Part 3: "From despotism to pluralism"

How opera told stories from the modern world

(from 1500 to 2000)

Part 3 is also in 12 chapters. Below are the 12 chapter headings, each with a subheading below. Also included is the table at the start of each chapter. This sets the period of history covered, and lists the main operas mentioned.

Napoleon I and his military staff on horseback

‘Napoleon I and his military staff on horseback’ (Horace Vernet 1810; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

Chapter 25

Monarchy (1500-1550)

Victor Hugo and other revolutionary-romantics undermine respect for famous monarchs

The history The operas
Spring 1519, France King Francis of France begins an affair with Françoise de Foix Donizetti Francesca of Foix (1831)Verdi [after Hugo] Rigoletto (1851)
June 1519, Aachen Charles V is appointed Holy Roman Emperor Verdi [after Hugo] Ernani (1844)
24 June 1519, Italy Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI, dies in Ferrara Donizetti [after Hugo] Lucrezia Borgia (1834)
19 May 1536, Tower of London King Henry VIII of England has his wife Anne Boleyn executed Donizetti Anne Boleyn (1830)
January 1537, Notre Dame Paris, France King James V of Scotland marries Madeleine of Valois, daughter of Francis I of France Rossini The Lady of the Lake (1819)

Chapter 26

Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth I of England (1550-1600)

Some revolutionary-romantics simply demonised these monarchs, but Schiller tries to understand the challenges they faced as leaders at a time of religious upheaval

The history The operas
21 May 1559, Valladolid, Spain King Philip II attends an auto-da-fe, where those who challenged Roman Catholic beliefs were burned alive Verdi [after Schiller] Don Carlos (1867)Dallapiccola The Prisoner (1949)
4 August, 1578, Morocco Sebastian I, the young King of Portugal, is killed at the Battle of Alcazar: Philip II takes control of Portugal Donizetti Dom Sebastien (1838)
21 September 1578, England The Earl of Leicester remarries: Elizabeth I is furious when she finds out Rossini Elisabeth, Queen of England (1815)
8 February 1587, England By command of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots is executed Donizetti [after Schiller] Mary Stuart (1835)
25 February 1601, London By command of Elizabeth I, the Earl of Essex (Robert Devereux) is executed Donizetti Robert Devereux (1837)

Chapter 27

The rise of the creative artist in the western world (1500-1600)

Six manifestos on the role of the artist in society

The history The operas
1516, Nuremberg, Germany The poet Hans Sachs moves to Nuremberg, where he becomes a famous mastersinger Wagner The Mastersingers of Nuremburg (1868)
1516, Colmar, Germany The painter Matthias Grünewald completes the Isenheim Altarpiece Hindemith The Painter Matthias (1938)
Spring 1545, England The composer John Taverner is appointed alderman in Boston, Lincolnshire Peter Maxwell Davies Taverner (1972)
27 April 1554, Florence The sculptor Benvenuto Cellini unveils his bronze sculpture Perseus with the Head of Medusa Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini (1836)
19 June 1565, Rome The composer Palestrina’s mass Missa Papae Marcelli is performed before Pope Pius IV Pfitzner Palestrina (1917)
March 1579, Ferrara Italy The poet Torquato Tasso is imprisoned in a lunatic asylum by his patron Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara Donizetti Torquato Tasso (1833)

Chapter 28

War (1618-1648)

Creative artists ask if warfare is inevitable

The history The operas
November 15, 1630, Regensburg The death of the scientist Johannes Kepler, adviser to Wallenstein, Commander of Catholic Imperial forces in the Thirty Years War Hindemith The Harmony of the World (1957)
Winter of 1633-34, Pilsen, Bohemia Wallenstein’s soldiers are encamped outside Pilsen during the Thirty Years War Verdi The Force of Destiny (1862)
24 October 1648, Germany Peace is declared on the final day of the Thirty Years War Strauss Day of Peace (1938)

Chapter 29

Russia (1570-1710)

