Lectures are held at the Methodist Church in Kingsbridge and on Zoom at 2:30pm normally on the last Wednesday of each month. They last for 1 - 1¬Ĺ hours including a question and answer session at the end.
The Gilded Stage: A Social and Cultural History of Opera
Daniel Snowman      Wed 25th April 2012
  It is not possible in a short report to do justice to Daniel Snowmanís wide-ranging lecture, given at our April meeting, on the Social and Cultural History of Opera. Some illustrations must suffice.

Our romantic view of serious musical drama tends to start with the late Renaissance. In reality, Monteverdi did not think of his classical Orfeo as an opera, its performance being to a small select group of palace grandees before a night of feasting. Venice was soon to offer more dialogue, a lighter flavour and catchier tunes which aimed to fill theatres on a commercial basis, a philosophy which traces a line through the Magic Flute, the Merry Widow, Iolanthe, Carmen and Carousel.

In Louis XIVís France, Versailles staged multi-media events reflecting political power and royal prestige. A century later Figaro, in which a servant outwits his master, preceded the Revolution by two years: opera sometimes disguised political feelings, later reflecting the independence movements of the nineteenth century.

The British monarchy did not control the arts. Commercial theatre took hold, aided by Londonís enterprise during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which bred a bourgeoisie eager to demonstrate itís cultural as well as business nous. Hogarth was amused, but Verdi became known to the masses through print, and the piano became the centerpiece of the Victorian home.

When Mozart composed he risked a freelance career without royalties or copyright. Things had changed by the gilded age of American opera in the last century, with large opera houses, new recording technology, film, radio and a popular audience : a country which preached equality still enjoyed a sense of hierarchy in its entertainment.

The last sixty years have seen more changes. Globalisation means that lead singers could be Asian or Latin American ; Wagner plays in Bangkok. Democratisation has helped opera to seep through to a wider social base ; all theatres try to attract younger audiences. Allied to this, greater flexibility in staging creates new interest and some five star successes.