Opera as Drama II

Opera as Drama cover

In 1956, Professor Joseph Kerman published his landmark book Opera as Drama, in which he analyzed a handful of operas from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo to Berg’s Wozzeck, occasionally making brief references to other operas for which he had either praise or condemnation.

After recently re-reading the book, however, I found it inadequate in its scope and, to me personally, somewhat irrelevant to the operatic landscape of today. Aside from the fact that Kerman spent what I see as an inordinate amount of space in the book worrying over the dramatic flaws of Cosí fan tutte and Die Zauberflöte, there are just too many holes in the book, too many operas not examined in whole or part for their dramatic qualities.

In addition, there are many other factors that go into an assessment of opera as drama that Kerman overlooked, either accidentally or on purpose. First and foremost is the question, What is drama? That definition has changed, quite radically, over the centuries.

Operatic styles and tastes changed in the full flowering of the Baroque era; they changed again in the Classical era, then took a left turn towards more entertainment than enlightenment in the Bel Canto period. They changed yet again by mid-century, particularly in the works of Wagner, then in the “verismo” era, but it was in the midst of the latter that a growing interest in psychology and psychoanalysis began to inform operatic plots. Musicals, movies, television and other factors also had their influence on opera as drama. One must examine all of these in order to create an arc that encompasses them all.

This book is my attempt. It may not be perfect, but it is a sincere and honest look at the history of opera and how it intersected with and eventually overcame purely entertaining elements to regain its status as an art form.

Lynn René Bayley (b. 1951) has been a music critic since 1973, working for publications large (Opera News, Ovation, Fanfare) and small before striking out with her own music blog in 2016. She thus brings a lifetime of experience and knowledge to the subject, having seen and heard all of the changes in opera from the late 1950s to the present.

The entire book is presented below for free online reading or download to your favorite device and/or printing.

0. cover-credits-contents
1. Prologue
2. Scene 1
3. Scene 2
4. Scene 3
5. Scene 4
6. Scene 5
7. Scene 6
8. Scene 7
9. Scene 8
10. Scene 9
11. Interlude 1
12. Scene 10
13. Scene 11
14. Interlude 2
15. Scene 12
16. Interlude 3

17. Scene 13
18. Epilogue

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley