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Article

Ian Mikyska

(b Bratislava, 16 Oct 1981). Slovak composer, saxophonist, and improviser. Studied composition at the University of Performing arts in Bratislava (VŠMU) (with Jevgenij Iršai and Vladimír Godár) and at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (with Michal Rataj), as well as musicology at the Comenius University in Bratislava.

He is unusual in the Czecho-Slovak context for the breadth of his musical and cultural interests – eclecticism and a Schnittkean polystylism are the only unifying elements of his work, perhaps together with relentless demands on the listener’s emotions (in one direction or another). His earlier works betray the influence of Schnittke in their rapid changes and distressed emotiveness interspersed with moments of (ironic?) grandeur, while at other times, his use of explosive improvisation and a range of stylistic contexts brings John Zorn to mind.

He has a close relationship with theatre, both in his operas and video-operas – often made in collaboration with the actor, director, and librettist Marek Kundlák – and in his instrumental music, which doesn’t shy away from theatricality and make-believe. He often treats musics as cultural phenomena, mindful of their history and current position, unafraid to appropriate and explore what he calls the emptied-out or sketched-out worlds that remain in music after the 20th century....

Article

[secondary title]

The tradition of giving dramatic works alternative titles is an old one, belonging initially to spoken theatrical works. Most Shakespeare plays have alternative titles. Normally, the ‘alternative title’ is not a genuine alternative but is intended to be read alongside the principal title and to elucidate it or elaborate upon it. Examples are Campra’s Aréthuse, ou La vengeance de l’Amour (1701); Arne’s Thomas and Sally, or The Sailor’s Return (1760); Mozart’s Il dissoluto punito, ossia Il Don Giovanni (1787) and his Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti (1790); Rossini’s Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (better known as Il barbiere di Siviglia, 1816) and Otello, ossia Il moro di Venezia (1816); Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot, oder Die Novize von Palermo (1836); and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor (1878).

True alternative titles may also be found, particularly in the 18th century, when an opera was revised for a later performance. Cimarosa’s ...

Article

M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet

[ballet en action, ballet pantomime; pantomime ballet] (Fr.)

A stage work in which a dramatic story is conveyed through gesture, dance and instrumental music. It developed in part as a reaction against the divertissement in opera, in which dance is designed to delight the eye and depict a general mood, and the opera-ballet, where vocal music has an important role and plots are loosely constructed. Some consider it as analogous to the ‘reform opera’ of Gluck. Key exponents in France in the second half of the 18th century and the first part of the 19th were the choreographers Jean-Georges Noverre, Gaetano Vestris and the Gardel brothers. Their successors, among them Pierre Aumer and Filippo Taglioni, followed this tradition, and with changes in technique and costuming are credited with the creation of the Romantic ballet....

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Article

John Rosselli

Opera does not readily lend itself to being sung by pre-adolescent children: their voices may sound sweet in church but are rarely strong enough to hold their own in a theatre among those of adults. Child characters are accordingly few and hard to cast: Yniold in Pelléas et Mélisande, whose childishness is insisted upon, usually sounds weak if sung by a treble, and looks buxom if by a woman; worse difficulties arise with the two important child characters in The Turn of the Screw, where Miles must be a treble and Flora a soprano older than the character. The Three Boys of Die Zauberflöte are in practice most often sung by women. Choruses of children are not uncommon: Act 1 of Carmen provides a well-known example.

Up to 1830–40, when orchestral writing in opera grew heavier, light voices could cope with many parts. Average life expectancy was about half that of today and young people started careers earlier. An opera début between 16 and 19 was common for women and, in Italy, for castratos, whose vocal development had not been interrupted by puberty. Some (such as Girolamo Crescentini) began as early as 13 or 14, but these were regarded as young adults. The cult of children in the theatre flowed from the new sense, identified with Rousseau, of childhood as a special and valuable stage. Spectacular 19th-century opera productions often used children as dancers or extras to rouse sentiment or amusement, whether the story called for them or not – a practice kept up by some modern opera houses even though the engagement of child performers is now strictly regulated by law, alternative casts have to be used and, in Britain, a children’s adviser employed. These regulations had to be fought for over many years against the public’s tendency to regard children as ‘cute’ without inquiring into their conditions of work....

Article

John Rosselli

Though the term has at times been used of Travelling troupes , in English it is more often applied to groups of singers who put on opera in a single theatre.

