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Contemporary Opera and the Failure of Language

Abstract

Opera after 1945 largely retreated from the challenge of modernism. A survey of notable post-war music theatre locates language and its vexed relation to music as the central concern of a true modernist operatic aesthetic. I discuss the relations that bind music, philosophy and language before analyzing five contemporary operas: György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, Claude Vivier’s Prologue pour Marco Polo, Helmut Lachenmann’s Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Luci mie traditrici and David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. Each opera poses a unique challenge to the crisis of representational language, and its relation to truth, the law, and the ethics of the sensual.

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