Summer 1982 • Vol. IV No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1982 |

Stories That Break into Song: Choosing Plots for Opera

It is almost a truism that music and verse can best use their special abilities to delineate action and create character when an audience can easily follow the plot. The Greek dramatists used some of the noblest and subtlest poetry conceived by man—and only the gods know what music!—to enshrine stories which their audience had heard from childhood. Thus Aeschylus, Sophocles, and especially Euripides are constantly able to manipulate known expectations, and by so doing to provide contrast, surprise, and heightened degrees of aesthetic satisfaction. The composers of opera, an art which can be seen in spirit at least as an attempt to resuscitate Greek drama, also have turned repeatedly to the same stories. It's very hard to follow a plot when characters are singing. Using one that is known to a composer's audience has the obvious and practical advantage that the entire realm of vocal gesture can be liberated and the modern orchestra (which now often includes electronic music) ca

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