Exoticism in Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century Opera
The objective of this study is to answer as to what is meant by exoticism in nineteenth and early-twentieth century opera and as to what the appeal of exoticism to European librettists and composers. This work will take two operas as case studies and explore both the ways in which the librettists handle their subject matter and the ways in which the composers attempted to represent exoticism in musical terms. For the purpose of this study, the opera Salome by Richard Strauss and Aida by Giuseppe Verdi are chosen. This study will first examine Salome followed by an examination of Salome.
Salome the Opera
It has been said that Salome is the "most important event in German opera since the work of Richard Wagner." (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012) In fact, according to critics 'its concentrated power, eerie and sinister harmonies, and extraordinarily exotic orchestration marked a new development in opera music." (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012) Critics are reported to be in praise of Strauss for his musical composition of Salome which is "so delicately and thoughtfully" & #8230;communicative of the character's emotions which are complex in nature and to convey these emotions in ways that words would fail to suffice. (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012) The vocal demands of the Salome role are such that make a requirement equaling that of the "volume, stamina, and power of a true dramatic soprano." (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012)
II. Salome the Role
The role calls for "the agility and gracefulness of a prima ballerina therefore, some vocalists have stand-in dancers who are professional and others dance themselves. At the end of the Dance of the Seven Veils, some sopranos or those who are stand-ins for them adorn a body stocking beneath the veils and others have even appeared nude as the dance concludes. It is reported that Christian traditions depict Salome as an icon of "Dangerous female seductiveness, or concentrate on her lighthearted and cold foolishness that led to John the Baptist's death." (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012) The sexual desire of the character is that which guides the narrative of Salome. The characters are all instances of desire that has not met with fulfillment. (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012, paraphrased)
III. Salome the Music
The music of Salome is inclusive of a system of "leitmotifs or short melodies with symbolic meanings" and while some are associated definitely with such as Salome and Jokanaan, others have a meaning that is more abstract. The harmony in the opera uses "extended tonality, chromaticism, a wide range of keys, unusual modulations, tonal ambiguity, and polytonality." (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012, paraphrased) There are keys associated with some of the major roles such as Salome and as well, music is associated with primary psychological themes in the opera including death and desire. Exotic instruments are included in the orchestra described as "glittering and colorful" and as well strange uses of instruments in the opera occur.
IV. Aida: the Opera
Aida was composed by Verdi after receiving the Khedive of Egypt's invitation to write an opera on an Egyptian subject specifically for the Italian Opera House in Cairo opening in 1869 however; the opera was not finished in time for the opening. Verdi became interested in a scenario by the French Egyptologist Mariette Bey, which is reported to have been based "on an event in ancient Egyptian history, discovered on an archaeological excavation in Memphis. Verdi collaborated with dramatist Du Locle to expand it into a prose drama, and with Italian Novelist Antonio Ghislanzoni to turn it into a libretto." (Calgary Opera, 2010-2011) Aida finally premiered in 1871 at the Cairo Opera House. (Manitoba Opera 2011-2012, paraphrased)
V. Aida the Setting
It is stated of Aida that the settings of a typical Romantic opera generally is the composers home country however, "there came a time which the composers focused of writing exotic melodies to depict faraway and foreign places in which they had heart about but never went." (Calgary Opera, 2010-2011) It is reported that in the opera 'Aida' that Verdi tapped into "a vogue for things Egyptian that was reaching a climax towards the second half of the Century." (Calgary Opera, 2010-2011) In addition, Verdi is reported to have been "tapping into a vogue for epic opera on the grandest scale, a concept that had already been popularized by Meyerbeer, notably with L'Africaine in 1865." (Calgary Opera, 2010-2011)
The exoticism in terms of the ancient civilization and its mysteries and relics are…