Dr. Eileen Hunt

Dr. Eileen Hunt brought some culture to the Y’s Men by speaking about and playing some excerpts from some of her favorite operas.  She began by speaking about the beginnings of opera around 1600 in Italy and played a selection from one of Monteverdi’s operas that was introduced in 1607.

While opera quickly spread to other countries, Italy remained the center for opera during the baroque period.  It was during this time that Handel who was originally trained as a lawyer, at his father’s insistence, gained permission from his father to go to Italy for a year as a violinist.  During the year he got the opportunity to write an opera that had originally been commissioned to another man who left the country before finishing the opera.  It was the break that allowed him to abandon his legal career for a career as a composer.  He went on to become a famous English Court composer who perhaps used his legal training to find the loophole in the dictate that no operas be performed during the Lenten season as they were considered too frivolous.  Handel’s solution was to write oratorios that were pieces often based on biblical stories that were performed solely by orchestra and choir. 

Dr. Hunt played a selection from Handel’s opera Xerxes.

1756 saw the birth of Mozart.  Born of a musical family, he and his sister were musical prodigies.  Mozart was not only a musical genius, but extremely prolific.  Although he died in 1791, he left behind a vast array of music including some of today’s best known operas.  One of these, The Marriage of Figaro was said by Napoleon to  be the first shot in the French Revolution as it depicted French aristocrats being outwitted by ordinary people and was tremendously popular with the French public.

Dr. Hunt played a selection from The Marriage of Figaro.

Verdi was born in 1813.  His work is known for the wealth of melodies typified by the opera Rigoletto.  He died in 1901.

A selection from Rigoletto was played.

The opera La Boheme was written by Puccini (1858-1924) along with many other famous operas including Tosca and Madame Butterfly.  Puccini had gained great fame at the time of his death, but died leaving the opera Turandot unfinished .  At the urging of Toscanini the opera was completed and Dr. Hunt played a selection of Turandot sung by Pavarotti.

In 1957 Francis Poulenc’s work the Dialogue of the Carmelites was performed.  Dr Hunt played the March to the Guillotine from the work.

For those interested in more information about the subject, Dr. Hunt recommends the following books:

            The Opera Goers Guide by Leo Melitz

            Molto Agitato: The Mayhem behind the Music by Joanna Fiedler

Questions and Answers

Q.  How do you sell opera to the new generation?

A.  There are a number of helpful things such as contemporary operas, taking students to dress rehearsals, cheaper tickets to theaters, picking operas that will appeal to younger people (no Wagner) and taking your children and grandchildren to the opera.

Q.  What are your feelings about period operas in modern dress?

A.  They can be very successful or flops.  But I am happy to see new productions.

Q.  Handel had a reputation for repetition.  Did he also do it in his operas?

A.   He did.  It was done a lot during the Baroque period.

Q.  What is the next stage for opera?

A.  HD broadcasts are terrific.  Film has also expanded audiences and made opera much cheaper.  An added benefit is subtitles that allow audiences to appreciate the dialogue and humor.

Q.  Can you comment on new operas and composers including the opera The Death of Klinghoffer?

A.  There are some wonderful new operas.  I saw The Death of Klinghoffer and the audience responded well to it, but I am not well enough informed to comment on the controversy surrounding it.  That controversy seems to be centered in New York City even though the opera has been performed throughout the world.