This post is simulcast from my blog “The Annals of Opera”.
For the fifth instalment of my series on the greatest operas of the last 400 years, we’ve reached the 20th century. Whereas the 19th century had been dominated by the Romantic (and romantic) tales of Italy, France, and Germany, by the early 1900s, opera opened to both Eastern Europe and the barbaric English-speaking nations. It was also developing more ways of storytelling, with some composers taking opera closer to “straight” theatre, while others pulled away into more abstract and expressionist modes of music.
Like any era of great change and experimentation, the 1900s and 1910s seems to yield a lot of “exciting” works, but few that are anywhere near perfect. Still, many of the works I’m talking about today have at least a weak grip on the standard repertory, and they can be particularly enjoyable when done well. Opera was losing some of the things that made it great in the 1800s, but was also letting go of the sentimentality and pomposity. Now, the battle between what audiences wanted to see, and what artists wanted to create, would begin in earnest.