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Operatic Modernism

Operatic Modernism

The profound modernist ruptures of the 20th Century questioned, displaced, and reconfigured the way humanity regards itself. Within the fine arts, literature, architecture, and music, artistic revolutions occurred at an unprecedented rate and, within the rubric of modernism, deliberately broke with the bases of Western art, culture and society. While working within the operatic institution, Strauss' Salome, Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper, and Berg's Wozzeck profoundly challenge the generic conventions of the operatic tradition. Through their careful combination of innovation in music, text, structure, and staging, their questioning of traditional morality, and pointed social and historical commentaries, these three operas facilitate criticism of the traditional operatic institution as well as society; they are exemplary of the tensions--painfully evident within operatic modernism--between the will to modernity, innovation, and progress and the past. Opera falls, despite efforts to the contrary, away from the tremendous potential of innovation and rupture back to its conservative tradition. As the classical tradition all too often relies on, glorifies, and mythologises its past, the failure of modernism in opera is a result of the distance--projected, assumed, and interpolated--between the often stagnant classical and operatic institutions and innovative and modernist contemporaries. Too reified to permit the flourishing of innovation, dissent, and/or rupture, the operatic institution is weighed down by its past (as well as its patrons), remaining steadfastly resistant to the revolutionary influences of modernism.

While it is clear an essay on opera and modernism (or, indeed, a cou...

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