How to Listen to and Understand Opera

Introduction and Words and Music, I
1: Introduction and Words and Music, I

In the first two lectures we develop a methodology for listening to and understanding opera. We are introduced to the concept of opera as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts in its combination of soliloquy, dialogue, scenery, action, and continuous music. We see how music can evoke what words cannot express; the composer is the dramatist. This combination of words and music endows op...

47 min
Introduction and Words and Music, II
2: Introduction and Words and Music, II

In the first two lectures we develop a methodology for listening to and understanding opera. We are introduced to the concept of opera as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts in its combination of soliloquy, dialogue, scenery, action, and continuous music. We see how music can evoke what words cannot express; the composer is the dramatist. This combination of words and music endows op...

45 min
A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, I
3: A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, I

Throughout the history of European music, style and form have changed constantly. Beginning in ancient Greece, we trace the history of vocal music through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We focus on the rise of popular secular music in a world hitherto dominated by the music of the Roman Catholic Church. Renaissance composers turned increasingly to the ancient Greek ideal for inspiration. The...

44 min
A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, II
4: A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, II

Throughout the history of European music, style and form have changed constantly. Beginning in ancient Greece, we trace the history of vocal music through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We focus on the rise of popular secular music in a world hitherto dominated by the music of the Roman Catholic Church. Renaissance composers turned increasingly to the ancient Greek ideal for inspiration. The...

47 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, I
5: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, I

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

46 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, II
6: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, II

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

45 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, III
7: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, III

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

45 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, IV
8: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, IV

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

47 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, I
9: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, I

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

45 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, II
10: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, II

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

45 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, III
11: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, III

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

46 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, IV
12: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, IV

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

46 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, I
13: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, I

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

46 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, II
14: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, II

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

44 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, III
15: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, III

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

46 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, IV
16: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, IV

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

47 min
The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, I
17: The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, I

Lectures 17 and 18 discuss bel canto, the dominant style of 19th-century Italian opera. Its features of appealing melodies and florid melodic embellishments are suited to the Italian language. Bel canto operas are based on comic, predictable plots and one-dimensional characters to indulge the contemporary Italian taste for pure entertainment. Our frame of reference is the landmark bel canto opera,...

46 min
The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, II
18: The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, II

Lectures 17 and 18 discuss bel canto, the dominant style of 19th-century Italian opera. Its features of appealing melodies and florid melodic embellishments are suited to the Italian language. Bel canto operas are based on comic, predictable plots and one-dimensional characters to indulge the contemporary Italian taste for pure entertainment. Our frame of reference is the landmark bel canto opera,...

48 min
Verdi and Otello, I
19: Verdi and Otello, I

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

46 min
Verdi and Otello, II
20: Verdi and Otello, II

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

46 min
Verdi and Otello, III
21: Verdi and Otello, III

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

46 min
Verdi and Otello, IV
22: Verdi and Otello, IV

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

45 min
French Opera, I
23: French Opera, I

In Lectures 23 and 24 we give an overview of the evolution of a distinctly French style; explain why and how French opera is different from Italian opera; and emphasize that operatic content, both musical and dramatic, is most often a function of the language, politics, and economic class of its consumers. French opera composers discussed include Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Jac...

45 min
French Opera, II
24: French Opera, II

In Lectures 23 and 24 we give an overview of the evolution of a distinctly French style; explain why and how French opera is different from Italian opera; and emphasize that operatic content, both musical and dramatic, is most often a function of the language, politics, and economic class of its consumers. French opera composers discussed include Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Jac...

46 min
German Opera Comes of Age
25: German Opera Comes of Age

In this lecture we learn how German opera owed its evolution to German folklore and the requirements of the German language. We see how it came into being with Mozart's The Magic Flute of 1791, and how it was indebted to the traditional German entertainment of singspiel. Weber's Der Freishütz is examined as the work that established 19th-century German opera....

48 min
Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, I
26: Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, I

Lectures 26 and 27 examine the contribution of the paradoxical Richard Wagner to operatic history. Wagner's life and career is summarized. We look at Wagner's theories, his admiration for ancient Greek drama, and his invention of leitmotif. Schopenhauer's philosophy and its influence on Wagner's concept of music drama are also discussed. Finally, we examine Wagner's landmark opera Tristan und Isol...

45 min
Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, II
27: Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, II

Lectures 26 and 27 examine the contribution of the paradoxical Richard Wagner to operatic history. Wagner's life and career is summarized. We look at Wagner's theories, his admiration for ancient Greek drama, and his invention of leitmotif. Schopenhauer's philosophy and its influence on Wagner's concept of music drama are also discussed. Finally, we examine Wagner's landmark opera Tristan und Isol...

46 min
Late Romantic German Opera-Richard Strauss and Salome
28: Late Romantic German Opera-Richard Strauss and Salome

In this lecture, Richard Strauss's opera Salome is discussed as an example of late romantic German opera. After an overview of Strauss's early life, we examine his psychopathological and erotic Salome and the reasons why it is one of the most controversial operas of all time....

46 min
Russian Opera, I
29: Russian Opera, I

This lecture on Russian opera traces the causes, history, and character of Russian musical nationalism. Glinka and his opera Ruslan and Lyudmila are discussed as the foundation of Russian opera leading the way for The Russian Five and the pinnacle of Russian nationalist opera, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov....

46 min
Russian Opera, II
30: Russian Opera, II

This lecture on Russian opera traces the causes, history, and character of Russian musical nationalism. Glinka and his opera Ruslan and Lyudmila are discussed as the foundation of Russian opera leading the way for The Russian Five and the pinnacle of Russian nationalist opera, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov....

42 min
Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, I
31: Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, I

The final lectures examine opera verismo: its origins, character, and greatest exponent-Giacomo Puccini. Puccini's virtues and faults are discussed-especially his marvelous power of lyricism, sometimes pursued at the expense of dramatic reality. The second act of Tosca is analyzed as an example of his style and as one of the most powerful acts in all opera. The study concludes with a musical illus...

46 min
Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, II
32: Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, II

The final lectures examine opera verismo: its origins, character, and greatest exponent-Giacomo Puccini. Puccini's virtues and faults are discussed-especially his marvelous power of lyricism, sometimes pursued at the expense of dramatic reality. The second act of Tosca is analyzed as an example of his style and as one of the most powerful acts in all opera. The study concludes with a musical illus...

46 min
Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.

ALMA MATER

University of California, Berkeley

INSTITUTION

San Francisco Performances

About Robert Greenberg

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres. Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.