Opera at Oakhurst - April 17-20, 2020
Opera and Religion
Religion and opera have always been very closely aligned. The exalted states of mind that opera can help create in the members of its audiences are, for many, akin to the religious experience, while religion itself has, from the earliest years of opera at the beginning of the 17th century, been one of the most constant themes in the repertoire. At different times over the past 400 years, artistic affinities and beliefs have drawn together religious institutions and opera houses; likewise tensions have divided them. Above all, opera and religious ceremonies have offered humankind deep and abiding rituals that have greatly enriched personal lives and public forums. Opera at Oakhurst 2020 will explore the interrelationship of opera and religion.
Four operas will be at the centre of the weekend. We will begin with an analysis of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, one of the crowning masterpieces of the 18th century, in which the religious and secular values of the Enlightenment are dramatized in the journey of Prince Tamino and his consort Pamina toward an understanding of what it is to be human – and touched with divinity. This takes place against a background of ancient Egyptian religion, strongly influenced by Masonic philosophy. Egypt is also the setting for Verdi’s Aïda in which the demands of politics and institutionalized religion threaten characters who stand not only for spiritual freedom, but for a sense of religion as a natural, universal force. We will continue our study with Wagner’s final music drama, Parsifal, in which a concept of divine presence drawn from both Christian and Buddhist sources, as well as from the thought of Schopenhauer, provides the most searching examination of religious consciousness in opera. Finally, we will turn our attention to Francis Poulenc’s thrilling dramatization, set during the French Revolution, of the power of religious faith to both prostrate and yet finally to strengthen those who are gripped by fear of both the outer and inner worlds – Dialogues of the Carmelites. In addition, we will explore the recent vogue in opera houses to stage the great oratorios of the past.
As always, Professor Williams’s talks will include video and recorded extracts that will provide access to the fascinating and mysterious world that links opera and religion. Participants will greatly benefit from familiarizing themselves with the four operas that form the central study of the weekend. Suggestions for preparation, including a bibliography, will be sent to participants after they have registered.