THE IDEAL OPERA AND ITS REALISATION: 'LIVIA QUINTILLA' BY ZYGMUNT NOSKOWSKI
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Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909) wrote his first opera, 'Livia Quintilla' (libretto by Ludomil German) during the years 1890-1897. It was performed shortly after in Lvov (15 February 1898), in Kraków (11 May 1898) and in Warsaw (19 April 1902), but today it is usually ignored in studies devoted to the history of Polish music. A comparison of Noskowski's views on the opera expressed as early as 1888 in an extensive manifesto article entitled 'The Ideal Opera', with the aesthetics implicit in the score of 'Livia Quintilla' highlights numerous divergences. In 1888 Noskowski declared, among other things, that for him the 'ideal opera' was the 'symphonic opera' - a perfect synthesis of the genres of symphony and cantata. At the same time he criticised Wagner, in particular for introducing 'leitmotifs'; he also condemned similar experiments with recurring motifs then being undertaken by Massenet. On the other hand, he did not hesitate to resort to extensive use of recurring motif material linked to the main characters in the score of Livia Quintilla, which in other respects bears all the hallmarks of academic conservatism. It would clearly be difficult to defend the claim that the presence of recurring motifs enables us today to see in 'Livia Quintilla' the realisation of that 'ideal of a symphonic opera' envisaged in 1888. However, the conservative character of the score does not negate the fact that, in the context of the history of Polish opera, 'Livia Quintilla' is of significance. It is probably the first Polish opera which makes use of a network of recurring motifs so consistently and so widely. For this reason, in spite of the formal conservatism and the 'classical profile' characteristic of Noskowski's creative stance in general, it is important to appreciate his forgotten experiments in the opera genre. They culminated in 1906 in his opera 'Wyrok' - a work intuitively tending towards the aesthetics of realism and the idea of 'Literaturoper'.
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