Portal:Opera/Selected biography

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Selected biographies list[edit]

Portal:Opera/Selected biography/1

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich (25 September 1906 – 9 August 1975) was a Russian composer of the Soviet period. He is best known for his satirical opera The Nose, (based on the story by Gogol) and his cycles of symphonies and string quartets, 15 of each. Since his death in 1975, reports about his true personal opinions about life in the USSR have been controversial. While he outwardly conformed with the state and was a public face for state-crafted propaganda, it is now widely known that he deeply disliked the Soviet regime —a view confirmed by his family, by private letters to Isaak Glikman, and the satirical cantata Anti-Formalist Rayok, which ridiculed the "anti-formalism" campaign in Soviet arts and was known only to his closest friends until after his death.


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Strubenholm, the home of the SA College of Music

Professor Erik William Chisholm (4 January 1904 – 8 June 1965) was a Scottish composer and conductor often known as "Scotland’s forgotten composer". According to his biographer, Chisholm "was the first composer to absorb Celtic idioms into his music in form as well as content, his achievement paralleling that of Bartók in its depth of understanding and its daring", which led to his nickname of "MacBartók". He was also a founder of the Celtic Ballet and, together with Margaret Morris, created the first full-length Scottish ballet, The Forsaken Mermaid. He was also the dean and director of the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town for 19 years. Chisholm founded the South African College of Music opera company in Cape Town and was a vital force in bringing new operas to Scotland, England and South Africa. By the time of his death in 1965, he had composed over a hundred works.


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Éva Gauthier

Éva Gauthier (September 20, 1885 – December 20, 1958) was a Canadian mezzo-soprano and voice teacher. She performed and popularised songs by contemporary composers throughout her career and sang in the American premieres of several works by Satie, Ravel and Stravinsky, including the title role in his Perséphone. The niece of Lady (Zoé) Laurier and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who were also her patrons, she initially trained and performed in Europe. She then travelled to Java and for four years immersed herself in its native music, which she introduced to North American audiences on her return. She retired from performing in 1937, and opened a voice studio in New York, where she became a founding member of the American Guild of Musical Artists and served on its board of governors. Gauthier was praised for the many qualities her singing brought to music. The citation from the Campion Society of San Francisco, which she received in 1949, said: "...her rare open-mindedness and unorthodox enthusiasm having been initially responsible for the recognition of many vital and important modern composers"


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Barrington as Pooh Bah in The Mikado, 1895

Rutland Barrington (15 January 1853 – 31 May 1922) was an English singer, actor, comedian, and Edwardian musical comedy star. Best remembered for originating the lyric baritone roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas from 1877 to 1896, his performing career spanned more than four decades. He also wrote at least a dozen works for the stage. After two years with a comic touring company, Barrington joined Richard D'Oyly Carte's opera company and, over the next two decades, created a number of memorable comic opera roles, including Captain Corcoran in H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance (1880), and Pooh Bah in The Mikado (1885), among many others. Failing in an 1888 attempt to become a theatrical manager, Barrington refocused his energies on acting and occasional playwriting. Beginning in 1896 and continuing for ten years, Barrington played in a series of very successful musical comedies under the management of George Edwardes at Daly's Theatre. After leaving Daly's he continued to appear in musical comedy roles and performed in music hall. His career ended in 1918, after which he suffered a stroke and lived the last few years of his life in poverty.


Portal:Opera/Selected biography/5

Plaque outside the Albert Hall Mansions

Sir Harold Malcolm Watts Sargent (29 April 1895 – 3 October 1967) was an English conductor, organist and composer widely regarded as Britain's leading conductor of choral works. The musical ensembles with which he was associated included the Ballets Russes, the Royal Choral Society, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and the London Philharmonic, Hallé, Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. As chief conductor of London's internationally famous summer music festival the Proms from 1948 to 1967, Sargent was one of the best-known English conductors. His fame extended beyond the concert hall: to the British public, he was a familiar broadcaster in BBC radio talk shows, and generations of Gilbert and Sullivan devotees have known his recordings of the most popular Savoy Operas. Sargent toured widely throughout the world and was noted for his skill as a conductor, his debonair appearance, and his championship of British composers.


