What are some of the characteristics of opera since 1900?
Discuss this with reference to the following:
- musical style
- subject matter or story lines
- contemporary technical innovations
- broadening of the genre
The essay aims to discuss the ways the opera This Other Eden demonstrates characteristics akin of the modern era. In doing so, the essay refers to the Opera Otago Production of the play in 2014 (Sounz.org.nz 2018). The play enacts some of the earliest encounters between the European settlers and the Maori. Changes in opera had been visible since the start of the 20th century however, major changes occurred only in the mid-20th century and continued and is still continuing in the 21st century. The analysis will include a discussion on the opera’s libretto, its music, the historical background, cultural thoughts, staging of the opera the use of technology.
Adapted from Michelanne Forster’s original play with the same name, the libretto has been able to bring to the stage in clear terms, the different elements of an intricate historical story. This Other Eden’s libretto has all the elements that make it a nicely knit opera encompassing all the major elements of the original play. As evident from the librettos used by the artists on stage, the style had changed drastically from the earlier days. In the days prior to the 21st century, most of the librettos used to be composed keeping in mind the music of the composer. The work of the librettists was just to adhere to the requirements of the composer and their work was not even recognized. With the shift in century and inclusion of different elements in opera, the importance of libretto increased and the librettists began to be identified as equally important to the production as the composer.
In This Other Eden, the libretto clearly shows a shift from the old times from the very first scene. In the first scene, Jane Kendall, widow of Thomas Kendall is seeing reminiscing about her husband and expressing her inability to take in the grief of his death.
“Ah, books, papers, untouched. Here is evidence you are truly gone”.
”Drowned at sea, drowned at sea. I cannot take it in” (Sounz.org.nz 2018).
In the above lines, it can be seen the language now used in the librettos are in much simpler English than those written prior to the 1900s (Lin and Alan 2014). Moreover, the fact that Forster adapted her original play as the libretto further distinguishes the style of this opera as belonging completely to the contemporary era. However, one of the most fascinating things about the libretto of this modern day drama is its use of the Maori language. a major part of the libretto includes Maori terms and sentences that further establishes the opera’s alignment with the contemporary setting.
The show stealer, the leading role of opera performances have always been music and Anthony Ritchie gives it a new dimension with the melodious tunes of Maori music. The symphonies of Maori, that reverberates through the auditorium energizing the audience cell to cell, has claims enough at honest appraisal. Ritchie had also arranged for some splendid waiata, Tutira Mai for example which is still sung all around the world in different countries. This is a relevant testimony to the contemporary nature of the production. The stage production also plays some of the recorded songs performed by the children’s choir group in Finland. The use of Maori instruments like taonga puoro, beautifully merges the pakeha sound with the Maori one. What deserves special acclaim is the production’s remarkable execution of the Maori music without actually borrowing from an existing waiata, but creating new composition, equally sublime, from heavy influences from the waiata genre. Quite amusingly, the music oscillates between Maori tribe folk and Greek chorus. The European settlers, fierce warriors and Greek chorus enriches the physical and musical appeal of the piece. The uniquely talented members of the choir group like Georgia Gray, Julia Moss-Pearson, Veronika Bell, Angela Wratt, Alex Lee and Reynard Dain have made notable contributions to the success of the production. The small Otago ensemble in the opera, comprising of Dunedin’s some of the most skilled musicians, has been a source of sterile support for the chorus singers all through the opera, under Tecwyn Evan’s baton. The performance that seems wonderfully controlled on stage, owes much to the new, contemporized music created by Ritchie. The music suits the passion and emotion so aesthetically that it feels like watching the composition play itself, accompanied by synchronized dialogues and captivating visuals. Particularly pleasing is the very subtle interlacing of European and Maori musical traditions.
The Other Eden is one of the very few famous operas that cemented the life of the Maori tribe, one of the native and aboriginal tribes of New Zealand. The whole opera is an assimilation of the three British person and their association with the Maoris in very different methods. The history of the place and along with their interaction has been deciphered in the opera which is again one of the major sources in which the history. New Zealand being one of the colonial places of the British Empire in which the nuns as well as the European settled their wholesome business as well as the settlement, has seen a lot of drama in relation to the tribal and white people encounter. The overall opera is a consideration of the historical interactions as well as the background representation of the overall British people and their behaviour towards the native people including the Maori tribe and others. The three foreign men that have been described in the opera and have been seen in the play are of three considerable influences in the overall genre, which means that all of them have different alignments towards the tribe as well as their inclinations towards the establishment of the foreign culture and Christian way of teaching and education. The establishment of the grammar and vocabulary book by the Christian book is considerably new in the whole option and different from the Christian perspective of the regular way of the life in the mental setup (Heller 2017). The foundation of the British Empire on the soil of New Zealand and along with the tribal population of Maori makes the historical context of the play worthwhile and has an extreme positive influence on the overall factors of the opera The Other Eden that has been assessed here.
