第15章オペラと音楽劇(3/3)「What to Listen for in Music」を読む

Only two or three contemporaries were able to compete with Wagner on his own ground. Verdi was the principal of these. Like Gluck, he wrote a large number of conventional Italian operas, which were wildly acclaimed by the public but found little favor with the nineteenth-century admirers of music drama. But there has been a tendency in recent years on the part of the cognoscenti to reestimate the contribution made by Verdi. Somewhat chastened, not to say bored, by the static and “philosophical” music-drama stage, they are now in a position better to appreciate the virtuoso theatrical gifts of a man like Verdi. His opera were no doubt too traditional, too facile, and at times even too vulgar; but they moved. Verdi was a born man of the theater - the sheer effectiveness of works like Aida, Rigoletto, Traviata assure them a permanent place in the operatic repertoire. 



Verdi himself was somewhat influenced by the example of Wagner in the composition of his last two works, Otello and Falstaff, both written when the composer was past seventy. He put aside the separate operatic aria, used the orchestra in a more sophisticated manner, concentrated more directly on the dramatic implications of the plot. But he did not relinquish his instinctive feeling for the stage. That is why these two works - amazing examples of the powers of an old man - are on the whole better models for the edification of the young opera composer than the more theoretical music drama of Wagner. 



Moussorgsky and Bizet were both able to create operas that are worthy of comparison with the best of Verdi or Wagner. Of the two, the Russian's operas have had the more fruitful progeny. His Boris Godounoff was the first of the nationalist operas, written outside Germany, which showed a way out of the Wagnerian impasses. Boris is operatic in the best sense of the word. Its main protagonist is the chorus rather than the individual; it derives its color from Russian locale; its musical background is freshened by the use of typically Russian folk-song material. The scene of the second tableau, which pictures the court of the Kremlin backed by the Czar's apartments, with the coronation procession crossing the stage, is one of the most spectacular ever conceived in the operatic medium.  



The influence of Boris was only slowly felt, for it was not performed in Western Europe until the present century. But Debussy must have known of its existence during the visits that he made to Russia in early manhood. In any case, the influence of Moussorgsky is patent in Debussy's only opera, Pelleas et Melisande, which is the next great landmark in operatic history. In Pelleas, Debussy returned to the Monteverdian ideal of opera, the words of Maeterlink's poetic drama were given their full rights. The music was intended only to serve as a frame about the words, so as to heighten their poetic meaning. 



In method and feeling, Debussy's opera was the antithesis of Wagnerian music drama. This is immediately seen if we compare the big scene in Tristan with the analogous one in Pelleas. In Wagner's opera, when the lovers declare themselves for the first time, there is a wonderful outpouring of the emotions in music; but when Pelleas and Melisande first declare their love for each other, there is complete silence. Everyone - singers, orchestra, and composer- is overcome with emotion. That scene is typical of the whole opera - it is a triumph of understatement. There are very few forte passages in Pelleas; the entire work is bathed in an atmosphere of mystery and poignancy. Debussy's music added a new dimension to Maeterlinck's little play. It is impossible any longer to imagine the play apart from the music. 



Perhaps it is just because of this complete identity of play and music that Pelleas et Melisande has remained something of a special case. It provided no new program for the production of further operas in the same tradition. (Few other plays are so well designed for musical setting.) Moreover, the appeal of Pelleas was largely confined to those who understand French, since so much of the quality of the work is dependent on an understanding of the words. Because Pelleas had almost no offspring, the leaders of musical opinion lost interest in the operatic form altogether and turned instead to the symphony or the ballet as the principal musical form. 



Reasons have already been given for the revival of interest in opera around 1924. All the operas written since then are in full reaction against Wagnerian ideals. Opera composers of today are agreed on at least one point: They are ready to accept frankly the conventions of the operatic stage. Since there is no possible hope of making opera “real”, they have willingly renounced all attempt at reform. They bravely start from the premise that opera is a nonrealistic form, and, instead of deploring that fact, they are determined to make use of it. They are convinced that opera is, first of all, theater and that, as such, it demands a composer who is capable of writing stage music. 



The most significant modern opera since Pelleas is, in the opinion of most critics, Alban Berg's Wozzeck. He, like Debussy, began with a stage play. Wozzeck was the work of a precious nineteenth-century playwright, George Buchner. He tells the story, in 26 short scenes, of a poor devil of a soldier, at the bottom of the social scale, who through no fault of his own lives in misery and leaves nothing but a trail of misery behind him. This is a realistic theme with social implications; but as Berg treated it, it became realism with a difference. The impression that we get is one of a heightened, what is sometimes called an expressionistic, realism. Everything in the opera is extremely condensed. One swift scene follows another, each relating some essential dramatic moment, and all connected and focused through Berg's intensely expressive music. 



One of the reasons for the slow acceptance in musical circles of this original work is the language of the music itself. Berg, as a devoted pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, made use of the atonal harmonic scheme of his teacher. Wozzeck was the first atonal opera to reach the stage. It is indicative of the dramatic power of the music that despite the fact of its being difficult to perform and almost as difficult to understand, it has made its way in both Europe and America. One other curious feature should be mentioned, which is found in Wozzeck and in the last work that Berg finished before his death, his second opera Lulu. Berg had the somewhat strange notion of introducing strict concert-hall forms, such as the passacaglia or rondo, into the body of his operas. This innovation in operatic form has no more than a technical interest, since the public hears the work with no idea of the presence of these underlying forms, this, according to the composer's own admission, being exactly his intention. Like every other opera, Berg's work holds the stage by virtue of its dramatic power. 



A few modern operas have taken hold of the public imagination because of their treatment of some contemporary subject. The first of these was Krenek's Jonny spielt auf, which enjoyed an enormous vogue for a time. It seemed quite piquant to the provincial public of Germany that the hero of an opera should be a Negro jazz band leader and that the composer should dare to introduce a few jazz tunes into his score. 



Kurt Weill developed that popularizing tendency in a series that made opera history in pre-Hitler Germany. His most characteristic work of that period was the Three Penny Opera, with a telling libretto by Bert Brecht. Weill openly substituted “songs” for arias and a pseudo-jazz band for the usual opera orchestra and wrote a music so ordinary and trite that before long every German newsboy was whistling it. But what gives his work a distinction that Jonny spielt auf did not have was the fact that he wrote music of real character. It is a searing expression in musical terms of the German spirit of the 1920's, the hopelessly disintegrated and degenerated postwar Germany that George Grosz painted with brutal frankness. Do not be fooled by Weill's banality. It is a purposeful and meaningful banality if one can read between the lines, as it were, and sense the deep tragedy hidden in its seemingly carefree quality. 



Opera as a comment on the social scene was once more  

demonstrated by the Italian-American composer Gian-Carlo Menotti in The Consul. How long this tendency will continue is difficult to prophesy. But unless composers are able to universalize their comment and present it in terms of effective stage drama, no good will have come from bringing opera closer to everyday life. 



This discussion of modern opera would be incomplete without some mention of one of the most prolific of contemporary opera composers, the Frenchman Darius Milhaud. Milhaud's most ambitious effort in this field has been his opera Christopher Columbus, a grandiose and spectacular affair which has had several productions abroad but none in this country. Milhaud can be violent and lyrical by turns, and he used both qualities to good effect in The Poor Sailor, Esther of Carpentras, Juarez and Maximilian, and other stage works. A good idea of his dramatic power may be had from listening to an excerpt available on records, from his Les Choephores, called Invocation. Singer and chorus rhythmically declaim to the accompaniment of a whole battery of percussion instruments. The effect is quite overwhelming and points to new, unplumbed possibilities for the opera of the future. 



If any of my readers still doubt the viability of modern opera or, for that matter, theatrical music in general, I ask them to consider this final fact. Three of the works that proved to be milestones in the development of new music were works designed for the stage. Mossorgsky's Boris, Debussy's Pelleas, and Stravinsky 's Rite of Spring have all contributed to the advance of music. It may very well be that the next step forward will be made in the theater rather than the concert hall.  



There still remains the question of opera in America or, to be more exact, American opera. Some of our writers have advanced the theory, with a good deal of reason, that the movies legitimately take the place of opera in the American scene. To them, opera is a typically European manifestation of art, not to be transplanted to American soil. But from the composer's standpoint, the opera is still a fascinating form, no matter how one looks at it. If it is to be transplanted with any chance of real success, two things must happen: Composers must be able to set English to a melodic line that does not falsify the natural rhythm of the language; and opera performances will have to be more numerous than they are at present in our country. As a matter of fact, some of the healthiest of native operatic ventures, such as the Thomson - Stein Four Saints in Three Acts or Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock, found their way on to the stage without benefit of an established opera organization. Perhaps the future of American opera lies outside the opera house. But in any event, I feel sure we have not heard the last of the form, either here or abroad. 




Note: all of these operas are available on videotape and laser disc 


Monteverdi - L'Orfeo 

Nicolaus Harnoncourt (Teldec) 


Mozart - The Marriage of Figaro 

Erich Kleiber (London) 


Mozart - The Magic Flute 

Sir Thomas Beecham, Berlin Ensemble (Angel-EMI) 


Verdi - La Traviata 

Tullio Serafin, with Maria Callas (Angel-EMI) 


Verdi - Otello 

James Levine, with Placido Domingo (RCA) 


Wagner - Die Walkure 

Levine, Metropolitan Opera (Deutsche Grammophon) 


Mussorgsky - Boris Godunov 

Valery Gergiev, Kirov Opera (London) 


DebussyPelleas et Melisande 

Pierre Boulez, Welsh National Opera (Deutsche Grammophon) 


Berg - Wozzeck 

Claudio Abbado, Vienna State Opera (Deutsche Grammophon) 






ニコラウス・アーノンクール指揮 (テルデック) 



エーリッヒ・クライバー指揮 (ロンドン 



サー・トーマス・ビーチャム指揮 ベルリンアンサンブル (エンゼルEMI) 



トゥリオ・セラフィンマリア・カラス (エンゼルEMI) 



ジェームス・レヴァイン指揮 プラシド・ドミンゴ (RCA) 



ジェームス・レヴァイン指揮 メトロポリタン歌劇場 (ドイツ・グラモフォン 



ヴァレリーゲルギエフ指揮 キーロフ劇場(ロンドン) 



ピエール・ブーレーズ指揮 ウェールズナショナルオペラ(ドイツ・グラモフォン 



クラウディオ・アバド指揮 ウイーン国立歌劇場(ドイツ・グラモフォン