American Opera

by jaeyoungshin

We learned about many European composers. Mozart, Hayden, Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann…the list is endless. Although these European composers are definitely interesting, I always felt American composers are relatively ignored. so when our last class just focused on American composers for the first time, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn more about them. With this post, I want to introduce more American classical pieces, particularly operas because I think the trend is stronger in opera.

The first one is Nixon in China by John Adams. Considering that the opera are often about myths and heroes, the topic of this opera is very unique. As shown by the title, the opera is about the visit of President Nixon to China in 1972. The idea of opera presenting about  American president is indeed a great joy. However, the original topic is only a small part of this opera’s merits. Along with the large saxophone section, percussion, and electronic synthesizer, the opera provides the listeners a large variety of musical style. The Nixon in China has been controversial and some critics dismissed it, predicting that it would soon vanish. However, it has been presented several times. Despite some mixed reviews, there is no doubt that it is one of many significant American opera.

Another work I would like to introduce is Einstein on the Beach by Phillip Glass.  The opera is famous for its incredible and complicated singing. The opera  requires great endurance from the singers since it runs for five hours without the intermission. The singers cannot lose focus since the music is very carefully layered with each singer’s note and verse. It also has  a unique structure, connected by five knee plays that serve as intermezzos.  Another noticeable aspect of this opera is that it does not have a specific plot. The opera does present music, character and scenery, but it lacks a one distinct narrative that the audience can follow. The opera also tends to illustrate a purely symbolic figures. Glass commented that he wanted the audience to build personal interpretation and relationship with the character and the music. Glass did not want to block the audience’s imagination. Overall, although Einstein on the Beach can seem too abstract, the opera is attractive in many aspects. The opera is often described as magical and splendid.