Since its most popular period in in 16th century Italy, before spreading throughout Europe, opera continued its dominance in the European music scene through till the 18th century. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is today perhaps the most recognized opera composers, though he is more regarded among the general public for his compositions of instrumental classical music. However, his opera work is still commonly used in films and occasionally on television. Mozart started with the opera seria, though he is most famed for his compositions of Italian comic operas, particularly The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro.But Mozart isn’t the only classical opera composer used in modern times. Classical Opera has perhaps received its most modern recognition through film. Classical Opera is living on, but in a different kind of way than what it is traditionally known. The genre has left the Opera houses in which it once echoed through the halls, and has taken shape in various modern uses that feature saxophones and synthesizers, adding to the emotional impact of these forms of entertainment.
American classical opera composer John Adams conducted “Nixon in China” in September, 2012, in Berlin. This takes classical opera and not only combines it with a modern story – in comparison to what was told when classical opera first took the stage – but it also brings with it modern instruments, such as the saxophone and synthesizer. The opera has recently been shown in London and last year the Metropolitan Opera in New York presented its first showing of the opera, (The Economist par. 1). This example of the use of classical opera is interesting because it takes what are often more basic stories that are traditionally tied into opera and depicts a dramatic political event in an interesting way. And the reviews are very positive: “I know a lot of people – especially people my age – who love John Adams. There’s a generation who are desperate to play it, to listen to it,” said Nic Muhly, who is an American composer in his early 30s, (Economist par. 3). Adams’ work has influences from Schoenberg and Mahler, as well as the romantic aspects of Wagner.
Adams isn`t alone in his contemporary use of classical opera. Steve Reich, who is a minimalist composer that has won a Pulitzer prize for music, conducted and wrote the opera “WTC 9/11” last year, which marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Centre. This provides an even more modern example of how contemporary politics are tied into classical opera. Phillip Glass is another example of contemporary themes playing out underneath a classical opera overture. Glass composed “Einstein on the Beach.” That opera is from 1976 and was performed last year in New York for the first time in 20 years.
Classical opera has also created a presence in film. Adams’ opera has appeared in the soundtrack of “I Am Love,” which is an Italian film from 2009. But it isn’t just Adams that has is work featured in film, and it’s the emotional quality of opera that has made it such a valuable tool in storytelling, not just in the past, but today as well. This emotion can help convey feelings to audience members. While the story might not be understood through the words, the tone that is added to a film though opera instantly reaches the audience and captures the feeling that the director is aiming for. One of the most famous films that features opera is “Wall Street.” The film represents the 1980’s culture of greed and excess. Opera is used in this film to add drama to the scenes at a critically emotional stage. Another well-known film that has used classical opera to convey the story is “The Fifth Element.” In this film, the use of opera is certainly an unusual combination, as this is an action-filled movie that has little emotional quality to it, though there are certain points when emotion is present. The alien character in the film actually sings opera at a time when she wants to be with her lover. However, she has murdered her husband at the time that she is singing this. “Fatal Attraction” is yet another film that features the classical opera. In this film a female stalker “is enthralled with the opera Madama Butterfly and several arias are included in the film,” (Top par. 7). She is listening to the song when she attempts to kill herself. Perhaps the most famous of all the films that uses classical opera is “Apocalypse Now.” This is an extremely emotional film that uses opera when the U.S. troops attack a Vietnamese village for the simple reason that the beach is good for surfing.
Classical opera has carried with it an amazing ability to jar emotion in the audience. This way to produce emotion is one of the oldest ways to augment a story and communicate it fully to the listener. Opera has taken on various forms throughout history, but its use in entertainment will live on forever. The passion that it evokes is unrelenting and too tempting for a director to turn down. Its use has gone from simplistic operatic presentations on stage, to being incorporated into plays and musicals, and then to film. Whether it’s through operas that are performed at festivals, such as Mileva, which was recently performed at the Armel Opera Festival in Hungary (Mileva par. 3), or it use in the aforementioned films and other stage productions, opera is here to stay, and the audience is ready to be captivated by it, again and again.
“When does an opera become canonical?” Contemporary Classical Music. The Economist., 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 17, Oct. 2012.
“The Opera.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2012. Web. 27, Oct. 2012.
Brasch, Nicolas. Classical and Opera. New York: Black Rabbit Books. 2004. Print.
“Mileva.” Opera Journal. 2012. Web. 27, Oct. 2012.
“Top 10 Best Uses of Opera in Movies.” Listverse. Web. 27, Oct. 2012.
Introduction… history of classical opera and how it is used today.
Body par 1… example of how it is used today, Adams.
Body par 2… example of how it is used today, Reich.
Body par 3… examples of movies in which it is used today.
Conclusion… future of classical opera