Term 3 Meetings - Singing Greek Myths
Here’s our meetings plan for the term
Why Greek Myths? Back to
Monteverdi, who’s back to Homer.
Return of Ulysses 1639
Handel, who made more operas
from myths than anyone.
Berlioz - really grand opera
takes on Virgil’s Aeneid.
Les Troyens 1863
Mozart returns to the Troy saga.
Those Orpheus operas! What can
& 1 Sept,
we learn by comparing them
to Gluck 1762
& Offenbach (below)
Ariadne auf Naxos 1916
Term final, full opera, off-site.
Orphée aux enfers 1858
parody of Gluck.
Greek (and Roman) myths and opera
Opera began in - and never left - Greek myths
Opera started as an attempt to recreate Greek Drama. All of the characters in early Operas
are taken directly from Greek and Roman mythology, and many have the same plots as
Ancient Greek Tragedies, although the underlying reasons for portraying the stories was
different. Singing, dancing, instrumentals, and even some spoken text are the main
characteristics of Opera. These features also were prominent in Ancient Greek Dramas,
although Operas had much more spectacle than any Ancient Greek would have approved of.
The times had changed, but the people still wanted to hear stories of how their ancestors
lived and interacted with the world around them, and so the ancient stories were brought
back. This time around the stories did not hold religious significance, but still taught the
masses about their history and the world around them. More from musesrealm.net.
There are hundreds of operas based on Greek myths. Wikipedia lists 143 pages on
operas based on Greco-Roman mythology. Orpheus alone inspired about 70, from
Peri in 1600 to Robertson in 2015. ROH offers some of the stories of their recent
Why these myths?
In this term we’ll explore what Charlotte Valori describes as “the relationship
between the cradle of culture and its most dazzling offspring.”
The interesting thing is that the intellectuals of one tiny militarised city-state (16th-century
CE Florence) reached across eternity to channel the intellectuals of another tiny militarised
city-state (5th-century BCE Athens) in order to find an art that they hoped could speak for all
humanity – yet each of them was only interested in playing for, and about, themselves. The
“universality” is projected onto the work by us: always in a contemporary, subjective
way….Opera today looks to the ancient world for some its most aggressively, powerfully
modern works…they have everything to do with making a contemporary audience confront
their own behaviour and perceptions without the barriers (or comforts) of modern cultural
Read Valori’s full and fascinating essay .
Where are we going?
Many of these operas are about
the Trojan War. “The tales of this
time have provided fertile
grounds for creators of opera, from Monteverdi (Il Ritorno
d’Ulisse in Patria, 1640) to Berlioz (Les Troyens, 1863), to
Richard Strauss (Die Ägyptische Helena, 1928), to Martin
David Levy (Mourning Becomes Electra, 1967). The era is
evocative, reflecting the confusion of a post-traumatic
historical moment.” (The Met on its Idomeneo production)