NAQT Operas, Musicals, and Composers
NAQT You Gotta Know These Operas, Musicals, and 20th Century Composers.
Terms in this set (33)
The titular character is an Ethiopian princess who is held captive in Egypt. She falls in love with the Egyptian general Radames and convinces him to run away with her; unfortunately, he is caught by the high priest Ramphis and a jealous Egyptian princess Amneris. Radames is buried alive, but finds that she has snuck into the tomb to join him. The opera was commissioned by the khedive of Egypt and intended to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal, but it was finished late and instead premiered at the opening of the Cairo Opera House.
The titular character is a young gypsy who works in a cigarette factory in Seville. She is arrested by the corporal Don José for fighting, but cajoles him into letting her escape. They meet again at an inn where she tempts him into challenging his captain; that treason forces him to join a group of smugglers. In the final act, the ragtag former soldier encounters her at a bullfight where her lover Escamillo is competing (the source of the "Toreador Song") and stabs her. The libretto was based on a novel of Prosper Merimée.
The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart)
The titular character and Susanna are servants of Count Almaviva who plan to marry, but this plan is complicated by the older Marcellina who wants to wed him, the Count who has made unwanted advances to Susanna, and Don Bartolo who has a loan that he has sworn he will repay before he marries. The issues are resolved with a series complicated schemes that involve impersonating other characters including the page Cherubino. The opera is based on a comedy by Pierre de Beaumarchais.
The Barber of Seville (Rossini)
Count Almaviva loves Rosina, the ward of Dr. Bartolo. Figaro (who brags about his wit in Largo al factotum) promises to help him win the girl. He tries the guise of the poor student Lindoro, a drunken soldier, and then a replacement music teacher, all of which are penetrated by Dr. Bartolo. Eventually they succeed by climbing in with a ladder and bribing the notary who was to marry Rosina to Dr. Bartolo himself. This opera is also based on a work of Pierre de Beaumarchais.
William Tell (Rossini)
The titular character is a 14th-century Swiss patriot who wishes to end Austria's domination of his country. In the first act he helps Leuthold, a fugitive, escape the Austrian governor, Gessler. In the third act, Gessler has placed his hat on a poll and ordered the men to bow to it. When he refuses, Gessler takes his son, Jemmy, and forces him to shoot an apple off his son's head. He succeeds, but is arrested anyway. In the fourth act, he escapes from the Austrians and his son sets their house on fire as a signal for the Swiss to rise in revolt. The opera was based on a play by Friedrich von Schiller.
Don Giovanni (Mozart)
The titular character attempts to seduce Donna Anna, but is discovered by her father, the Commendatore, whom he kills in a swordfight. Later in the act, his servant Leporello recounts his master's 2,000-odd conquests in the "Catalogue Aria." Further swordfights and assignations occur prior to the final scene in which a statue of the Commendatore comes to life, knocks on the door to the room in which he is feasting, and then opens a chasm that takes him down to hell.
Salome (Strauss, Wilde)
Jokanaan (a.k.a. John the Baptist) is imprisoned in the dungeons of King Herod. Herod's 15-year-old step-daughter, the titular character, becomes obsessed with the prisoner's religious passion and is incensed when he ignores her advances. Later in the evening Herod orders her to dance for him (the "Dance of the Seven Veils"), but she refuses until he promises her "anything she wants." She asks for the head of Jokanaan and eventually receives it, after which a horrified Herod orders her to be killed; his soldiers crush her with their shields.
Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky)
The opera's prologue shows the chief adviser of Ivan the Terrible, the titular character, being pressured to assume the throne after Ivan's two children die. In the first act the religious novice Grigori decides that he will impersonate that younger son, Dmitri (the (first) "false Dmitri"), whom, it turns out, he had killed. Grigori raises a general revolt and his health falls apart as he is taunted by military defeats and dreams of the murdered tsarevich. The opera ends with him dying in front of the assembled boyars (noblemen).
