Opera Completely Changes in the Nineteenth Century. History twists and turns trends in music as it does everything else. Basically opera writers wrote everything in the 18th century. Their writing skills ranged from operatic to symphonic music to cantatas, trios duets, quartets and all types of sonatas. That was the norm. One man was quite an exception: Christoph Willibald Gluck. He was a good half a century ahead of his time:
The reformer-composer clearly announced his avant-guard intentions in the prelude to his opera Alceste (1767): “I have sought to reduce music to its true function: Supporting poetry so as to strengthen emotional expression and the impact of dramatic situations without interrupting the action and without weakening it with superfluous ornamentation.” Gluck defined his music as “the language of humanity”. He left behind musical hedonism in favor of lyric drama. Passion was expressed as naturally as possible by lyrics.
Opera Completely Changes in the 19th Century
With few exceptions, instrumental musical was either more important than or at least as important as lyrics in pre-19th century opera. With most 19th century composers of opera, lyrics became much more important: Music served the intent of the lyrics. Wife Sharon and I approached our new opera, Patra, using the philosophy of Gluck. Sharon, as lyricist, freely added dissonance when called for by the lyrics. If a mood changed suddenly, Sharon would, for example, change the meter to fit the new sentiment. If something called for a Capella singing, she freely cut the instrumental accompaniment. Below a couple of samples on youtube. For more details, our website for Patra is Patraopera.com.
Our opera is all about how Octavian, after his fateful meeting with Cleopatra, changed his life. He transformed from be a rough and insensitive person into the man who will become August Casear. Augustus was famous for initiating the 200 year era of “Roman peace.”
This thrilling new opera filled with enchanting melodies brings to life the seductive world of Cleopatra.
Having defeated his rival Marc Antony, General Octavian marches into Egypt determined to make Cleopatra his slave.
But Cleopatra is determined to somehow save herself and her four children. Her only hope is to win the love of a third Roman Consul and General, Octavian.
Operatic Broadway – Blurring the Lines Has Precedent. A number of modern musicals cross over into operatic territory. Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work. It combines text (libretto) and musical score. Opera usiually has usually in a theatrical setting. Singers do two types of singing: recitative, a speech-inflected style . The second are arias, a more melodic style. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance. Traditionally, it is sung all the way through. Musical theater, on the other hand has featured songs. However, most of its book is spoken. Recently there has been more and more cross over between opera and musical theater. They include Rent, Les Mis and The Phantom of the Opera.
Blurring Musical Vocal Boundaries Has a Romantic Precedent
The oratorio dates back to the 1500’s. It reached a climax under hand of Handel. The Romantic movement of the 19th century revived his ideals. Like Handel, with the Romantic composers, half were written in a Biblical or religious vein. The other half was secular or historical. There was only one difference: Handle’s historical oratorios were limited to either classical Greek or ancient. Handel examples include Hercules, Semele, “Alexander’s Feast”, or Alceste. Romantic oratorios had a broader scope. Instrumental works took on more significance. Here are a couple of examples:
Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet is somewhere between a symphony and a cantata.
The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24 is a work for four solo voices, full seven-part chorus, large children’s chorus and orchestra by the French composer Hector Berlioz. He called it a “légende dramatique” (dramatic legend). It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 6 December 1846. It has been seen as a symphony, oratorio or opera.
Operatic Broadway is Simply Following in this Precedent of Mixed Tradition
I, blogger David, have been the composer of three such works, My book-writer lyricist has been my wife Sharon Lesley Ohrenstein. Check out the internal link above for some quite exciting live examples. Sharon plays Cleopatra. Contact us on DSOworks@gmail.com if you are interested in our up and coming works. We need a new sound for the new times we are entering. This translates into meaningful income.
Something Old, Something New is featured in our new opera Octavian and Cleopatra It was a labor of love for Sharon and David Ohrenstein. Incidentally, it only has two spoken words for dramatic effect: When Cleopatra and Octavian see each other for the 1st time, they speaks each other’s names. . The opera was written under great difficulty and many obstacles.
There was no funding and little time.
We were raising three small children.
We had no spare income for the opera.
So How Did we Do It?
Sharon starred as Cleopatra, She also wrote the story and libretto. David played the piano for the world premier. He also composed the music. They were the moving company for the props and costumes that they mostly assembled by themselves. The work took almost two years. They often worked on the opera nightly until 1 or 2AM. In this regard, had they not have been married, the opera would never have been written.
So what’s Something Old, Something New?
There have been operas written about Cleopatra. No one, to our knowledge, has written one about Octavian and Cleopatra. I really believe it took Sharon’s genius to find the story. That’s something old, something new. Below is a list of some of the existing Cleopatra operas:
So what has happened since? We say never give up. There is tremendous interest in our writing. People are looking for something different including:
An opera filled with beautiful arias in the same manner that Richard Rodgers wrote for Broadway musicals.
A meaningful story with a transformation. In this case: Octavian goes from being a low and debauched character to the 1st emporer king of Rome. He was renamed Augustus.
