These operas are one of a kind

Our classical music expert Andrew Nowell turns an ear to an opera bursting with heart and soul...

Thursday, 11th April 2019, 4:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th April 2019, 4:59 pm
The Wolf's Glen from Der Freischuetz

Last week the Royal Northern College of Music staged Vaughan Williams’ neglected passion project The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Generally speaking this opera into which Vaughan Williams poured his heart and soul has struggled for productions and audiences.

It’s true the work is essentially thoughtful rather than dramatic and it has an awful lot of roles crammed into the narrative.

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But it cast a real spell thanks to the talented students and something genuinely moving and powerful was created.

Vaughan Williams, it’s fair to say, was not a natural opera composer, but he is not the only musician who has been drawn to the stage despite mainly succeeding in other areas. Here are a few more composers whose contributions to the 400 years of opera have been, in many ways, rather singular:

Beethoven – Fidelio: Beethoven wrote his only opera three times and gave it four overtures. But there is nothing else in the repertoire like the tale of the heroine Leonora rescuing her beloved from tyranny. Beethoven’s treatment of his beloved subject of freedom packs a punch.

Weber – Der Freischütz: It might seem harsh to put Weber here as Der Freischütz is a masterpiece, but he never again created anything like this crucial Romantic tale of a huntsman using magic bullets in the sinister Wolf’s Glen. This is the springboard to Wagner.

Debussy – Pelleas und Melisande: Debussy’s only opera is totally unique: a shifting, twilight world of emotions and memories that some find utterly boring but others captivating.

Messiaen – St Francis of Assisi: Messiaen too ventured once into the opera house for this, a colossal four-hour-plus ritual on the life of the medieval saint which includes moments of deep meditation and incredible use of birdsong.

Kurtag – Fin de Partie: At 92 the Hungarian master has finally made it into opera with this version of Beckett’s play Endgame. The premiere got rave reviews.