La Boheme (Puccini)
This opera tells the story of four extremely poor friends who live in the French (i.e., Students') Quarter of Paris: Marcello the artist, Rodolfo the poet, Colline the philosopher, and Schaunard the musician. Rodolfo meets the seamstress Mimi who lives next door when her single candle is blown out and needs to be relit. Marcello is still attached to Musetta, who had left him for the rich man Alcindoro. In the final act, Marcello and Rodolfo have separated from their lovers, but cannot stop thinking about them. Musetta bursts into their garret apartment and tells them that Mimi is dying of consumption (tuberculosis); when they reach her, she is already dead. La Bohème was based on a novel by Henry Murger and, in turn, formed the basis of the hit 1996 musical Rent by Jonathan Larson.
Madame Butterfly (Puccini)
The American naval lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton is stationed in Nagasaki where, with the help of the broker Goro, he weds the young girl Cio-Cio-San with a marriage contract with a cancellation clause. He later returns to America leaving Cio-Cio-San to raise their son "Trouble" (whom she will rename "Joy" upon his return). When Pinkerton and his new American wife Kate do return, Cio-Cio-San gives them her son and stabs herself with her father's dagger. The opera is based on a play by David Belasco.
He studied under Rimsky-Korsakov and completed two grand ballets for Diaghilev, The Firebird and Petrushka. His Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring (1913), however, is what inaugurated music's Modern era. A pagan story featuring polytonal music, The Rite of Spring shocked the audience so much that riots ensued, leading him to pursue rational, "neoclassical" music, such as his Symphony of Psalms. In 1940 he moved to Hollywood, where he composed his one full-length opera, The Rake's Progress, with libretto by W.H. Auden. Late in life, he adopted the serialist, twelve-tone style of Webern, producing the abstract ballet Agon (1957).
This Austrian pioneered dodecaphony, or the twelve-tone system, which treated all parts of the chromatic scale equally. His early influences were Wagner and R. Strauss, as evident in his Transfigured Night (1900) for strings. Yet by 1912, with the "Sprechstimme" (halfway between singing and speaking) piece Pierrot lunaire, he broke from Romanticism and developed expressionist pieces free from key or tone. His students, especially Alban Berg and Anton Webern, further elaborated on his theories. Fleeing Nazi persecution in 1933, he moved from Berlin to Los Angeles, where he completed A Survivor from Warsaw. The first two acts of his unfinished opera, Moses und Aron, are still frequently performed.
Reviver of the opera in the U.K., most notably with Peter Grimes (1945), the story of a fisherman who kills two of his apprentices. He broke through with Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937), a tribute to his composition teacher, and wrote incidental music for works by his friend W.H. Auden. With his companion, the tenor Peter Pears, he founded the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and wrote operas such as Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw, and Death in Venice. His non-operatic works include The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946) and War Requiem (1961), based on the antiwar poems of Wilfred Owen, who was killed during World War I.
At first a modernist, he was the first American student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1920s; there he finished his Organ Symphony and Music for the Theater. By the 1930s, he turned to simple themes, especially the American West: El Salón Mexico was followed by the ballets Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring (1944), the last containing the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts." His Third Symphony contained his Fanfare for the Common Man, while Lincoln Portrait featured spoken portions of the President's writings. He wrote several educational books, beginning with 1939's What to Listen For in Music.
He wrote seven symphonies, of which the First (Classical, 1917) is the most notable. While in Chicago, he premiered the opera The Love for Three Oranges, based on Italian commedia dell'arte. He moved to Paris in 1922, where he composed works for Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, including The Prodigal Son. In 1936 he returned to the USSR, where he completed the popular children's work Peter and the Wolf and the score for the film Alexander Nevsky. When Stalin denounced him as "decadent," the composer was forced to write obsequious tributes to the premier. He survived Stalin, but only by a few hours (both died on March 5).