The last absolutists? Rumbling under 19th century operas celebrating the rise of the Romanovs are premonitions of their fall in 1917

The history The operas
1570, Russia Ivan the Terrible massacres the entire population of Novgorod Rimsky Korsakov The Maid of Pskov (1873), Boyarina Vera Sheloga (1898), The Tsar’s Bride (1899) Tchaikovsky The Oprichnik (1874)
23 April 1605 Moscow Boris Godunov dies Mussorgsky Boris Godunov (1869, revised 1872)
21 February 1613, Moscow The beginning of the Romanov dynasty: a national assembly elects Mikhail Romanov as Tsar of Russia Glinka A Life for the Tsar (1836)
7 May 1682, Moscow The Romanov Tsar Fyodor III dies aged 21, triggering a succession crisis Mussorgsky Khovanschina (first performed in 1886)
27 June 1709, Ukraine The Romanov Tsar Peter the Great defeats Sweden at the Battle of Poltava Tchaikovsky Mazeppa (1883)

Chapter 30

Ordinary people (1700-1780)

In tragic stories about love and sex, opera discovers the mass of humanity

The history The operas
1728, France Antoine François Prévost had studied with the Jesuits but rejected holy orders in 1716. He became a priest in 1726, but two years later he deserted the church for a second time Auber Manon Lescaut (1856), Massenet Manon (1884), Puccini Manon Lescaut (1893)
7 August 1771, Sessenheim Germany Eight months into their love affair, the wealthy young lawyer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visits Friederike Brion, a frail parson’s daughter, for the last time Berlioz The Damnation of Faust (1846), Gounod Faust (1859)
30 October 1772, Wetzlar, Germany Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem shoots himself at the age of 25 after an unhappy love affair Massenet Werther (1892)

Chapter 31

The French Revolution (1780-1800)

Opera asks why the destruction of the ancien régime led to a bloodbath, not liberté, égalité et fraternité

The history The operas
25 May 1793, Jacobin Club, Paris Robespierre calls on the people of France to revolt Dvořák The Jacobin (1889, revised 1898)
Early 1794, Nantes, France The extremist French revolutionary Jean-Baptiste Carrier is recalled to Paris Beethoven Fidelio (first version 1805, revised 1814)
5 April 1794, Paris Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins are guillotined von Einem Danton’s Death (1947)
13 April 1794, Paris Lucile Desmoulins is guillotined Massenet Thérèse (1907)
17 July 1794, Paris 16 members of the monastery of Compiègne, among them 11 nuns, are guillotined Poulenc The Dialogues of the Carmelites (1956)
25 July 1794, Paris The poet André Chénier is guillotined Giordano Andrea Chénier (1896)
12 May 1797, Nore, England British sailors on The Sandwich revolt, triggering the Great Mutiny Britten Billy Budd (1951)

Chapter 32

Napoleon (1800-1815)

In operas about Napoleon, Europe seems to be recovering from the trauma of being bullied

The history The operas
11 November 1806, Italy Napoleon’s troops execute the Neapolitan resistance fighter Michele Pezza Auber Brother Devil (1830)
20 February 1810, Italy Napoleon’s troops execute the Tyrolean resistance fighter Andreas Hofer Donizetti The Girl of the Regiment (1840)
May 1812, Dresden Germany Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise accompanies her husband to Dresden, where she meets her future lover, Count Neipperg, for the first time Giordano Madame Carefree (1915), Vaughan Williams Hugh the Drover (1924), Kodály Háry János (1926)
26 August 1812, Russia The Battle of Borodino Prokofiev War and Peace (1944)
18 June 1815, Belgium The Battle of Waterloo Britten Owen Wingrave (1971)

Chapter 33

Nostalgia for absolutism (1793-1918)

Elegies for the lost security and splendour of French, Habsburg and Romanov autocracy