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Jessie Bond

Jessie Bond (10 January 1853 – 17 June 1942) was an English singer and actress best known for creating the mezzo-soprano soubrette roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas. She spent twenty years on the stage, the bulk of them with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Bond began a concert singing career in Liverpool by 1870, after which, at the age of 17, she entered into a brief, unhappy marriage. After leaving her abusive husband, she continued her concert career and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. At the age of 25, Bond began her theatrical career, creating the role of Cousin Hebe in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. After this, she created roles of increasing importance with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in a series of successful comic operas, including the title role in Iolanthe (1882), Pitti Sing in The Mikado (1885), and others. During the 1890s, she continued performing on the West End, while being courted by Lewis Ransome, a civil engineer. In 1897, at the age of 44, Bond married Ransome and left the stage. They were happily married for 25 years; however, she survived Ransome by twenty years, living to the age of 89.


Portal:Opera/Selected biography/7

George Grossmith

George Grossmith (9 December 1847 – 1 March 1912) was an English comedian, writer, composer, actor, and singer. His performing career spanned more than four decades. As a writer and composer, he created 18 comic operas, nearly 100 musical sketches, some 600 songs and piano pieces, three books and both serious and comic pieces for newspapers and magazines. Grossmith is best remembered for two aspects of his career. First, he created a series of nine memorable characters in the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan from 1877 to 1889, including Sir Joseph Porter, in H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), the Major-General in The Pirates of Penzance (1880) and Ko-Ko in The Mikado (1885–87). Second, he wrote, in collaboration with his brother Weedon, the 1892 comic novel Diary of a Nobody. Grossmith was also famous in his day for performing his own comic piano sketches and songs, both before and after his Gilbert and Sullivan days, becoming the most popular British solo performer of the 1890s. Some of his comic songs endure today, including "See Me Dance the Polka". He continued to perform into the first decade of the 20th century. His son, George Grossmith, Jr., became a famous actor, playwright and producer of Edwardian musical comedies.


Portal:Opera/Selected biography/8

Arthur Sullivan

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO (13 May 1842 – 22 November 1900) was an English composer, of Irish and Italian descent, best known for his operatic collaborations with librettist W. S. Gilbert, including such continually-popular works as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado. Sullivan's artistic output included 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, eight choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous hymns and other church pieces, songs, parlour ballads, part songs, carols, and piano and chamber pieces. Apart from his comic operas with Gilbert, Sullivan is best known for some of his hymns and parlour songs, including "Onward Christian Soldiers", "The Absent-Minded Beggar", and "The Lost Chord". His most critically praised pieces include his Irish Symphony, his Overture di Ballo, The Martyr of Antioch, The Golden Legend, and, of the Savoy Operas, The Yeomen of the Guard. Sullivan's only grand opera, Ivanhoe, was initially highly successful, but it has been little heard since his death.


Portal:Opera/Selected biography/9

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert

W. S. Gilbert was an English dramatist, librettist and illustrator best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. Gilbert's most popular collaborations with Sullivan, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado (one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre) and most of their other Savoy operas continue to be performed regularly today throughout the English-speaking world and beyond by opera companies, repertory companies, schools and community theatre groups. Lines from these works have permanently entered the English language, including "short, sharp shock", "What never? Well, hardly ever!", and "let the punishment fit the crime". Gilbert also wrote the Bab Ballads, an extensive collection of light verse accompanied by his own comical drawings. His creative output included over 75 plays and libretti, numerous stories, poems, lyrics and various other comic and serious pieces. His plays and realistic style of stage direction inspired other dramatists, including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.