His work was emblematic of both the Soviet regime and his attempts to survive under its oppression. Shostakovich's operas, such as The Nose (1928) and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, were well received at first--until Stalin severely criticized his work in Pravda in 1936. Fearful for his security, he wrote several conciliatory pieces (Fifth, Seventh/Leningrad, and Twelfth Symphonies) in order to get out of trouble. He made enemies, however, with his Thirteenth Symphony (Babi Yar). Based on the Yevtushenko poem, Babi Yar condemned anti-Semitism in both Nazi Germany and the USSR.
A young girl singing a folk tune to her son in 1904 inspired him to roam the Hungarian countryside with Zoltan Kodály, collecting peasant tunes. This influence permeated his music, including the opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911) and the ballets The Wooden Prince (1916) and The Miraculous Mandarin (1919). A virtuoso pianist and an innovative composer, he refused to teach composition, contributing to financial problems, especially after he fled Nazi-held Hungary for the U.S. in 1940. He wrote many prominent instrumental pieces; best known are six string quartets, the educational piano piece Mikrokosmos, and Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936).
He learned experimentation from his father George, a local Connecticut businessman and bandleader. He studied music at Yale but found insurance sales more lucrative; his firm of Ives and Myrick was the largest in New York during the 1910s. Privately, he composed great modern works, including the Second Piano (Concord) Sonata (with movements named after Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Thoreau); and Three Places in New England (1914). His Third Symphony won Ives a Pulitzer Prize in 1947, while his song "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven" was based on a Vachel Lindsay poem. Poor health ended both his insurance and music careers by 1930.
His Basque mother gave him an affinity for Spanish themes, as evident in Rapsodie espagnole and his most popular piece, Bolero (1928). He produced Pavane for a Dead Princess while a student of Gabriel Fauré, but was frustrated when the French Conservatory overlooked him for the Prix de Rome four times. He completed the ballet Daphnis et Chloe (1912) for Diaghilev, which was followed by Mother Goose and La Valse, and also re-orchestrated Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. His health declined after a 1932 taxi accident; unsuccessful brain surgery ended his life.
Known at first for producing popular songs and musicals with his older brother Ira, he successfully melded jazz and popular music with classical forms, most famously the Rhapsody in Blue (1924), the Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra (1925), and the folk opera Porgy and Bess (1935), based on a story by DuBose Heyward. His first major hit was 1919's "Swanee," sung by Al Jolson, and his 1931 musical Of Thee I Sing was the first to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He died of a brain tumor at age 38.
An American student of Arnold Schoenberg, he took avant-garde to a new level, and may be considered a Dada composer because he believed in aleatory, or "chance" music. His Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951) used twelve radios tuned to different stations; the composition depended on what was on the radio at that time. The following year's 4'33" required a pianist to sit at the piano for that length of time and then close it; audience noise and silence created the "music." He also invented the "prepared piano," where he attached screws, wood, rubber bands, and other items to piano strings in order to create a percussion sound.
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Best known for reviving the Tudor style and folk traditions in English music, as exemplified in his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1909). He completed nine symphonies, the foremost his Second (London) in 1914; other principal symphonies included the First (Sea), Third (Pastoral) and Seventh (sinfonia antarctica). His orchestral work The Lark Ascending was based on a George Meredith poem, while Sir John in Love (1924) was a Shakespearean opera that featured the "Fantasia on Greensleeves." Hugh the Drover and The Pilgrim's Progress are other major operas.
A highly skilled pianist and conductor, he twice turned down conductorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He failed to reap the monetary benefits of his early pieces (notably the C-Sharp Minor Prelude of 1892), because he sold them cheaply to a publisher. Treated by hypnosis in 1901, he began a productive period with his Second Piano Concerto (known affectionately by Julliard students as "Rocky II") and the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead (1909). He moved to the U.S. in 1917, after the Bolshevik Revolution. There his output decreased, though he did complete the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in 1934.
