Italian opera before the mid-nineteenth century is a cavalcade of great names, from Monteverdi to the young Verdi. France’s pre-1850 operatic tradition, less consistently impressive, still boasts a humbling succession of notables from Lully and Rameau to Berlioz and the young Gounod (whose Faust appeared in 1859, only just after our cutoff date). By contrast, Germanic-language music theater before Wagner’s advent resembles not an artistic canon but a lunar landscape, with a few mountains jutting forth from seas of all too forgettable tranquility. There are three awe-inspiring peaks (The Magic Flute, Fidelio, and Weber’s Der Freischütz); tallish markers elsewhere (Weber’s Euryanthe and Oberon; Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail). The rest, pretty much, is silence. (Don Giovanni, Così, and Figaro, of course, are in Italian.) ...


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