Azerbaijani Mugham Opera
Located at a crossroads between East and West, Azerbaijan’s prized opera Leyla and Majnun embodies this East-West encounter. Composed by the country’s own Uzeyir Hajibeyov, the opera premiered in 1908 in Baku and it combines traditional Azerbaijani mugham with Western staging and instrumentation. Leyla and Majnun is a famous Persian tale dating back to the 12th century, and Hajibeyov’s rendition is based on the beautiful poetry of the 16th century Azeri poet Fizuli. It is a tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers, in which the male character Majnun (which means “crazy” in Arabic) descends into madness due to his unrealizable union with Leyla.
THE YANG FAMILY FEMALE GENERALS
Taken from ancient Chinese historical fiction, the opera begins with the one hundred-year-old She Taijun holding a fifty-year-old birthday banquet for her son Yang Zongbao, who is guarding the border. Suddenly, a piece of sad news comes that the king of Xixia has invaded the border, and Yang Zongbao has died in the fight against their invasion. Mu Guiying, his widow and the opera’s heroine, together with her son and other female generals go into the valley to give the enemy a surprise attack. They climb over mountains and go through many hardships and experience much danger. At last, with the help of the white horse and the old herb picker, they launch a successful sudden attack against the enemy. The female generals totally defeat their enemy and return home gloriously.
Korean P’ansori Opera
Korean P’ansori is a highly refined and intricate operatic tradition, likely dating from the early 18th century, and it consists of a solo singer accompanied by a single drummer. Although P’ansori is minimalist in setting, as the only props are the singer’s costume and his or her fan and the instrumentation involves singer and drum, the music itself is rich and varied. Different combinations of rhythms, speeds, vocal delivery, and gestures create a plethora of emotions and narrative action. Today five stories of the P’ansori tradition remain and are performed regularly, of which Simcheonga is considered the most tragic. It tells the story of the filial daughter, Simcheong, who offers herself in sacrifice to the Dragon King of the Sea in order to pay off a debt incurred by her blind father, Sim-Bongsa. The story ends festively, however, after Simcheong returns from the underworld, becomes betrothed to the emperor, and is reunited with her father who miraculously regains his eyesight upon hearing the voice of his daughter, who he had thought was dead.
The ancient opera tradition Lhamo is a dynamic art form, which includes singing, dancing, elaborately painted facemasks, and colorful costumes. A folk tradition originating 1,500 years ago, Lhamo was performed for centuries by traveling opera troupes in villages, monasteries and courts. Reflective of Tibet’s Buddhist culture, most major operas are religious in nature, and the opera Nangsa falls into this category. Nangsa is a young pious girl who, after being wrongfully murdered by her husband, miraculously returns from the dead to become a devout Buddhist. Through her magnificent resurrection, she inspires all around her, including her seemingly hopeless husband, to become pious practitioners of the faith.
Italian Baroque Opera
Composed by Claudio Monteverdi, L’Orfeo was one of the first Western operas written, and in 1607 it was debuted in Mantua, Italy. A revolutionary piece of the time, L’Orfeo led the shift from the Renaissance to the Baroque musical periods. The opera tells the tragic story of Orpheus, who descends into Hades in hopes of bringing his beloved deceased wife back to the world of the living. Monteverdi chose the story for his inaugural operatic work wisely: Orpheus’ ability to convince and move the Gods through music is a testament to the innate power of music. And with florid and stunning arias as well as the largest orchestral setting of its time, Monteverdi has certainly affected audiences through the centuries.
South Indian Opera
Nauka Charitram is a famous opera within the ancient South Indian musical-drama tradition. It was written by one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music, Tyagaraja. Meaning “Boatride Reverie” in Tamil, Nauka Charitram is a single-act opera that tells the story of the Lord Krishna’s boat journey with vain maidens down the river Yamuna. The boat functions as metaphor for life’s volatility: the travelers endure storms and hardship, through which the maidens recognize their mortality, realize the futility of their conceit, and seek the grace of the divine.