Grand Opera

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The Grand’s captivating historical narrative of its 125 year history can be found in this elegant, limited edition commemorative book, The Grand 1894 Opera House. Designated the official opera house of the State of Texas, The Grand has made a significant impact on. The Grand Opera House, often called The Grand and originally known as the Academy of Music, is a historic opera house located in Macon, Georgia, United States.Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, it is now the performing arts center of Mercer University. The Grand Opera House is owned by and receives financial support from the City of Oshkosh. The Grand Oshkosh 100 High Ave Oshkosh, WI 54901 (920) 424-2350. The Grand Opera House 651 Mulberry Street, Macon, GA 31201. Box Office: (478) 301-5470 Box Office Hours: Monday – Friday 10 a.m. 'Grand Opera is the latest and certainly one of the most fascinating literary explorations of the colorful history of the Metropolitan Opera. In this thoroughly documented narrative, rich with succulent detail, Charles and Mirella Jona Affron provide the reader an engrossing account of the genesis of America's premiere opera company and its oft.

  • The early history
    • The role of Florence
  • From the “reform” to grand opera
  • Grand opera and beyond
Grand operating
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Barbara Russano HanningSee All Contributors
Faculty member, The Julliard School; Emeritus Professor of Music, City College and Graduate Center, CUNY. Faculty member, Music Department, City College of New York (1970-2011). President, Society for...

Opera, a staged drama set to music in its entirety, made up of vocal pieces with instrumental accompaniment and usually with orchestralovertures and interludes. In some operas the music is continuous throughout an act; in others it is broken up into discrete pieces, or “numbers,” separated either by recitative (a dramatic type of singing that approaches speech) or by spoken dialogue. This article focuses on opera in the Western tradition. For an overview of opera and operalike traditions in Asia (particularly in China), see the appropriate sections of Chinese music, Japanese music, South Asian arts, and Southeast Asian arts; see also short entries on specific forms of Chinese opera, such as chuanqi, jingxi, kunqu, and nanxi.

A Music Lesson
You may have experienced someone singing in a terrible pitch, but do you know another name for the treble clef? Test your knowledge of pitch, treble clefs, and more in this music quiz.

The English word opera is an abbreviation of the Italian phrase opera in musica (“work in music”). It denotes a theatrical work consisting of a dramatic text, or libretto (“booklet”), that has been set to music and staged with scenery, costumes, and movement. Aside from solo, ensemble, and choral singers onstage and a group of instrumentalists playing offstage, the performers of opera since its inception have often included dancers. A complex, often costly variety of musico-dramatic entertainment, opera has attracted both supporters and detractors throughout its history and has sometimes been the target of intense criticism. Its detractors have viewed it as an artificial and irrational art form that defies dramatic verisimilitude. Supporters have seen it as more than the sum of its parts, with the music supporting and intensifying the lyrics and action to create a genre of greater emotional impact than either music or drama could achieve on its own. In his 1986 autobiography, stage and film director Franco Zeffirelli warned against taking opera too literally:

Short men in armour and large ladies in chiffon singing about ancient Egypt don’t make much sense at one level [but] they can…reveal to us the confusions of emotion and loyalty, the nature of power and pity, that could not be so movingly expressed in any other way.

The preparation of an opera performance involves the work of many individuals whose total contributions sometimes spread across a century or more. The first, often unintentional, recruit is likely the writer of the original story. Then comes the librettist, who puts the story or play into a form—usually involving poetic verse—that is suitable for musical setting and singing. The composer then sets that libretto to music. Architects and acousticians will have designed an opera house suited or adaptable to performances that demand a sizable stage; a large backstage area to house the scenery; a “pit,” or space (often below the level of the stage) to accommodate an orchestra; and seating for a reasonably large audience. A producer (or director) has to specify the work of designers, scene painters, costumers, and lighting experts. The producer, conductor, and musical staff must work for long periods with the chorus, dancers, orchestra, and extras as well as the principal singers to prepare the performance—work that may last anywhere from a few days to many months. All of this activity, moreover, takes place in conjunction with the work not only of researchers and editors who painstakingly prepare the musical score, especially in the case of revivals of works long forgotten or published long ago, but also of the theatre’s administrative staff, which includes the impresario and others responsible for bookings, ticket sales, and other business matters.