Placing women on a pedestal. As the new king Augustus did for Cleopatra.
We have the full performance on video. We still need backers. That hasn’t changed. But the times have dramatically changed over the last 20 years. People are looking for meaning and beauty in opera. Our Octavian and Cleopatra offers exactly that. Be the 1st to have the new sound of the 21st century in your home town!
Opera can be a Cornucopia of Useful Knowledge.Watch our newest opera on the youtube sample below, Cleopatra is sung my wife Sharon Lesley Ohrenstein. I, composer-David, play the piano. Cleopatra and her ladies in waiting sing of their next lifetime. Having an abundance of gold at death insures highborn status. They sing a featured trio in the second act: “Like a Phoenix.” Witness the enthusiastic audience reaction. Even some of the arias from our opera makes for an unforgettable special event. It is beautiful and melodic. The setting is exotic and sexy. In antiquity it was believed that world was once concieved by musical tones. Therefore, musical tones for ancient operatic topics are appropriate.
Octavian and Cleopatra saw its world premier at the St Petersburg Fl. Palladium Theater. The 3 weekend engagements were packed. The use of musical tones as a tool for structure and building goes back to at least 4,000 B.C: Philo was an Alexandrian scholar. He lived in the 1st century B.C.E. Of the Mesopotamians he wrote: They sought worldwide harmony and unison through musical tones. His source, of course, was the great library at Alexandria.
1584 European depiction of Philo
IN OUR OPERA, ANTIQUITY COMES ALIVE AND ENTERTAINS
During Caesar’s conquest of Egypt in 48 BC, the library was accidentally burned. We researched our opera for about 3 years before writing it. Our cast of seven singers/actors were incredibly dedicated. They felt the opera was a tiger by the tail. It has a unique twist. The Captain of the Guard falls in love with Cleopatra. He plans their joint escape. This most exciting historical event can now be brought to life for your special event. Even just a recital of just some of the arias would make a spellbinding presentation. Contact us at DSOworks.com. Witness the glory that was Rome and Egypt as never before!
How about Great Caesar’s ghost for Halloween? When was the last time you heard the expression, Great Caesar’s ghost? For me, it was on the old Superman TV show that played in the 1950’s. The newspaper editor of the Daily Planet, Perry White, would exclaim to Lois, Lane or Jimmy Olson or Clark Kent every time he was frustrated: Great Caesar’s ghost! In our opera,Octavian and Cleopatra, we did one better than that. We actually have great Caesar’s ghost appearing on the stage. He sings to Cleopatra a beautiful aria that I and Sharon wrote called: My Lily of the Nile.
HOW ABOUT TWO GHOSTS FOR HALLOWEEN?
Of course, a second ghost shows up: The ghost of her other Roman husband, Mark Antony. The ghosts of Caesar and Antony immediately argue about what would be the proper course of action to take over Cleopatra’s conqueror, Octavian. Caesar says Cleopatra should trust Octavian. Mark Antony takes a totally opposing point of view. Of course, Cleopatra makes a scene where she screams over the arguing ghosts. Her two ladies in waiting witness her demise and try to calm her down with a potion. They think that Cleopatra’s totally lost her mind over the grief she has for her husband, Mark Antony, who has just killed himself.
Our thrilling opera was performed in Sarasota and St Petersburg, Florida with a cast of seven. We have a complete piano-vocal score and the performance was recorded on DVD. Sharon Lesley Ohrenstein wrote the book and lyrics and I wrote the music. We are in the process of arranging this for a chamber orchestra. My favorite musical moment in the show is a trio which features the Ghosts of Caesar and Antony singing with a living Octavian. They ghosts urge Octavian to go back to Cleopatra and show her that he loves her. Octavian rejects their plea, saying that his motto and words he lives by are; “make haste slowly”. Reserve this show for your theater season so your patrons can be thrilled by the glory that was Rome and Egypt!
LOVE CONQUERS ALL IN OUR OPERA: OCTAVIAN AND CLEOPATRA
LOVE CONQUERS ALL IN OUR OPERA: OCTAVIAN AND CLEOPATRA where musical styles take turns. The Roman point of view, through militaristic music, alternates with exotic and beautiful Egyptian melodies sung by Cleopatra and her ladies in waiting. Whereas the Roman style is more “foursquare”; the music of Cleopatra is languid, sexy and touches the heart. As an unwilling Octavian becomes totally taken with Cleopatra, his angular Roman style changes to the Egyptian. At the end, he sings the beautiful aria, She was Egypt’s Queen as he recalls her alluring charm and female virtues. In a subplot, a Roman captain is sent by Octavian to guard Cleopatra. The captain also falls in love with her and plots his own escape with her. . The Captain’s hardened ways of war disappear in the presence Cleopatra as he sings the melodious aria of love which closes act one, In the Darkness. The opera burned the midnight oil for two years and became a labor of love between the husband-wife team of lyricist-book writer Sharon and composer David. Sharon has currently been orchestrating the work. Look on our website entitled dsoworks.com under the heading of “Stage”. Then click on the Octavian and Cleopatra drop down for more information.