Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Bel Canto

Dr. Bob Prescribes Vincenzo Bellini: Norma

By the early nineteenth century, opera in Italy had become a universally popular art. In addition to large cities like Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, there were operatic performances in almost every town of moderate size on the Italian peninsula. Much of this popularity was attributable to the rise of opera buffa, which itself had evolved from the tradition of Italian street theater known as “commedia dell’arte”, opera that pretty much anyone could enjoy. Italian opera buffa made few intellectual demands on its audience and was perfectly suited to the Italian genius for wit, fast-paced dialogue, attractive tunes, and comic situations. Might we – with all due respect – suggest that early nineteenth-century Italian opera buffa is “opera lite” – sounds great but not terribly filling. Such opera buffa composers as Giovanni Paisiello (1714-1816) and Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) were masters of musical characterization, deft orchestration, and lilting melodies. Their operas were popular not only in Italy but throughout Europe. We’d further observe that opera seria continued to be cultivated in the larger cities, primarily under aristocratic patronage. What this all means is that by the early nineteenth century, Italian opera had become a major commercial enterprise: a highly profitable, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes – Rossini: The Barber of Seville

Oft’ have I moaned and groaned about the licensing contracts signed by The Teaching Company/Great Courses and various recording companies, contracts that precluded me from identifying the performers heard on the musical excerpts in my courses. Yes indeed, this is entirely counter-intuitive; one would think that the record companies would want me to name-names, the better to sell those albums being excerpted in the courses. But like quantum mechanics, the actions of these companies remain unfathomable; weird business.  Because I wasn’t allowed to name performers, I would estimate that roughly 50% of the mail I’ve received over the years in response to my courses has been about the recordings I’ve used: folks want to know who played this, who sang that. In many cases I don’t know at all, because in the early years I was often sent recordings for audition on cassettes with no indication as to the identity of the performers. For example, to this day, I haven’t a clue as to any of the performers on the recordings I chose for my Symphonies of Beethoven course, recorded in 1995. Every now and then – by begging, scraping, whining, banging on tables, and giving noogies – I managed […]

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