John Yohalem

John Yohalem's critical writings have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, American Theater, Opera News, the Seattle Weekly, Christopher Street, Opera Today, Musical America and Enchanté: The Journal for the Urbane Pagan, among other publications. He claims to have attended 628 different operatic works (not to mention forty operettas), but others who were present are not sure they spotted him. What fascinates him, besides the links between operatic event and contemporary history, is how the operatic machine works: How voice and music and the ritual experience of theater interact to produce something beyond itself. He is writing a book on Shamanic Opera-Going.


Conquering Ciro Conquering Ciro

By the time Rossini was 20, he had produced six operas, most of them brief, comic and slight. He admitted to admiring Mozart (not then well known south of the Alps), but the melodies of his early works show more of the influence of Paisiello.

on July 09, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Renaissance: fair Renaissance: fair

On this Gay Pride weekend, I remember my late friend Robert Chesley, activist and playwright (Stray Dog Story), who had also been an elementary schoolteacher.

on June 25, 2012 at 10:26 AM
Unexpected ghost Unexpected ghost

Frustrated, perhaps, by the bulky requirements and dubious future of grand opera—and grand opera commissions—Benjamin Britten created some of his most intriguing and, nowadays, popular pieces for small casts and chamber orchestra.

on May 28, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Lyre’s poker Lyre’s poker

The Underworld as corporate boardroom, Pluto a “suit,” the damned a bunch of clerks tapping away at laptops.

on May 16, 2012 at 9:23 PM
A little traveling music A little traveling music

Gustav Holst was always searching for deep theses from which to suspend his art.

on May 12, 2012 at 2:05 PM
Immortal beloved Immortal beloved

Janácek’s Makropulos Case has only chalked up thirteen performances in three previous runs at the Met and will have just five more this season. Try to catch at least one.

on April 29, 2012 at 2:34 PM
One more “Kiss” One more “Kiss”

The Poisoned Kiss derives its plot from the legend of the girl raised on poison so that her very kiss will kill.

on January 22, 2012 at 11:39 AM

Oh, Rossini, Rossini! You mad, adorable fool! What power could you find in the theaters of Paris to keep you from Neapolitan arms? If you are fond of Rossini (or any other major composer), you will want to collect the whole set. Each piece of the jigsaw adds detail to the picture, but there are…

on December 02, 2011 at 3:35 PM

Handel’s Orlando is one of three operas Handel based on episodes from Ariosto’s best-selling sixteenth-century epic, Orlando Furioso. The story was, in 1733, well known throughout the Mediterranean world, and everyone set it to music—Vivaldi’s and Haydn’s settings have enjoyed recent revivals, and the libretto Handel set had originally been devised for Domenico Scarlatti. Intricate…

on August 16, 2011 at 3:25 PM

It seems a thing incredible but fifty years ago Richard Strauss was regarded as the wunderkind composer of a few tone poems, three notable operas (all produced before the First World War) and then nothing notable during forty years of repetitious senility. Even Ariadne auf Naxos, today one of the most popular works in the…

on August 01, 2011 at 4:49 PM

They’ve been celebrating the centennial of Gian-Carlo Menotti lately, spouting wild claims for the immortality of his music. He did have an impressive run of successes in the 1940s, but he lived till 2007 with many more premieres and nary another hit. 

on July 25, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Trying to suggest erstwhile world-renown of Guillaume Tell to a 23-year-old who had never heard of it, a friend of mine mentioned The Lone Ranger. “What’s The Lone Ranger?” replied the youth. And the sun rises and the sun sets and all things must pass. But surely he knew Bambi Meets Godzilla, which also uses…

on July 13, 2011 at 10:53 AM

It is a thousand pities Francesco Cavalli never saw Some Like It Hot. A tale of convoluted romances, cross-dressing, immoral moralizing and a divine diva would have been right up his alley, or rather, Venetian canal. As staged by Vertical Players Repertory in a back alley around the corner from the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn’s…

on July 12, 2011 at 4:18 PM

Sir Arthur Sullivan, the son of an Irish father and an Italian mother, studied Mendelssohn’s composition style in Leipzig. He was therefore, inevitably, the supreme English theater composer of his day, and his often Mozartean style of melody is not out of place in a bel canto festival. After all, in the fourteen operettas he…

on June 26, 2011 at 11:04 PM

Not everything a genius creates is … a work of genius. Y’know? Mozart, for example: Sure, he was a prodigy at four, and at ten, and even at fourteen, but did he actually compose anything spectacular before he turned, say, seventeen? I’m thinking of “Exultate, Jubilate,” if you want to know. 

on May 23, 2011 at 9:15 AM

We’re going to be hearing a lot about pasticcios in the next seven months, as we run up to The Enchanted Island at the Met. We’d better get used to the idea, and what better way to do so than to go hear a home-made pasticcio at far lower prices? 

on May 13, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Pornography being the seminal [sic] art form of our time, through which every other art is interpreted (I lament this, but what can you do?), and opera being in one of its periodic up-cycles, new ones being composed and premiered, old ones being dusted off for re-use, and stage directors feeling impelled, as they do,…

on March 21, 2011 at 9:14 AM

Among symbolic classical tropes, one of my favorites (perhaps because only another classicist will understand it) is Nessus’ Shirt, an emblem of glory (a promotion, say, or an expensive luxury) that destroys you.

on March 10, 2011 at 2:03 PM

The moral of Lohengrin is clearly set out: Don’t talk on your wedding night. Even more important, don’t sing. Happily, at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Johan Botha in the title role and Amber Wagner as Elsa of Brabant ignored this advice. 

on March 09, 2011 at 4:08 PM

What do opera composers do on vacation? If the researches behind this performance at the Rossini in Wildbad Festival are correct, they gather their nearest and dearest and dash them off a quickie opera for performance en famille. That, in any case, is what Giovanni Pacini did during down-time between presenting seventy-odd operas to the…

on February 14, 2011 at 10:36 AM

Blazing Jupiter, the Jovial Star, my personal magical azimuth, plus Perseid meteors wafting about, burning out as do our souls, as we arrived home from Seattle Opera’s new production of Tristan und Isolde.

on August 14, 2010 at 3:34 PM

Some composers write as if the dividing line between instruments that play notes and the voice, which usually sings a text and takes some of its attitude towards the music from that text, were not an all-important factor.

on January 12, 2010 at 5:21 PM
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