West Side Story (Bernstein, Sondheim)
Riff and Bernardo lead two rival gangs: the blue-collar Jets and the Sharks from Puerto Rico. Tony, a former Jet, falls in love with the Bernardo's sister Maria and vows to stop the fighting, but he kills Bernardo after Bernardo kills Riff in a "rumble." Maria's suitor Chino shoots Tony, and the two gangs come together. Notable songs include "America," "Tonight," "Somewhere," "I Feel Pretty," and "Gee, Officer Krupke." Adapted from Romeo and Juliet, it was made into an Academy Award-winning 1961 film starring Natalie Wood.
The Phantom of the Opera (Webber)
At the Paris Opera in 1881, the mysterious Phantom lures the soprano Christine Daae to his lair ("The Music of the Night"). Christine falls in love with the opera's new patron, Raoul, so the Phantom drops a chandelier and kidnaps Christine. They kiss, but he disappears, leaving behind only his white mask. Adapted from the eponymous 1909 novel by Gaston Leroux, it is the longest-running show in Broadway history.
My Fair Lady (Loewe, Lerner)
As part of a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering, phonetics professor Henry Higgins transforms cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a proper lady. After Eliza falls for Freddy Eynsforth-Hill, Higgins realizes he is in love with Eliza. Eliza returns to Higgins' home in the final scene. It is adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion.
Cats (Webber, T. S. Eliot)
The Jellicle tribe of cats roams the streets of London. They introduce the audience to various members: Rum Tum Tugger, Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, Mr. Mistoffelees, and Old Deuteronomy. Old Deuteronomy must choose a cat to be reborn, and he chooses the lowly Grizabella after she sings "Memory." It is adapted from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot.
Evita (Webber, Rice)
Che Guevara narrates the life story of Eva Peron, a singer and film actress who marries Juan Peron. Juan is elected President of Argentina, and Eva's charity work makes her immensely popular among her people ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina") before her death from cancer. It was made into a 1996 film starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.
The Mikado (Sullivan, Gilbert)
The Emperor of Japan has made flirting a capital crime in Titipu, so the people have appointed an ineffectual executioner named Ko-Ko. Ko-Ko's ward, Yum-Yum, marries the wandering musician Nanki-Poo, and the two lovers fake their execution. The Mikado visits the town and forgives the lovers of their transgression. It includes the song "Three Little Maids From School Are We."
The Sound of Music (Rodgers, Hammerstein)
Maria, a young woman studying to be a nun in Nazi-occupied Austria, becomes governess to the seven children of Captain von Trapp. She teaches the children to sing ("My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi"), and she and the Captain fall in love and get married. After Maria and the von Trapps give a concert for the Nazis ("Edelweiss"), they escape Austria ("Climb Ev'ry Mountain"). It was adapted into an Academy Award-winning 1965 film starring Julie
Fiddler on the Roof (Bock, Harnick, Stein)
Tevye is a lowly Jewish milkman in Tsarist Russia ("If I Were a Rich Man"), and his daughters are anxious to get married ("Matchmaker"). Tzeitel marries the tailor Motel ("Sunrise, Sunset," "The Bottle Dance"), Hodel gets engaged to the radical student Perchik, and Chava falls in love with a Russian named Fyedka. The families leave their village, Anatevka, after a pogrom. It is adapted from Tevye and his Daughters by Sholem Aleichem.
Oklahoma! (Rodgers, Hammerstein)
On the eve of this state's statehood, cowboy Curly McLain and sinister farmhand Judd compete for the love of Aunt Eller's niece, Laurey. Judd falls on his own knife after attacking Curly, and Curly and Laurey get married. A subplot concerns Ado Annie, who chooses cowboy Will Parker over the Persian peddler Ali Hakim. Featuring the song "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" it is often considered the first modern book musical.
Cabaret (Kander, Ebb, Masteroff)
Cabaret is set in the seedy Kit-Kat Club in Weimar Berlin, where the risqué Master of Ceremonies presides over the action ("Wilkommen"). The British lounge singer Sally Bowles falls in love with the American writer Cliff Bradshaw, but the two break up as the Nazis come to power. Adapted into an Academy Award-winning 1972 film starring Liza Minelli and Joel Grey, it is based on Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin.
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