Opera composers we just don't like, okay?
We spotted this article in the New York Times by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim and Zachary Woolfe, about why they just can’t find love in their hearts for the music of Anton Bruckner. “I’ve always found it hard to make any genuine emotional connection to Bruckner’s music,” says da Fonseca-Wollheim; Woolfe craves more humanity in Brucnker’s syphonies, claiming, “you’re either in the middle of hellishly pummeling ‘Lord of the Rings’-style battles or you’re at the transcendent Pearly Gates.”
We caught ourselves nodding along to this article, and we’ve decided to come clean about a few operatic composers that we just find a bit…meh.
And readers, if you’ve got a way to change our minds (or if you just think we’re being grouchy), let us know!
He may have been an opera rockstar of of the nineteenth century, but if you ask us, Meyerbeer’s operas haven’t aged well. It’s that whole “grand opera” thing, that seems to have been more about the spectacle than the piece itself; Meyerbeer’s coloratura doesn’t have the personality of Rossini’s, and he didn’t seem to know when there was just too much music. Maybe we’d like his operas better if we could watch them in private boxes with food and booze service, like his patrons probably did.
Christoph Willibald Gluck’s operas have had a resurgence of popularity over the last few years, particularly his Iphigénie en Tauride and Alceste. Everything about Gluck’s operas seem to be in the cracks of style - not quite Baroque, not quite Classical, with a weird stylistic no-man’s-land that can feel as though it plods along. There are some stunning musical moments in his scores, when they don’t sound like they’re in a dull limbo between Handel and Mozart.
Maybe it’s unfair to accuse a pioneer of made-for-TV opera of being super-duper cheesy. But among English-language opera in the 20th century, Gian Carlo Menotti seems to be the poor man’s Britten/Adams/Barber (#zing, right?). Some responsibility for Menotti’s persistence on audition packages and student opera productions must be taken by the folks over at G. Schirmer, Inc.; if “Monica’s Waltz” weren’t in that damned soprano aria anthology, we wouldn’t have to hear about Toby and his “most beautiful voice in the world”.
It’s ugly, okay? Honestly, there seems to be something aggressively un-beautiful about Paul Hindemith’s music. Sometimes it’s because he’s composing his own version of 12-tone music, and sometimes it’s because he insists on writing sonatas for trombone (sorry, trombonists). We remember hearing his opera Hin und zurück with Opera 5; the performers were fab, and the ingenious forwards-and-backwards staging by Aria Umezawa was pretty merciful. We’re not saying an opera needs to be hummable to be good, but come on, Paul. Don’t be obtuse.
If Charles Gounod puts one more mute French schwa on a downbeat… Honestly, for someone who speaks French, he does a garbage job of setting it to music. That’s really our only beef with Gounod - Roméo et Juliette still gets us every time.
Readers, who are your least favourite opera composers? Let us know who - and why - in the comments below!