Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
11 chapters | 355 lessons
Emma has taught college Music courses and holds a master's degree in Music History and Literature.
Prior to viewing A Good Day to Die Hard in a movie theater, I asked my husband to fill me in on the Die Hard franchise. He explained that there are basically three ingredients in a Die Hard movie:
1. Bruce Willis
2. Lots of manliness
3. Things blowing up
I was unsure how this could add up to six movies, until I saw the film and realized how well the formula works for Bruce Willis. Sometimes a storyteller tells one kind of story because he can tell it better than anyone else can. Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) also specialized in one kind of story. His signature formula appeared in a collection of operatic hits that stand at the core of modern operatic repertoire. The ingredients in a Puccini opera are as follows:
1. A sympathetic heroine
2. Ill-fated love
3. Psychological pain
It's a simple formula, but Puccini can tell his kind of story with a memorable, moving power all his own, mostly due to his final ingredient: music with soaring melodies, powerful orchestration, and gorgeous singing.
Giacomo Puccini (pronounced 'DJAH-koh-moh poo-CHEE-nee') was born into a family of church musicians in Lucca, Italy, and they expected him to follow the family trade. However, when the teenaged Puccini attended a performance of the opera Aida by iconic Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, his plans changed dramatically, and he decided that opera was his true musical calling.
After studying at the Milan Conservatory, Puccini embarked on a career in composing, focusing almost exclusively on opera. His third opera, Manon Lescaut (1893), brought him international renown for his romantic melodies and his profoundly human portrayal of the opera's heroine. Puccini had found his signature style. Nearly all his mature operas focus on the psychological journey of a heroine, who sacrifices everything for love.
Puccini achieved the height of his success in 1910, when his opera The Girl of the Golden West was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. His last opera, Turandot, was unfinished when he died of throat cancer in 1924. The great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini honored Puccini in 1926 by performing Turandot at the Met, silently laying down his baton after the last note Puccini had written.
Puccini's operas demonstrate a style called verismo, which was popular in Italy during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Derived from the Italian word vero ('true'), verismo aimed for realism in operas: everyday characters, recognizable situations, relatable emotions. While some of Puccini's operas are set in times and places far away from his native Italy, his stories always depict universal human experiences: especially the experience of falling in love.
Puccini is celebrated for his use of melody. He composed soaring, memorable themes, which express his characters' stories. From princesses to peasant girls, all of Puccini's characters feel their experiences deeply, and communicate their inner worlds through melody. Puccini used colorful, nearly continuous orchestral music beneath and between his characters' beautiful vocal lines, to create an engrossing, enveloping atmosphere in his operas.
In many earlier Italian operas, the story tends to start and stop frequently, as singers present each new musical number. In Puccini's, continuous atmospheric orchestral music weaves each act of his operas into a seamless whole. This technique of structuring a large work as one continuous flow of music is called through-composition, and it creates amazing suspense and emotional intensity in Puccini's operas.
Of the ten or so operas the Puccini wrote, his most enduring works tend to develop his signature story: the heroine who sacrifices everything for love.
Manon Lescaut (1893) was Puccini's first big hit. Based on a French novel by Abbé Provost, it explores the destructive decisions of Manon, a woman whose love of a luxurious lifestyle threatens to tempt her away from her true love.
La bohème (1896): Set in the Latin Quarter of Paris in 1830, La Bohème follows the adventures of idealistic artists trying to eke out a living. The story centers around Mimì, a seamstress wracked with tuberculosis. Mimì is torn between love for the poet Rodolfo, and fear that her illness will ruin his life as well as hers.
Tosca (1900) is set in Rome in 1800, a time when Italy was under the control of Napoleonic France. In this violent, passionate melodrama, the singer Floria Tosca fights to save herself and her lover, a freedom fighter named Cavaradossi, from Scarpia, the corrupt chief-of-police.
Madama Butterfly (1904): Set in then-contemporary Japan, Madama Butterfly follows the tragic fate of an innocent geisha girl named Cio-Cio-San, who marries a visiting American naval officer named Lieutenant Pinkerton. The opera explores themes of imperialism as Pinkerton's exploitative treatment of Cio-Cio-San slowly robs her of all she holds dear.
Il Trittico (The Triptych, 1918) is a set of three contrasting one-act operas. Il tabarro (The Cloak), a dark tale of revenge; Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica), the touching story of a sorrowful nun with a dark secret; Gianni Schicchi, a comic tale of a conniving businessman (and one of the few Puccini operas that doesn't fit his usual pattern: there's even a happy ending!)
Turandot (1924): This opera is set in a fairy-tale version of ancient China. It concerns the icy princess Turandot, whose suitors must either correctly answer three riddles, or die a horrible death. The idealistic Prince Calaf risks everything to win Turandot's heart, but many viewers sympathize most with Liù, the gentle slave girl whose unrequited love for Calaf inspires her to give her life to protect him.
Giacomo Puccini was an Italian composer who lived at the turn of the twentieth century and specialized in opera. His works are examples of the operatic style known as verismo. His operas are written as through-composed works with soaring vocal melodies and atmospheric orchestral music. His best-known works include Manon Lescaut, La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Il trittico and Turandot.
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Back To CourseMusic 101: Help and Review
11 chapters | 355 lessons
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