Event Title

The Problem of Genre in Opera and Musical Theater

Presenter Information

Lily Johnson, Oberlin CollegeFollow

Location

King Building 341

Start Date

4-28-2017 3:00 PM

End Date

4-28-2017 4:20 PM

Abstract

The institution, strict adherence to, and singular nature of genres in music has hindered our ability to hear music. The expectations attached to genres are so strong in present day that if these expectations are undermined, the listener fixates on the deviation rather than the inherent artistic value. In addition, there is no way to deal categorically with musical works that do not fit neatly into one genre, or those that fit into many. In order to show that genres are both an unnecessary and flawed way of categorizing music, I will examine two musical works. The ambiguity of genre in West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein) and Porgy and Bess (George Gershwin) have been discussed widely because they contain elements of both musical theater and opera. While West Side Story has primarily been performed on Broadway stages, Leonard Bernstein recorded a classical version in 1984 featuring premiere operatic vocalists such as Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras. Although Porgy and Bess was originally conceived as an opera by Gershwin, it was altered and performed in America as a musical from 1942-1976, until Houston Grand Opera produced the piece in its original, operatic form. Through examination of the cultural context surrounding each work and theoretical comparison with the prototypical opera and musical, I will argue that genres are too simplistic a tool to be used musically, and that they are in fact inhibiting for musical appreciation.

Keywords:

genre theory, musicology, music theory, musicals, opera, West Side Story, Porgy and Bess

Notes

Musical Studies Capstone Panel
Session II, Panel 9 - Musical | Genres
Moderator: Ben Geyer, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory

Major

Musical Studies

Advisor(s)

Jan Miyake, Music Theory

Project Mentor(s)

Ben Geyer, Music Theory

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Apr 28th, 3:00 PM Apr 28th, 4:20 PM

The Problem of Genre in Opera and Musical Theater

King Building 341

The institution, strict adherence to, and singular nature of genres in music has hindered our ability to hear music. The expectations attached to genres are so strong in present day that if these expectations are undermined, the listener fixates on the deviation rather than the inherent artistic value. In addition, there is no way to deal categorically with musical works that do not fit neatly into one genre, or those that fit into many. In order to show that genres are both an unnecessary and flawed way of categorizing music, I will examine two musical works. The ambiguity of genre in West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein) and Porgy and Bess (George Gershwin) have been discussed widely because they contain elements of both musical theater and opera. While West Side Story has primarily been performed on Broadway stages, Leonard Bernstein recorded a classical version in 1984 featuring premiere operatic vocalists such as Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras. Although Porgy and Bess was originally conceived as an opera by Gershwin, it was altered and performed in America as a musical from 1942-1976, until Houston Grand Opera produced the piece in its original, operatic form. Through examination of the cultural context surrounding each work and theoretical comparison with the prototypical opera and musical, I will argue that genres are too simplistic a tool to be used musically, and that they are in fact inhibiting for musical appreciation.