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Modest Mussorgsky, 1870

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (Russian: Моде́ст Петро́вич Му́соргский, Modest Petrovič Musorgskij) (March 21 [O.S. March 9], 1839 – March 28 [O.S. March 16], 1881), one of the Russian composers known as the Five, was an innovator of Russian music. He strove to achieve a uniquely Russian musical identity, often in deliberate defiance of the established conventions of classical music from Western culture. Many of his major works were inspired by Russian history, Russian folklore, and other nationalist themes, including the opera Boris Godunov, the orchestral tone poem Night on Bald Mountain, and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition. However, while Mussorgsky's music can be vivid and nationalistic, it does not always glorify the powerful and is sometimes antimilitaristic, such as in The Field-Marshal. For many years Mussorgsky's works were mainly known in versions revised or completed by other composers. Many of his most important compositions have recently come into their own in their original forms, and some of the original scores are now also available.


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Stockhausen lecturing at the 12th International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, 1957

Karlheinz Stockhausen (22 August 1928 – 5 December 2007) was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Some of his notable compositions include the series of nineteen Klavierstücke (Piano Pieces), Kontra-Punkte for ten instruments, the electronic/musique-concrète Gesang der Jünglinge, Gruppen for three orchestras, the percussion solo Zyklus, Kontakte, the cantata Momente, the live-electronic Mikrophonie I, Hymnen, Stimmung for six vocalists, Aus den sieben Tagen, Mantra for two pianos and electronics, Tierkreis, Inori for soloists and orchestra, and the gigantic opera cycle Licht.


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Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (18 March 1844 – 21 June 1908) was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as "The Five." Noted particularly for a predilection for folk and fairy-tale subjects as well as his extraordinary skill in orchestration, his orchestral compositions—Capriccio espagnol, Russian Easter Festival Overture, and the symphonic suite Scheherazade—are considered staples of the classical music repertoire, along with suites and excerpts from some of his 15 operas. While he is best known for in the West for his orchestral works, his operas far outweigh them in importance, offering a far wider variety of orchestral effect as well as his finest vocal writing. Their subjects range from historical melodramas (The Tsar's Bride) to folk operas (May Night) to fairytales and legends (Snowmaiden, Kashchey the Immortal and The Tale of Tsar Saltan).


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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (7 May 1840–6 November 1893) was a Russian composer of the Romantic era. He wrote some of the most popular concert and theatrical music in the current classical repertoire, including the ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, the 1812 Overture, his First Piano Concerto, several symphonies, and ten operas of which Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades are the most well-known. Although he enjoyed many popular successes, he was never emotionally secure, and his life was punctuated by personal crises and periods of depression. Contributory factors were his suppressed homosexuality and fear of exposure, his disastrous marriage, and the sudden collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck.


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Johann Strauss II

Johann Strauss II (October 25, 1825 – June 3, 1899; also known as Johann Baptist Strauss, Johann Strauss, Jr., or Johann Strauss the Younger) was an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. In his lifetime, he was known as "The Waltz King", and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century. Johann Strauss's most famous waltzes include The Blue Danube, Kaiser-Walzer, Tales from the Vienna Woods, the Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka. Of his operettas, Die Fledermaus and The Gypsy Baron are the most well-known. Strauss was the son of Johann Strauss I, another composer of dance music. His father did not wish him to become a composer, but rather a banker; however, the son defied his father's wishes, and went on to study music with the composer Joseph Drechsler and the violin with Anton Kollmann, the ballet répétiteur of the Vienna Court Opera. Strauss had two younger brothers, Josef and Eduard Strauss, who became composers of light music as well, although they were never as well-known as their elder brother.


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Bedřich Smetana

Bedřich Smetana (2 March 1824 – 12 May 1884) was a Czech composer who pioneered the development of a musical style which became closely identified with his country's aspirations to independent statehood. He is thus widely regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music. Internationally he is best known for his opera The Bartered Bride, and for the symphonic cycle Má vlast ("My Fatherland") which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer's native land. In 1866 his first two operas, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride, were premiered at Prague's new Provisional Theatre. In that same year, Smetana became the theatre's principal conductor, but the years of his conductorship were marked by controversy. Factions within the city's musical establishment considered his identification with the progressive ideas of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner inimical to the development of a distinctively Czech opera style. This opposition interfered with his creative work, and may have hastened the health breakdown which precipitated his resignation from the theatre in 1874.


