11 January – 15 March 2018

In this course we will examine the impact that Verdi and Wagner had on the opera world and the composers who attempted to emulate or follow them and lay the foundations for modern opera. We will start by looking at Verdi and Wagner’s work, examining some of the operas in detail and we will follow the continued rise in popularity of Wagner’s Ring Cycle after the composer’s death. Wagner was followed by his own son, Siegfried Wagner, who composed 18 operas most of which are unperformed today, and by Engelbert Humperdinck whose opera Hansel and Gretel remains a popular cornerstone of the repertoire. But the most successful post-Wagner composer in Germany was Richard Strauss who created a remarkable body of work moving away from Wagner. In Italy, the search for a successor to Verdi took in the Verismo operas of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, as well as composers such as Cilea, and Giordano some of whose works still keep a toehold in the repertoire. But it was Puccini who forged his own path, writing some of the most popular operas today. There is one composer who is essential to this narrative, Debussy, and we will look at how Debussy developed his own ‘third way’.

Each lecture will concentrate on just one or two composers, and we will spend half the lecture listening to and discussing the music from one or two key operas.

In order to lay the ground work for our lectures, there will be two introductory sessions where we will talk in greater detail about how operas are put together, and about the various voices that sing them.