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Thread: Operas with good dramatic/theatrical impact that are as good as the best stage plays

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Operas with good dramatic/theatrical impact that are as good as the best stage plays

    One of these days someone was telling me that theater goers who are used to high quality stage plays with good dramatic impact and high literary value are turned off by opera because most operas have silly plots that badly fail as plays. Of course the point of opera is primarily the music, but as someone passionate about the genre, I would like to think of which operas hold their own in terms of dramatic impact and theatrical value, and can be compared in terms of these elements to the best stage plays, independently of the music.

    While this is less true of opera buffa, some are good comedies in my opinion. I'd quote Il barbiere di Siviglia and Le Nozze di Figaro as good comedies, as well as Gianni Schicchi, L'Heure Espagnole, La Pietra del Paragone, Don Pasquale, and L'Italiana in Algeri. Some others are excellent musically and very entertaining (like L'Elisir d'Amore, La Fille du Regiment, etc) but I'm not listing them because without the music they wouldn't be as funny as simply stage plays, in my opinion.

    In opera seria, semi-seria, and especially modernist and contemporary opera, we find numerous ones that could perfectly work as stage plays even without the music (of course, many of them do come directly from plays).

    A non-inclusive list: Pelléas et Mélissande, Peter Grimes, The Rake's Progress, Porgy and Bess, The Dialogue des Carmelites, Moses und Aron, Oedipe, The Turn of the Screw, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, The Minotaur, Lulu, Wozzeck, From the House of the Dead, Janufa, Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Elektra, Salome, Thaïs, Il Tabarro, I Pagliacci, The Queen of Spades, Eugene Onegin, Carmen, Les Comtes d'Hoffmann, Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser (I'm not sure if other Wagner operas would work as theater without the music), Falstaff, Otello, Don Carlo, La Traviata, Rigoletto (but not Il Trovatore), Macbeth (but not Ernani), Norma, Lucia di Lammermoor, Lucrezia Borgia, Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda, Les Troyens, La Damnation de Faust, Benvenuto Cellini, La Clemenza di Tito, Don Giovanni, Hercules, Orlando, Giulio Cesare, Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy Queen, Orphée et Eurydice, L'Orfeo, L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

    Opinions?
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    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member sospiro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Pelléas et Mélissande,
    Peter Grimes,
    The Rake's Progress,
    Porgy and Bess,
    The Dialogue des Carmelites,
    Moses und Aron,
    Oedipe,
    The Turn of the Screw,
    Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District,
    The Minotaur,
    Lulu,
    Wozzeck,
    From the House of the Dead,
    Janufa,
    Die Frau Ohne Schatten,
    Elektra,
    Salome,
    Thaïs,
    Il Tabarro,
    I Pagliacci,
    The Queen of Spades,
    Eugene Onegin,
    Carmen,
    Les Comtes d'Hoffmann,
    Tristan und Isolde,
    Tannhäuser (I'm not sure if other Wagner operas would work as theater without the music),
    Falstaff,
    Otello,
    Don Carlo,
    La Traviata,
    Rigoletto
    (but not Il Trovatore),
    Macbeth
    (but not Ernani),
    Norma,
    Lucia di Lammermoor,
    Lucrezia Borgia,
    Roberto Devereux,
    Maria Stuarda,
    Les Troyens,
    La Damnation de Faust,
    Benvenuto Cellini,
    La Clemenza di Tito,
    Don Giovanni,
    Hercules,
    Orlando,
    Giulio Cesare,
    Dido and Aeneas,
    The Fairy Queen,
    Orphée et Eurydice,
    L'Orfeo,
    L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

    Opinions?
    (Hope you don't mind my listing them, makes it easier to check what you've already put)

    I don't know all of these but of the ones I do know I agree they'd make good plays even today.

    I'd add, in no particular order:
    Tosca
    La bohème
    Madama Butterfly
    Werther
    Don Quichotte
    Attila
    Giovanna d'Arco
    Annie

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    Senior Member Aksel's Avatar
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    I do think that Barbiere and Figaro deserve to be on this list. After all, they are based on actual plays (the first two of Beaumarchais's three Figaro plays), and I do think they could do very well without the music.
    But wouldn't just about every opera based on a play do well as a play? Since they, you know, are plays to begin with. I think you've mentioned the Schiller plays turned operas, and so I won't mention them.

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Sure, there is a mix in my list of operas that are based on plays and others that aren't. Both kinds would serve to counter the claim that stage play lovers won't love opera.

    And I did list these as well:

    Il barbiere di Siviglia
    Le Nozze di Figaro
    Gianni Schicchi
    L'Heure Espagnole
    La Pietra del Paragone
    Don Pasquale
    L'Italiana in Algeri

    By the way, the third Beaumarchais play of the Figaro trilogy - La Mère Coupable - was also set to music, not less than four times, the least obscure one being The Ghosts of Versailles, althoug it is not literal.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Aksel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    By the way, the third Beaumarchais play of the Figaro trilogy - La Mère Coupable - was also set to music, not less than four times, the least obscure one being The Ghosts of Versailles, althoug it is not literal.
    I know, but I really haven't seen the opera, nor the play, so I chose not to mention it. Also, I'm bad at reading.

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    Super Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    It's a great list, and shows that not all plots are silly.

    I'd add
    Cavalleria Rusticana
    Andrea Chenier
    Il Ritorno D'ulisse in Patria(after all, it is the end of the Odyssey)
    I Vespri Siciliani (I remember how frustrated I got at the ballet interrupting the action)
    The Cunning little Vixen
    Billy Budd
    Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme - of course it is a play really
    Manon (but not Manon Lescaut, that desert, really too silly)
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post
    It's a great list, and shows that not all plots are silly.

    I'd add
    Cavalleria Rusticana
    Andrea Chenier
    Il Ritorno D'ulisse in Patria(after all, it is the end of the Odyssey)
    I Vespri Siciliani (I remember how frustrated I got at the ballet interrupting the action)
    The Cunning little Vixen
    Billy Budd
    Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme - of course it is a play really
    Manon (but not Manon Lescaut, that desert, really too silly)
    Yes, I agree with all of the above, and I did think of The Cunning Little Vixen but thought that some would object, but it is actually quite deep. And I also agree about Manon over Manon Lescaut. You know, the source material does explain why they end up in the desert, but the opera ignored that part and jumped ahead with disastrous consequences.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Super Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    And I also agree about Manon over Manon Lescaut. You know, the source material does explain why they end up in the desert, but the opera ignored that part and jumped ahead with disastrous consequences.
    I must read it.

    Hurray for Project Gutemberg and free e-books, no sooner said than downloaded on my computer. What a wonderful change from the days when you had to wait to go to France to buy books in French.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Like "Madama Butterfly," Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" was based on one of David Belasco's plays.

    Among contemporary operas, there are Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy" (based on Theodore Dreiser's novel of the same name) and Richard Danielpour's (hope I spelled that correctly) "Margaret Garner," based on Toni Morrison's "Beloved."

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    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    People can say whatever they want. The plot in opera is better than the music (or lack thereof) in plays.
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