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One of the most variable facets of opera during its long history has been the balance struck between music and poetry or text. The collaborators of the first operas (in the early 17th century) believed they were creating a new genre in which music and poetry, in order to serve the drama, were fused into an inseparable whole, a language that was in a class of its own—midway between speaking and singing. In the decades and centuries that followed, the balance between these elements repeatedly shifted to favour the music at the expense of the text and the integrity of the drama, only to be brought back into relative equilibrium by various “reforms.” More than one desirable balance between music, text, and drama is possible, however, and over time the aesthetic ideals of opera and its creators have successfully adapted to the changing tastes and attitudes of patrons and audiences, while also accommodating linguistic diversity and assorted national preferences. As a result, opera has endured in Western culture for more than 400 years.

Moreover, since the late 20th century, new ways of delivering opera to the public—on video and DVD, in cinematography, or via high-definition simulcast in movie theatres—have increasingly made the genre more accessible to a larger audience, and such novelties will inevitably change public attitudes and appreciation of the art form. It remains to be seen, however, how these media might also change the way in which composers, librettists, impresarios, and performers approach opera, and whether the genre’s musical and theatrical values will consequently be altered in fundamental ways.


The early history

Music historians have continued to debate opera’s ancestry. The plays of the ancient Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides combined poetic drama and music. During the Middle Ages, biblical dramas that were chanted or interspersed with music were known under various labels, including liturgical dramas (ordines) and similar plays performed in church. These and related musico-dramatic forms may have become indirect ancestors of opera, but the earliest universally accepted direct ancestors of opera appeared in 16th-century Italy.

The role of Florence

The courts of northern Italy, especially that of the Medici family in Florence, were particularly important for the development of opera. Indeed, Florence became the birthplace of opera at the end of the century, as the result of the confluence of three cultural forces: an established theatrical tradition, a strong sense of civic humanism, and a distinctly Florentine view of music and music’s relation to the cosmos.


Intermedi in the Florentine musical theatre

Foremost among the factors that made 16th-century Florence ripe for the advent of opera was its long tradition of musical theatre, manifested principally in the musical productions known as intermedi (or interludes) that were staged between the acts of spoken plays. Intermedi served both to signal the divisions of the spoken drama, since there was no curtain to be dropped, and to suggest the passage of time by suspending the action between one act of the play and the next and, during the interval, by employing characters and themes unrelated to the main plot and only loosely connected from one interlude to another. The Florentine court offered lavish intermedi, planned and rehearsed months in advance and intended to impress invited guests with the wealth, generosity, and power of their Medici hosts. For the so-called 1589 intermedi, which climaxed a monthlong series of events to celebrate the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici (Ferdinand I) of Tuscany to the French princess Christine of Lorraine, a huge team of artists, artisans, poets, musicians, architects, and technicians was assembled under the intellectual guidance of the prominent Florentine aristocrat Giovanni Bardi. As the moving spirit behind the program, Bardi worked closely with local poets and musicians—some of whom were involved in the first experimental opera productions a decade later. In fact, the 1589 intermedi had many of the same players and almost all the ingredients of opera—costumes, scenery, stage effects, enthralling solo singing, colourful instrumental music, large-scale numbers combining voices and orchestra, and dance. Yet to be created, however, were the unified action and the innovative style of dramatic singing that have remained among the hallmarks of opera.

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Opera singer Jeanine de Bique

Photo: Courtesy Houston Grand Opera

As with countless other kids across several generations, “The Sound of Music” left a distinct impression on a young Richard Bado.