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Richard Wagner

Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas. Wagner's compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works. Famous extracts from his operas include the "Ride of the Valkyries" and the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, popularly known as the wedding march "Here Comes the Bride". Wagner pioneered advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, which greatly influenced the development of European classical music. Wagner's influence spread beyond music into philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre. He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants.


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Frederick Delius, aged 45, photographed in 1907

Frederick Theodore Albert Delius CH (29 January 1862 – 10 June 1934) was an English composer. Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, to a prosperous mercantile family of German extraction, he resisted attempts to recruit him to commerce. He was sent to Florida in 1884 to manage an orange plantation, where he neglected his managerial duties. Influenced by African-American music, he began composing. After a brief period of formal musical study in Germany beginning in 1886, he embarked on a full-time career as a composer in Paris and then in nearby Grez-sur-Loing, where he and his wife Jelka lived (except during the First World War) for the rest of their lives. Delius's first successes came in Germany. In Delius's native Britain, it was 1907 before his music made regular appearances in concert programmes, after Thomas Beecham took it up. Beecham staged Delius's opera A Village Romeo and Juliet at Covent Garden in 1910 and mounted a six-day Delius festival in London in 1929, as well as making gramophone recordings of many of Delius's works. After 1918 Delius began to suffer the effects of syphilis, contracted during his earlier years in Paris. He became paralysed and blind, but completed some late compositions between 1928 and 1932 with the aid of an amanuensis.


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Nellie Melba by Henry Walter Barnett

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (19 May 1861 – 23 February 1931), born Helen Porter Mitchell, was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late 19th and early 20th century and was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. Melba studied singing in Melbourne and debuted to modest success there. After a brief, unsuccessful marriage she moved to Europe in search of a singing career. After a false start in London, she studied in Paris and made a great success there. Returning to London she quickly established herself as the leading lyric soprano at Covent Garden and achieved further success at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Her repertoire was small. In her whole career she sang no more than 25 roles, and was closely identified with only ten. She returned to Australia frequently during the 20th century. She built a house near Melbourne and taught singing at the Melbourne Conservatorium. Melba continued to sing until the last months of her life, and made a legendary number of "farewell" appearances. Her death, in Australia, was news across the English-speaking world, and her funeral was a major national event.


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Eugenia Tadolini as Adina in L'elisir d'amore

Eugenia Tadolini (née Savorani) (9 July 1809 – 11 July 1872) was an Italian operatic soprano. Admired for the beauty of her voice and stage presence, she was one of Donizetti's favourite singers. During her career she created over 20 leading roles, including the title roles in Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix and Maria di Rohan and Verdi's Alzira. She was born in Forlì and studied music there and in Bologna before making her debut in Florence in 1828. She sang in all of Italy's leading opera houses, as well as in Paris, Vienna, and London before retiring from the stage in 1852. She spent her remaining years first in Naples, where she had been the Teatro San Carlo's reigning prima donna for many years, and then in Paris, where she died of typhoid fever at the age of 63. From 1827 to 1834, she was married to the Italian composer and singing teacher, Giovanni Tadolini.


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The parish church at Aspatria, Cumbria, the scene of Ferrier's first professional singing engagement in 1937

Kathleen Mary Ferrier CBE (22 April 1912 – 8 October 1953) was an English contralto who achieved an international reputation as a stage, concert and recording artist, with a repertoire extending from folksong and popular ballads to the classical works of Bach, Brahms, Mahler and Elgar. Her death from cancer, at the height of her fame, was a shock to the musical world and particularly to the general public, which was kept in ignorance of the nature of her illness until after her death. In 1946 Ferrier made her stage debut, in the Glyndebourne Festival premiere of Benjamin Britten's opera The Rape of Lucretia. A year later she made her first appearance as Orfeo in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, a work with which she became particularly associated. By her own choice, these were her only two operatic roles. Her final public appearance was as Orfeo, at the Royal Opera House in February 1953, eight months before her death. The Kathleen Ferrier Scholarship Fund, administered by the Royal Philharmonic Society, has made annual awards to aspiring young professional singers since 1956.


