Composers on the operatic stage

Two recent musical premieres drew my attention to a very special operatic figure, the composer. The first premiere was the release on CD of Dellaira’s tragic The Death of Webern, which explores the mysterious circumstances of Webern’s demise in 1945, and the other, the first performance of Scene 2 of Hallett’s comic To Music, which looks at the online distractions of the creative process.

Together, they got me thinking about other operas where a major, or even the central, role is given to a composer, often a “double” of the composer of the opera. Here is my far from exhaustive chronological list, with the composer’s role [in brackets] when it is not mentioned in the title. I would be grateful for additional examples.*

Wagner:                     Tannhäuser (1845)

Paolo Serrao:             G. B. Pergolesi (1857)

Offenbach                Un mari à la porte (1859) [Florestan]

Wagner:                     Die Meistesinger von Nürnberg (1868) [Hans Sachs]

Rimsky-Korsakov:    Mozart and Salieri (1898)

Janáček:                     Osud/Destiny (1907) [Živný]

Strauss:                      Ariadne auf Naxos (1912) [composer]

Pfitzner:                     Palestrina (1917)

Strauss:                      Capriccio (1942) [Flamand]

Corigliano:                The Ghosts of Versailles (1991) [Beaumarchais]

Schnittke:                  Gesualdo (1993)

Franz Hummel:        Gesualdo (1996)

Leonid Desyatnikov:  The Children of Rosenthal (2005) [Mozart, Wagner, Verdi,      Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky]

Michael Dellaira:      The Death of Webern (2013)

Steven Stucky:           The Classical Style (2014) [Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann]

Jake Heggie:              Great Scott (2015) [fictitious bel canto composer Vittorio Bazzetti]

Bo Holten:                  Gesualdo Shadows (2016)

Monteverdi, Gagliano, Gastoldi, composers collective:  La tragedia di Claudio M (2017)

Nick Hallett:              To Music (in progress) [composer]

This is the kind of collaborative musical game Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” and I love to play all the time.

December 26, 2016

*I am grateful to Ms. Litsa Drossos for reminding me of the role of the archetypal composer, Orpheus, in operas like L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach, and Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck.

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