The Bel Canto Tradition

In my last post I quickly mentioned the fact that Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor is a bel canto opera.  Here’s a link to a fabulous 3-year old essay by New York Times critic, Anthony Tommasini that can serve as a primer about the bel canto tradition.

Bel canto essentally means fine singing or beautiful singing. A singer who can execute this Italian style of singing can sing both sustained, legato phrases expertly as well as agile, coloratura phrases.   This vocal style is evident in the arias of Handel and Scarlatti, but is most identified with the elegant Italian vocal style of the 18th and early 19th centuries. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/arts/music/30tomm.html

Bel Canto: Audiences Love It, but What Is It?
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Published: November 30, 2008
Here is one opera lover’s attempt to explain bel canto as I understand it, along with recommendations of a few recordings.
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Gershwin’s Folk Opera: Porgy and Bess

I’ll be reviewing the Atlanta Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess in a week and have posted a rendition of one of the opera’s hits, “Summertime.” 

Porgy and Bess premiered on Broadway in 1935, but it wasn’t until Houston Grand Opera produced it in 1976 that it began to be recognized as opera.  Gershwin’s opus is ultimately a staged, fully-sung opera incorporating standard operatic conventions such as recitatives, arias, and musical motives that recur throughout the drama.

Dafne – 1597

Donald J. Grout's A Short History of Opera 4th ed.

If you’re curious about the foundations of opera and game for some not-so-light reading, peruse Donald J. Grout’s A Short History of Opera.  Not including the bibliography or extensive index, it is 728 pages long and required reading for any college voice major. 

Opera wasn’t really known as “opera” until the 17th century, but Grout identifies the dramma per musica Dafne, with lyrics by Ottavio Rinuccini (1562-1621) and music by Jacopo Peri (1561-1633) and Jacopo Corsi (1561-1602) as the first.    Now – more than 400 years later – opera is not only of historical, musical, and cultural importance.  It is a fascinating pastime.  One can spend a lifetime learning about opera, comparing interpretations, and following the latest trends and opera superstars.