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Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet (25 October 1838 – 3 June 1875) was a French composer, mainly of operas. In a career cut short by his early death, he achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, became one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertory. During a brilliant student career at the Paris Conservatoire he won many prizes, including the Prix de Rome. He was also recognised as an outstanding pianist, though he chose not to capitalise on this skill and rarely performed in public. Returning to Paris after almost three years in Italy, he found that the main Parisian opera theatres preferred the established classical repertoire to the works of newcomers. His career stalled and he earned his living mainly by arranging and transcribing the music of others. Restless for success, he began many theatrical projects during the 1860s, most of which were abandoned. After his death his musical legacy, apart from Carmen, was generally neglected. He founded no school and had no obvious disciples or successors. After years of neglect his works began to be performed more frequently in the 20th century. Later commentators have acclaimed him as a composer of brilliance and originality whose premature death was a significant loss to French musical theatre.


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Stanford-Bassano-1921.jpg

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (30 September 1852 – 29 March 1924) was an Irish composer, teacher and conductor. Born to a well-off and highly musical family in Dublin, Stanford was educated at the University of Cambridge before studying music in Leipzig and Berlin. In 1882, aged 29, he became one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music, where he taught composition for the rest of his life. From 1887 he was also the professor of music at Cambridge. Stanford composed a substantial number of concert works, including seven symphonies, but his best-remembered pieces are his choral works for church performance, chiefly composed in the Anglican tradition. He was a dedicated composer of opera, but none of his nine completed operas which included The Canterbury Pilgrims and Much Ado About Nothing has endured in the general repertory. Some critics regarded Stanford, together with Hubert Parry and Alexander Mackenzie, as responsible for a renaissance in English music. However, after his conspicuous success as a composer in the last two decades of the 19th century, his music was eclipsed in the 20th century by that of Edward Elgar as well as his former pupils.


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Sir George Solti 2 Allan Warren.jpg

Sir Georg Solti, KBE, (21 October 1912 – 5 September 1997) was an orchestral and operatic conductor, best known for his appearances with opera companies in Munich, Frankfurt and London, and as a long-serving music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Born in Hungary, he studied in Budapest with Béla Bartók, Leo Weiner and Ernő Dohnányi. In the 1930s, he was a répétiteur at the Hungarian State Opera and worked at the Salzburg Festival for Arturo Toscanini. His career was interrupted by the rise of the Nazis, and as a Jew he fled the increasingly restrictive anti-semitic laws in 1938. After conducting a season of Russian ballet in London at the Royal Opera House he found refuge in Switzerland, where he remained during the Second World War. He was not permitted to conduct there, but earned a living as a pianist. After the war Solti was appointed musical director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich from 1946. In 1952 he moved to the Frankfurt Opera, where he remained in charge for nine years. In 1961 he became musical director of the Covent Garden Opera Company in London, where in his ten-year term he raised standards to the highest international levels. Under his musical directorship the status of the company was recognised with the grant of the title "the Royal Opera". He became a British subject in 1972.


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Leoš Janáček

Leoš Janáček, baptised Leo Eugen Janáček, (3 July 1854 – 12 August 1928) was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Moravian and all Slavic folk music to create an original, modern musical style. Until 1895 he devoted himself mainly to folkloristic research and his early musical output was influenced by contemporaries such as Antonín Dvořák. His later, mature works incorporate his earlier studies of national folk music in a modern, highly original synthesis, first evident in the opera Jenůfa, which was premiered in 1904 in Brno. The success of Jenůfa (often called the "Moravian national opera") at Prague in 1916 gave Janáček access to the world's great opera stages. Janáček's later works are his most celebrated. They include the symphonic poem Sinfonietta, the oratorio Glagolitic Mass, the rhapsody Taras Bulba, two string quartets, other chamber works and operas. Along with Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, he is considered one of the most important Czech composers.