In Italy, where public opera was for many years given only during a season of about two months, a company was as a rule the group of singers contracted for that season only, most of whom moved on after it had ended. At most, the Naples royal theatres (S Carlo and Fondo) between about 1740 and 1860 engaged artists for a year. Opera houses capable of fielding two groups of soloists (the S Carlo and La Scala, Milan, in most years) were said to have a ‘double company’. After the breakdown of the seasonal system in the late 19th century a company was a group assembled, however briefly, to perform an opera or operas ( see Season ).

In Central Europe, where opera was long centred on courts, companies were more nearly permanent. At Eszterháza during Haydn’s tenure the median length of stay of Italian singers was between two and three years, but German singers stayed much longer (as did a very few Italians). Haydn could therefore count on a known array of (by and large mediocre) resources. In Paris, singers engaged by the opera houses under royal or, after the Revolution, government patronage were paid monthly salaries and approximated to the condition of civil servants; some stayed on for many years. Provincial French opera houses from the late 18th century to the early 20th usually engaged a company once a year for a season that might last from four to ten months. Much the same was and to some extent is still true of Central Europe. Since the 1950s, however, singers have been highly mobile; even those formally attached to a company (those of the two London opera houses included) may at times perform elsewhere....

Article

Curtain  

Edward A. Langhans

(Fr. rideau; Ger. Vorhang; It. sipario)

A hanging screen of cloth separating the stage from the auditorium, capable of being removed during the action, or any concealing drapery. The word is used by extension for the end of an act or scene, when the curtain might fall (hence the cue ‘curtain’) and the theatrical effect at the end of an act (hence ‘strong curtain’).

Though the ancient Greeks probably invented the theatrical curtain, its first certain use dates from Roman times, when it was hung before the scaenae frons and dropped as the performance began, revealing the splendour of the façade and whatever scenery was set up. The curtain, having fallen into a trough, could be raised on poles to conceal the stage again. This system was revived in Italian Renaissance theatres with their picture-frame stages, perhaps as early as 1515 (and it was used as a gag in the modern musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum...

Article

Barry Millington

(Ger.: ‘total work of art’)

A term used by Wagner for his notion, formulated in his theoretical essays of 1849–51, of an art form that combined various media within the framework of a drama. Harking back to ancient Greek drama, he suggested that there the basic elements of dance, music and poetry had been ideally combined. Their division into separate genres had diminished their expressive force; only in the total work of art could they regain their original dignity. Similarly, the arts of architecture, sculpture and painting would recover their classical and authentic stature only as constituents of the ‘artwork of the future’.

The architect of the theatre of the future would be guided by the law of beauty and the dictates of intelligibility rather than by the demands of social distinctions. Sets would be executed by landscape painters, and the three sister arts would be reunited in the actor of the future, who would be dancer, musician and poet in one. The new work of art would be brought into being not by a single creative artist but by a fellowship of artists, in response to a communal demand. The artist of the future was thus the ...

Article

Wilfrid Mellers, Walter Wells and Madeleine Ladell

Jazz and opera are generally viewed as separate traditions, too diverse in cultural origin to come together successfully. Yet throughout the 20th century both traditions have borrowed from each other, and have spawned a number of cross-breeds, which often find no home in either camp and end up on Broadway. In most cases musicians have tended to incorporate gestures rather than develop common ground.

Jazz, an amalgamation of tribal African musics with Euro-American styles, emerged at the beginning of the 20th century; created mainly by black musicians, it was essentially an urban American folk art. Aspirations to western art-music respectability came less from mainstream New Orleans jazz or blues musicians than from ragtime composers. This is not surprising, as ragtime itself is a hybrid of African rhythm and European harmony, and its best-known publicist, Scott Joplin, was trained by a German music teacher. Having started as an improvising bordello pianist, Joplin earned modest fame for his rag time compositions which he disseminated as sheet music. Gaining confidence from his success, he soon formed his own opera company, for whom he wrote ...

Article

M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet and Thomas Bauman

Both universalist and emphatically humanist in outlook since its founding in 1540, the Society of Jesus has always functioned as one of the principal educational arms of the Catholic Church and the papacy. This role developed most fully in the colleges and seminaries established by the Jesuits in Catholic lands. Here instruction stressed not only theology and philosophy but also literature. As early as the 16th century, dramatic representations were staged at these institutions, drawing together elements from the humanist theatre, medieval mystery plays and Shrovetide entertainments. The Bible served as the basic source material, but secular and often local subjects were used too, invariably with a strong emphasis on the allegorical and symbolic, and music often had an important role.

Early examples of Jesuit drama with music are recorded from the Low Countries (Josephus by Georg Maropedius, given in 1544 in Antwerp and published in Utrecht, 1552–3), Spain (...