MOZART’S The Marriage of Figaro

We begin this introductory lecture by placing Mozart into historical context: the 18th century Classical Period in music, and the Age of Enlightenment.

This is an “intrigue opera”, abounding in the delicious humour and frivolity of the Rococo. Based on Beaumarchais’s controversial satire, written the year before the outbreak of the French Revolution, it carries a dangerously seditious message: the repression of servants under the feudal and patronage systems, by an elite few, and their mockery of that elite. But Mozart handles Beaumarchais’s seditious work with such grace and charm that he gets away with it, much to the amusement of the audience.

The opera is placed into context in Mozart’s life and work, the form and plot explained, and the characters introduced.

We conclude with the opera’s warm reception in Vienna in 1786, and even greater success in Prague later that year which led to a commission for Don Giovanni.

 

  1. An Evening with GILBERT & SULLIVAN

This light-hearted musical entertainment was prepared at the request of the President of the British and Commonwealth Association in Stockholm.

W.S Gilbert – librettist, and Sir Arthur Sullivan – composer, were brought together by the visionary producer Richard D’Oyly Carte. He built the Savoy Theatre in which to stage their works in Victorian London in 1881. Together, between 1871 and 1896, they created around 14 operettas, of which The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado are the best known.  

These carefree works continue to delight audiences today, with Sullivan’s memorable melodies, conveying both humour and pathos, and Gilbert’s fanciful words, portraying a “topsy-turvy” world.

During this lecture-event presents listeners enjoy music still frequently performed throughout the English-speaking world, especially by school groups and university choral societies.

 

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