The production is evidently contemporary in musical style and cultural considerations. It portrays scenes depicting an ancient settlement in New Zealand. The libretto of the opera reframes the story, telling it from the perspectives of Jane Kendall. It is important to note in this context that the small missionary community evolved out of a Georgian world, and more interestingly, the Maori were well aware of the advantages that pakeha could entail, in 1815, but were equally fretful of losing their sovereignty and manna. A New-Zealand setting of the 1820s , featuring local Maoris, convicts, missionary families, very effectively blends the spirituality and customs of Maori with that of European. The costume designer worked hard to remain authentic to the culture of the region. Moreover, the production with its simple scenery and visual effects was culturally appropriate. It connects the audience very well with all the works done in the Diocese for raising awareness of the beginnings of the Christian story in Aotearoa. The sheer talent of the team made it possible to bring to life some towering figures of history and some ancient encounters between the folk of Europe and Maori. Some of stupendous moments of ensemble singing and the spell-bounding music weaves together the cultural traditions of Maori and Europe. The cultural undertones comes across powerfully with the meticulous adherence to archaic norms of the two countries. Moreover, it can be asserted with very little or no hesitation that almost every aspect of the 2014 production of The Other Night is an absolute delight. From the libretto of the Opera and its score to its Otago’s unique and brilliant interpretation of the new work, it has been a journey of transition from the old and traditional to the new and contemporary. This is the history of New Zealand that no one has ever seen before, with a pleasant addition of the country’s tradition of Opera.
Jacqueline Coats, the stage director of the play has used his skilful guiding ability to produce a finely executed stage work, excellent enough to win it the Scenographic design of the year and technical design of the year. The staging includes a magnificent combination of live songs, beautiful costumes, dazzling sets, live orchestra and lights that has enough glow to illuminate all the known emotions in the world. The designer of the minimalist, sloping set Martyn Roberts makes possible the smooth flow of the actions in the opera despite the cramming of several scenes within limited time slots. Linda Brewster, who led the management team of the stage sees to it that things retain their steady movement and everything that goes with staging is taken proper care of. Matt Landreth, the actor who plays the convict, has done a great job in bringing about a powerful physicality and an amazing vocal cadence to the role. Likewise, Tamara Maro has done justice to her queenly stature on stage with her praiseworthy voice modulation and the way she performs her role with elegance. James Roger, the New York based singer born in New Zealand plays the difficult and central role of Thomas Kendall beautifully, accurately bringing out the idealism and passion of the character, while his vocal tenor is just as brilliant .The otherwise simple set is made extraordinary with a seascape backdrop that appears and disappears according to the mood and development of the plot. The stage managers have aptly implemented astute lightening for completing this intense dramatic work of art. One of the critics commented on the director’s choice of a raked stage, which he felt was a deliberate choice, as it enhances the theme of dereliction so recurrent in the plot.
Technological advancements have had a huge role to play in the production of contemporary operas. Starting from the Baroque-era staging amazing people with live water features and chariots being ridden across the sky, technology has become a trend in modern operas. Opera is a rich form of art and has been a source of entertainment for the elite since its inception. This is mostly because of its inclusion of music, dance, acting, architecture, design, painting, costumes and many such things. The addition of technology has further enriched this already rich form of art.
This Other Eden also incorporates technology in a great scale to enhance the grandeur of this opera. The use of technology has been extensively made in this opera in the background with the visuals changing as per the libretto. The background in the starting scene had the visuals of sea to symbolize the death of Thomas Kendall who had died due to drowning in the sea. The use of this technology further brings to the surface, the contemporary characteristics of the opera.
Other elements in the opera that demonstrated the use of technology were the camera angles used and the pixel quality, the lighting and even the sound. In the early days of the 19th and 20th century, lack of technology made the work of artists more difficult. This Other Eden has made use of effects like zooming in and out, fading in and out with precision because of the presence of state-of-the-art technology. It is evident right from the beginning of Act 1, Scene 1 until the end of the play. Incorporating these technological elements influence the structure of the opera as well because the artists do not have to make that extra effort as the earlier days artists had to do.
As it can be seen from the above analysis, all the elements including libretto, music, historical background, staging, cultural considerations and technology make This Other Eden an opera of the contemporary world. The analysis found that the libretto used in the play was adapted from the original play by Michelanne Forster, who also happens to be the librettist for the opera. Anthony Ritchie’s music and Jacqueline Coats’ direction add to this two-act opera’s grandeur. The analysis further found an overwhelming influence of technology in the opera with its presence in the background, in the lighting and the music.
Heller, Wendy. "Tacitus Incognito: Opera as History in L’incoronazione di Poppea." In Studies in Seventeenth-Century Opera, pp. 101-158. Routledge, 2017.
Lin, Yu-Wei, and Alan E. Williams. "Projecting the voice: observations of audience behaviours in ICT-mediated contemporary opera." New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia 20, no. 3 (2014): 207-223.
Sounz.org.nz. 2018. "SOUNZ This Other Eden". Sounz.Org.Nz. https://www.sounz.org.nz/works/22111
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