Thursday, June 15, 2006


Of the things I have written lately, the most fun were the things about Franco Alfano.

I wandered accidentally into a rare performance of his La Leggenda di Sakùntala in Rome. I compared the opera to parts of Puccini's Turandot, specifically the section before "Nessun dorma." I am still wondering if there is anything to this. Did Alfano write this, too? How influential was his friendship with Puccini toward the end of Puccini's life? How much did he know about Puccini's plans for Turandot? It sounds like a research project.

Then I found that Berio had recomposed the end of Turandot, undoing Alfano's work, and wrote a defense of Alfano.

In that piece I compared Alfano's vocal writing in Sakùntala with Wagner. It turns out that Alfano studied in Germany. In the first decades after the turn of the century the musical world was in a turmoil much like the turmoil that followed the death of Beethoven. What is one to do with the symphony after Beethoven? What is one to do with the opera after Wagner?

Far from being the art work of the future, post-Wagnerian opera did not follow in Wagner's footsteps. No one could do the same thing. Perhaps no one wanted to do what Wagner was doing. Hansel and Gretel is generally agreed to be the closest thing to a Wagnerian opera, and it can hardly be considered Wagnerian, can it? The only thing everyone agreed on was the death of any kind of recitative. And maybe subdivisions into arias. I maintain the opinion that they were generally faking this. Even Wagner knew that what he was writing was an aria even though the music didn't clearly cadence. Perhaps all agreed to eschew cadences except at the act ends.

It is interesting to me that Alfano felt obligated to study composition in Germany. Perhaps this more than any other factor marks the reason for the end of Italian opera. For end it did. Did you know Berio writes operas? No really. Did you? That Italians would feel a need to imitate Germans is disturbing. Alfano returned from Germany with a post-romantic, sentimental marching band sort of technique, the sort of thing that histories of music like to pretend never happened.

Then I reviewed Cyrano de Bergerac at the Royal Opera. Surprisingly, it's in French. It is much more a real opera than Sakùntala but still cannot escape the Humperdinckization of opera.

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