The history The operas and ballets
21 January 1793, Paris The execution of Louis XVI heralds the twilight of the French royal dynasty Tchaikovsky The Sleeping Beauty (ballet, 1890), Tchaikovsky The Queen of Spades (1890), Strauss Capriccio (1942)
28 June 1914, Sarajevo The assassination of Franz Ferdinand triggers the end of the Habsburgs Strauss Der Rosenkavalier (1911)
17 July 1918, Ekaterinburg The assassination of Tsar Nicholas II ends the Romanov dynasty Balanchine ballets: Ballet Imperial (1941), Theme and Variations (1947), Allegro Brillante (1956), Diamonds (1967). MacMillan Anastasia (ballet, 1971)

Chapter 34

Building an inclusive liberal democracy (1810-1900)

Opera reaches out to impoverished and disadvantaged communities, the isolated and disenfranchised

The history The operas
1810, London George Crabbe publishes The Borough Britten Peter Grimes (1945)
3 June 1821, Leipzig Johann Wotzek murders his wife Berg Wozzeck (1914)
1845, Paris Prosper Mérimée publishes a novella about gypsies Bizet Carmen (1875), Rachmaninov Aleko (1893)
3 February 1847, Paris The courtesan Marie Duplessis dies of tuberculosis Verdi La Traviata (1853)
1848, California A discovery of gold triggers the California Gold Rush Puccini The Girl of the Golden West (1910)
22 December 1849, St Petersburg Fyodor Dostoyevsky is sentenced to four years hard labour in a Siberian prison camp Janáček From the House of the Dead (1930)
1851, Paris Henri Murger publishes Scenes from Bohemian Life, a collection of stories about his friends Puccini La bohème (1896)
1858, the Austrian Tyrol The young painter Anna Stainer-Knittel ropes herself down a rock face to reach an eagle’s eyrie Catalani La Wally (1892)
1861, Catania, Sicily Giovanni Verga starts publishing stories about remote Sicilian communities Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana (1890)
1870, Nagasaki Kaga Maki gives birth to a son fathered by a man who had briefly visited Japan Puccini Madam Butterfly (1904)
1889, South Carolina The birth of Samuel “Goat” Smalls Gershwin Porgy and Bess (1935)

Chapter 35

Authenticity (1900-1945)

Opera seeks the intensity of genuinely-lived experience

The history The operas
May 1902 Germany Pauline Strauss opens a telegram addressed to her husband and assumes he is having an affair Strauss Intermezzo (1924)
Summer 1903, Luhacovice A conversation with Kamila Urvalkova inspires Leos Janáček to write an autobiographical opera Janáček Fate (1907), and other Janáček operas
25 May 1911, Venice Thomas Mann is fascinated by a Polish boy staying at the Hotel des Bains Britten Death in Venice (1973)
1915, South Africa The final issue of Indian Opinion is published, the journal in which Gandhi developed the concept of peaceful resistance Glass Satyagraha (1980)
1916, Germany Midway through World War One, Strauss composes an opera about composing an opera Strauss Prologue to Ariadne on Naxos (1916)
1928, Mödrath/Sirius The birth of Karlheinz Stockhausen Stockhausen Light (1977-2003)
January 1931, Los Angeles Einstein, while resident at the California Institute of Technology, plays Mozart and Beethoven with the Zoellner Quartet Glass Einstein on the Beach (1976)
1942, Germany Midway through World War Two, Strauss composes an opera about composing an opera Strauss Capriccio (1942)

Chapter 36

Hearing ourselves in history (1945-2000)

Opera returns to major political events – now recent ones on the world stage

The history The operas
16 July 1945, USA Testing of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico Adams Doctor Atomic (2005)
21 February 1972, China Chou Enlai welcomes President Richard Nixon and his wife Pat to China Adams Nixon in China (1987)
7 October 1985, the coast of Egypt Four members of the Palestine Liberation Front hijack the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro Adams The Death of Klinghoffer (1991)
Portrait presumed to be of Lucile Desmoulins

Presumed portrait of Lucile Desmoulins, wife of the French revolutionary Camille Desmoulins (Louis-Léopold Boilly c 1790; Musée Carnavalet, Paris).