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Giacomo Meyerbeer, Lithograph by Josef Kriehuber, 1847

Giacomo Meyerbeer, (born Jacob Liebmann Beer) (5 September 1791 – 2 May 1864) was a German opera composer of Jewish birth who has been described as perhaps the most successful stage composer of the 19th century. With his 1831 opera Robert le diable and its successors he gave the genre of grand opera "decisive character". Meyerbeer's grand opera style was achieved by his merging of German orchestra style with Italian vocal tradition. These were employed in the context of sensational and melodramatic libretti created by Eugène Scribe, and were enhanced by the up-to-date theatre technology of the Paris Opéra. They set a standard which helped to maintain Paris as the opera capital of the 19th century. Born to a very wealthy family, Meyerbeer began his musical career as a pianist, but soon decided to devote himself to opera, spending several years in Italy studying and composing. His 1824 opera Il crociato in Egitto was the first to bring him Europe-wide reputation, but it was Robert le diable (1831) which raised his status to great celebrity. His public career from 1831 until his death, during which he remained throughout a dominating figure in opera, was summarized by his contemporary Hector Berlioz, who claimed that he "has not only the luck to be talented, but the talent to be lucky." He was at his peak with his operas Les Huguenots (1836) and Le prophète (1849); his last opera (L'Africaine) was performed posthumously.


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Jacques Offenbach in the 1860s

Jacques Offenbach (20 June 1819 – 5 October 1880) was a German-born French composer, cellist and impresario of the romantic period. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr. and Arthur Sullivan. His best-known works were continually revived during the 20th century, and many of his operettas continue to be staged in the 21st. The Tales of Hoffman remains part of the standard opera repertory.


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Benjamin Britten in 1968

Benjamin Britten (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976) was an English composer, conductor and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British classical music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945). Born in Suffolk, the son of a dentist, Britten showed talent from an early age. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and privately with the composer Frank Bridge. Britten first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to international fame. Over the next 28 years, he wrote 14 more operas, establishing himself as one of the leading 20th-century composers in the genre. In addition to large-scale operas for Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden, he wrote "chamber operas" for small forces, suitable for performance in venues of modest size. Among the best known of these is The Turn of the Screw (1954). Recurring themes in the operas are the struggle of an outsider against a hostile society, and the corruption of innocence.


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Kristallnacht 1938, the inspiration for Tippett's oratorio "A Child of Our Time"

Sir Michael Kemp Tippett (2 January 1905 – 8 January 1998) was an English composer who rose to prominence during and immediately after the Second World War. In his lifetime he was considered to rank with his contemporary Benjamin Britten as one of the leading British composers of the 20th century. Among his best-known works are the opera The Midsummer Marriage and the oratorio A Child of Our Time inspired by Kristallnacht (pictured), the Nazi government's violent pogrom against its Jewish population. Having briefly embraced communism in the 1930s, Tippett avoided identifying with any political party. A pacifist after 1940, he was imprisoned in 1943 for refusing to carry out war-related duties required by his military exemption. His initial difficulties in accepting his homosexuality led him in 1939 to Jungian psychoanalysis; the Jungian dichotomy of "shadow" and "light" remained a recurring factor in Tippett's music. He was a strong advocate of music education, and was active for much of his life as a radio broadcaster and writer on music.


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Patrice Chéreau

Patrice Chéreau (2 November 1944 – 7 October 2013) was a French opera and theatre director, filmmaker, actor and producer. In France he is best known for his work for the theatre, internationally for his films La Reine Margot and Intimacy, and for his staging of the Jahrhundertring, the centenary Ring Cycle at the Bayreuth Festival in 1976. Winner of almost twenty movie awards, including the Cannes Jury Prize and the Golden Berlin Bear, Chéreau served as president of the jury at the 2003 Cannes festival. His other opera productions included the first performance of the three-act version of Alban Berg's Lulu, completed by Friedrich Cerha, at the Paris Opera in 1979; Berg's Wozzeck at the Staatsoper Berlin in 1994; Wagner's Tristan und Isolde at La Scala in 2007; Janáček's From the House of the Dead, shown at several festivals and the Metropolitan Opera; and, as his last staging, Elektra by Richard Strauss, first performed at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July 2013. He was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize in 2008.