“I wanted to be one of those seven children who had this governess who played with them all the time and taught them singing,” says Houston Grand Opera’s chorus master and director of artistic operations. “It was my sort of awakening to music and what it all does to you.”

According to Bado, he was six when he first saw “Sound of Music”; it was the second movie he’d ever seen. The first had been “Mary Poppins” the year before, so “of course my assumption was there’s singing in every movie,” he smiles, “and Julie Andrews is in every movie.”

Grand Opera Def

Bado estimates he’s seen the movie about 100 times since, so he probably won’t be alone when HGO presents “My Favorite Things: Songs From The Sound of Music” Saturday at UH’s TDECU Stadium. Besides the first stadium-scale outdoor concert in Houston since the pandemic began, it will be HGO’s first live public performance after months of strictly digital productions. (Masks are required for everyone over age 10.)

“Nothing against filming, but to do something live will be very exciting,” Bado says.

Grand Opera‘My Favorite Things: Songs From The Sound of Music’

When: 7:30 p.m. May 8

Where: TDECU Stadium, 3875 Holman St.

Details: $7.50-$10; 713-462-6647;

“Sound of Music,” which tied for the 1960 Tony Award for best musical and won best picture at the 1966 Oscars, was originally planned as HGO’s 2020-21 season finale. When the pandemic made that impossible, the company decided to salvage what they could by turning it into an outdoor concert-style singalong. There was just one small wrinkle: authorization.

Normally, obtaining the rights to do a full-costume “Sound of Music” would be a snap; not so with performing its songs in concert, Bado explains. He found himself pleading HGO’s case to Ted Chapin, president of the organization tasked with looking after Rodgers and Hammerstein’s considerable legacy.

“They get so many requests to do the regular show, they don’t need to do concert versions,” he explains. “[His] first question was, ‘You’re not thinking of filming this, are you? Because I don’t know if you’ve heard — we have a pretty good version out there of a film already’.”

Grand Opera House (wilmington Delaware)

Eventually, Bado was able to talk Chapin into allowing HGO to proceed, and the principal singers — including Trinidadian-born soprano Jeanine de Bique as Maria, baritone Michael Mayes as Captain Von Trapp, and soprano Katie Van Kooten as the Mother Abbess — signed on again for the sing-along. A full 138 kids auditioned for the roles of the Von Trapp children.

In lieu of a traditional script, Chapin even helped director Mitchell Greco build a narrative through line for the show by supplying a variety of interesting historical anecdotes. (For example: despite popular belief, “Edelweiss” is not a traditional Austrian folk song, but was in fact the last song Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together shortly before the latter’s death in 1959.)

Even for the authors of “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music” has an exceptionally deep bench: the title song, “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Maria,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Sixteen Going -on Seventeen,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” and so on. During the sing-along, the songs will be introduced by various people connected to HGO — staffers, orchestra members, patrons, etc. — talking about what the songs and the show have meant to their lives.

One recalled singing and choreographing “Do-Re-Mi” in fourth grade, while another spoke of calling a family truce whenever the movie came on TV during the holidays.

“I think it’s something that families can enjoy together because it’s on so many different levels,” says Bado, who will conduct HGO’s chorus and orchestra on Saturday. “There’s songs that kids like; there’s songs that grownups like.”

Grand Opera 1936

The story, meanwhile, has long since transcended its WWII-era origins to become an example of “this idea that you can fight against things that you don’t believe in and have a better life,” says Bado.

“To me, so much is about family,” he adds. “The songs Oscar Hammerstein wrote [touch on] universal themes, and [created a] tradition of people growing up and passing it on to the next generation over and over.”

Even the seasoned showbiz veterans around the Wortham Center are not immune to the Von Trapp family’s charms.

Grand Opera

“I notice here at the opera house the fact that we’re actually getting ready to do something real live is putting a little pep in people’s steps,” Bado says. “People are excited about this and it’s music people like, so there’s a perkiness around the building right now which has not been here for the year.”

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Chris Gray is a Galveston-based writer.