Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Sheppard, W. Anthony. “Allusion in the Composition of Contemporary Opera.” Cambridge Opera Journal 33 (November 2021): 212-72.

Musical allusions in contemporary postmodern operas are often meaningful and symbolic, shaping audience understanding of characters, plot points, and the work’s relationship to the history of opera. Three stylistically divergent operas—John Adams’s Nixon in China (1987), Louis Andriessen’s La Commedia (2008), and Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel (2016)—demonstrate that allusion-making is rarely just a postmodern game. Postmodern operas that engage in extensive collage, notably John Cage’s five Europeras (1987–91) and John Coriglioni’s The Ghosts of Versailles (1987/1991), address the continuing presence of the operatic past. This approach is extended by later postmodern composers who work extensively in the opera genre. Despite Adams’s claims that Nixon in China is not a work of political satire, his score often undermines characters with satirical effect through musical allusions, particularly to works by Wagner and Stravinsky. Andriessen’s multimedia opera La Commedia alludes to a wide variety of composers and styles (including Stravinsky, Ravel, Wagner, Bebop jazz, nursery rhymes, and twentieth-century medievalism) in degrees of salience ranging from near quotation to suggested resemblance. While the rapid style shifts suggest an air of ironic detachment, Andriessen’s allusions to Fauré’s Requiem (and other requiems) offer a more personal, melancholic sentiment. Likewise, the allusions in Adès’s The Exterminating Angel meaningfully contribute to its surrealist atmosphere by acting as a “force field,” trapping the characters within the confines of the opera. Musical allusions also appear in operas by composers not known for musical borrowing; Philip Glass’s Akhnaten (1983), Shara Nova’s YOU US WE ALL (2013/2015), and Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar (2012) all contain allusions to Baroque operas. The frequency of allusions in contemporary operas, along with the self-consciousness of opera as a genre, walk a fine line between rewarding knowledgeable audience members and inadvertently suggesting that the genre is out of new ideas.

Works: John Cage: Europeras nos. 1–5 (220-21); John Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles (221-26); John Adams: Nixon in China (225-34); Louis Andriessen: La Commedia (234-53); Thomas Adès: The Exterminating Angel (253-59); Philip Glass: Akhnaten (261-63); Shara Nova: YOU US WE ALL (262-67); Missy Mazzoli: Song from the Uproar (266-69).

Sources: Sources: Mozart: Don Giovanni (221), Le nozze di Figaro (222-23); Rossini: L’italiana in Algeri (223), Il barbiere di Siviglia (224); Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (223, 244), Siegfried (227-29), Das Rheingold (230-31), Parsifal (233-34); Traditional: Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre (223-34); Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 10 (224-26); Richard Strauss: Salome (227-29, 258-60); John Stafford Smith (composer), Francis Scott Key (lyricist): The Star-Spangled Banner (230-31); Stravinsky: Perséphone (232-33, 240-41), The Rite of Spring (232-33, 244), Requiem Canticles (250-52); Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie (243-44); Benjamin Britten: Curlew River (244); Puccini: Madama Butterfly (244); Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story (245-47); Charlie Parker: Bird of Paradise/All the Things You Are (245-47); Maurice Ravel: Introduction et allegro (245-47), La valse (255-57); Claude Debussy: Claire de lune (245-47); Gabriel Fauré: Requiem (247-50); Andrew Lloyd Webber: Requiem (252); J. S. Bach: Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, BWV 208 (256, 259), Well-Tempered Clavier (264-65); Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (258); Monteverdi: L’incoronazione di Poppea (261-63), Orfeo (264, 265); Purcell: Dido and Aeneas (268-69).

Index Classifications: 1900s, 2000s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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