Opera and Broadway: The debate over the essence of opera in New York City, 1900–1960
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This dissertation is concerned with the debate over the essence of opera in New York City in the middle of the twentieth century. Chapter 1 details the institutional relationship between popular theater and the opera house between 1900 and 1931 in order to explain the conceptual origins of Broadway opera. I argue that though there was a relatively stable distinction between grand opera and light opera, these two categories were in constant flux in their separate spheres. Grand opera, contrary to current scholarly positions, was a living form of theater and the grand opera house was not yet a museum but a place where new operas were introduced and even the goal of creating an American approach to opera was explored. Initially, composers, producers, and critics distinguished light opera from musical comedy based on the musical and dramatic conventions that each type employed. But, beginning in the 1910s, light opera and musical comedy began to utilize overlapping musical procedures, and by the early 1930s critics considered works that made use of certain procedures to be operas, even if these were mixed with conventions of traditional musical comedy. Such a confluence is exemplified by Of Thee I Sing (1931), with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and a book by George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. This hybrid of musical comedy and light opera laid the conceptual foundation that allowed for works that we now consider to be quintessential American musicals to be regarded by certain critics and writers to be operas, and partially set the stage for the further exploration of more serious subject matter in works that would come to be considered Broadway operas. Chapter 2 documents the first significant Broadway operas: Four Saints in Three Acts, Porgy and Bess, Johnny Johnson, The Cradle Will Rock, and Carmen Jones. The first part of the chapter discusses the economic and conceptual factors that threatened the stable distinction of grand and light opera and enabled light opera to absorb the serious tone of grand opera. The second part focuses on how formal procedures that were employed in Johnny Johnson and The Cradle Will Rock were then employed in the revisions made to the revival of Porgy and Bess in 1942 and codified in Oscar Hammerstein II's Carmen Jones the following year. The shifting institutional dynamics in the 1930s and forties, I argue, established a new equilibrium between the Metropolitan and Broadway. At this time the Metropolitan became a museum chiefly dedicated to preserving classic works—notably Mozart's operas—while modern, American operas were performed on Broadway. Broadway opera composers and writers, including George Gershwin, and Oscar Hammerstein II, began to employ rhetoric that was racially charged, discussing their shows as integrated, a strategy that served to further distinguish their works as modern and progressive in contradistinction to the museum pieces produced by the Metropolitan. Chapter 3 explores the relationship between text and music in later music theater of the 1940s and fifties to reveal how the conventions of Broadway opera that emerged in Porgy and Bess and Carmen Jones are manifested in later works. This chapter also concerns the limits of Broadway opera, addressing the incongruence of its practices with the expectations of many critics and audience members by briefly examining three works and their reception, Regina (1949), The Most Happy Fella (1956), and West Side Story. I argue that the very same ideologies that gave rise to Broadway opera—essentially an open conception of opera—led to its demise on Broadway as audiences were proven to not share this open sensibility with writers and composers. Ultimately American opera would find its home not on Broadway but at the New York City Center, the home of the New York City Center Opera Company. Though founded in 1943, beginning in the late 1950s with financial assistance from the Ford Foundation the company aggressively commissioned and performed American works that depart from some of Broadway opera's conventions but exhibit the influence of its approach to the relationship between text and music. This influence will be shown by comparing musical numbers from Carousel (1945) and Street Scene (1947) to excerpts from Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, which was premiered by the Central City Opera Company in 1956, and became a staple at the New York City Center Opera Company beginning in 1958. While documenting this history, this dissertation engages with a diverse array of musical theatrical works. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)
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Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden :Mr. Frederick Gye having in the most generous spirit placed this theatre at the disposal of the council for a benefit in aid of the funds of the Royal Dramatic College, this evening, Thursday, March 29, 1860: the entertainments will commence ... with the first act of Sir Bulwer Lytton's play of Money : to be succeeded by the trial scene from Shakspeare's Merchant of Venice ... after which, a selection from the late Douglas Jerrold's nautical drama of Black-eyed Susan ... to be followed by a scene from the fifth act of Macbeth ... the screen scene from the fourth act of Sheridan's comedy of School for scandal ... during the evening, a selection of vocal music ... J. Maddison Morton's farce of Box & Cox ... the celebrated Christy Minstrels will give selections from their popular entertainment : to conclude with the new and successful sketch, by Montague Williams and F. C. Burnand ... entitled B. B. ... Royal Italian Opera (London, England) (Printed by Peel's Steam Machine, 1860)