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André Messager

André Charles Prosper Messager (30 December 1853 – 24 February 1929) was a French composer, organist, pianist, conductor and administrator. His stage compositions included ballets and 30 opéra comiques and operettas, among which Véronique had lasting success, with Les p'tites Michu and Monsieur Beaucaire also enjoying international success. Despite financial obstacles, Messager pursued studies in piano and composition, with teachers including Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré. He became a major figure in the musical life of London as well as Paris, both as a conductor and a composer. Most of his Parisian works were produced in London, where several of them had long runs and numerous revivals, and he wrote two operatic works in English. He was the only French composer to write an original Savoy opera. Towards the end of his career, he composed musical comedies for Sacha Guitry and Yvonne Printemps.


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W. H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973), who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet, born in England, later an American citizen, and is regarded by many critics as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His work is noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with moral and political issues, and its variety in tone, form and content. The central themes of his poetry are love, politics and citizenship, religion and morals, and the relationship between unique human beings and the anonymous, impersonal world of nature. Auden took a particular interest in writing opera librettos, a form ideally suited to direct expression of strong feelings. He wrote the libretto for Britten's operetta Paul Bunyan and with Chester Kallman co-wrote the librettos for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Nicolas Nabokov's Love's Labour's Lost, and two operas by Hans Werner HenzeElegy for Young Lovers and The Bassarids.


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Jules Massenet photographed by Pierre Petit, 1880

Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet 12 May 1842 – 13 August 1912) was a French composer best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty. The two most frequently staged are Manon (1884) and Werther (1892). While still a schoolboy, Massenet was admitted to France's principal music college, the Paris Conservatoire. After winning the country's top musical prize, the Prix de Rome, in 1863, he composed prolifically in many genres. Between 1867 and his death forty-five years later he wrote more than forty stage works in a wide variety of styles, from opéra-comique to grand-scale depictions of classical myths, romantic comedies, lyric dramas, as well as oratorios, cantatas and ballets. Massenet had a good sense of the theatre and of what would succeed with the Parisian public. Despite some miscalculations, he produced a series of successes that made him the leading opera composer in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


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Francois Lays

François Lay, better known under the stage name Lays (14 February 1758 – 30 March 1831), was a French baritone and tenor opera singer. Originally destined for a career in the church, he was recruited by the Paris Opéra in 1779 and soon became a leading member of the company, in spite of quarrels with the management. Lays enthusiastically welcomed the French Revolution and became involved in politics with the encouragement of his friend Bertrand Barère. Barère's downfall led to Lays being imprisoned briefly, but he soon won back the public and secured the patronage of Napoleon, at whose coronation and second wedding he sang. His association with the Emperor caused him trouble when the Bourbon monarchy was restored and Lays's final years were darkened by disputes over his pension, mounting debts, the death of his only son and his wife's illness. After a career spanning more than four decades, he died in poverty.


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Carl Nielsen in 1901

Carl Nielsen (9 June 1865 – 3 October 1931) was a Danish conductor, violinist, and widely recognized as his country's greatest composer. While his symphonies, concertos and choral music are now internationally acclaimed, Nielsen's career and personal life were marked by many difficulties, often reflected in his music. The works he composed between 1897 and 1904 are sometimes ascribed to his "psychological" period, resulting mainly from a turbulent marriage with the sculptor Anne Marie Brodersen. His opera Maskarade was a resounding success at its 1906 premiere is generally considered to be Denmark's national opera. Its lasting popularity there is attributable to its many strophic songs, its dances and its underlying "old Copenhagen" atmosphere.


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