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How to Listen to and Understand Opera

Discover the great beauty and high artistic achievement of opera with this brilliant course by acclaimed musicologist Robert Greenberg.
How to Listen to and Understand Opera is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 92.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Greenberg is always knowledgable, interesting and articulate. This course is Prof. Greenberg at his best.
Date published: 2022-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best lecturers! I am a total opera newbie, but want to learn. This course, as another reviewer said, is more so geared towards the development of opera rather than how to listen to it. With that said, I enjoyed this course very much! I absolutely loved Dr. Greenberg - his jokes might have been corny but I didn't mind at all. His obvious passion for his material made me enthusiastic and pay attention. I look forward to continuing my journey into opera. This was a great introduction! I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2022-01-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing We've purchased several courses featuring Dr. Greenberg and we are avid lovers of opera. However, this course is not about "understanding" opera. The professor spends much time literally reading the libretto of Puccini's opera Tosca. He holds about 20 sheets of paper and then reads each page, occasionally playing a short audio excerpt from the opera. We enjoy the other Great Courses that feature him, but this is not one of them.
Date published: 2021-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Entertaining & Informative I recently became interested in Opera, and actively looked for a 'beginner's guide' type of course. This fit the bill perfectly. I find Dr. Greenberg's approach to be refreshing, light hearted, and captivating. I started knowing virtually nothing about Opera, and about halfway through, I feel like I have a much better understanding on Opera's roots, and I look forward to continuing my learning. I would definitely like to take more of Dr. Greenberg's courses when I am through with this one.
Date published: 2021-08-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The lecturer is too full of himself I bought this course after enjoying the How to Sing course which I like very much. That lecturer was an opera singer and although I have not been an opera fan I decided I should learn more about it and give it a try. I have listened to about half of this course and find Professor Greenberg so full of himself that I cannot go on. My older brother and his wife love opera but I fear I will never be into it.
Date published: 2020-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. G. does the impossible I've always said I couldn't understand how anyone could enjoy opera, especially if one doesn't speak the language of the piece. On a dare from a friend, I watched this course. Dr. Greenberg managed to convince me that opera can be every bit as enjoyable as a purely instrumental piece of music. He couldn't make me like Schoenbeg (in his other lectures), but he did convince me to give opera a fair shake. I wouldn't say this is Dr. G's best GC because there are so many really great ones. Still I'm giving it five stars because he managed the impossible -- once these shut-downs subside and live arts are possible again, I'm planning to attend a performance by our state operatic theater.
Date published: 2020-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Robert Greenberg is one of my favorite lecturers. He is well informed and entertaining. He has taught me a lot about opera and its evolution over the years.
Date published: 2020-08-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Course, but not One of Greenberg’s Best I have taken many, many of Dr. Greenberg’s courses, including two others that focus on opera: “Operas of Mozart” and “Life and Operas of Verdi”. Although I had a few reservations on those two, I still gave them five star marks. And as much as I like Dr. Greenberg and as much as I love opera, this course (for me) just misses the mark. As with another reviewer, it seems that Dr. Greenberg has not quite hit the lecture stride that he brings in many of his other courses. For example, much of his trademark humor and hyperbolic comparisons fall a bit flat. And unlike his course on Mozart’s operas, the balance between music and background seems a bit off. In particular the incessant reading of much of the libretto before listening to the same musical selection becomes a bit wearing after a few lectures. To be sure, I also disliked this in the other two course on opera, but here it just seemed at times to dominate. While I understand that listening to an audio version, necessitates a bit more plot summary than a video version with its onscreen libretto translation, I do think that the accompanying course material with it complete translations of the musical selections would take care of the audio only audience—except those driving, of course. I would have liked a bit more of an analysis of the music vis-à-vis the libretto, something that could have been accomplished had there been less reading. Even so, there is much to love in this course. The first four lectures dealing with the pre-opera world and with many of the element of opera, set the stage for what is to come. Perhaps a bit too much detail for experienced opera lovers, but even for this crowd, I think there is much that can be learned. Then Dr. Greenberg chooses to spend four full lectures on the beginnings of opera in general and specifically, Monteverdi’s Orfeo. While I am still not converted to being a fan of Orfeo, I feel much more knowledgeable about it than I was before, and would now attend (or watch a video) performance given the chance. Perhaps I need to take the Wagner course in order to get a better idea. The course then deals with two of the most popular opera composers in some detail: Mozart and Verdi. Both of these four-set lectures are very good, but both also left me wanting more analysis of the music and less libretto reading. Dr. Greenberg’s discussion of the background and music was so good that I wanted more. By this time in the course I was mentally saying to myself while he was reading, “just get on with it”. In between Mozart and Verdi we are treated to a couple of lectures on Bel Canto opera, with “The Barber of Seville” as the focus. Here I thought that I got a good simple explanation of Bel Canto, and it is the one time that a performer is identified in the course music, in a sort of “the dog did not bark” way. Once again after listening to the lecture set on Wagner, I am even more convinced than ever that I’ll never really understand what is going on musically, even though I’m a Wagner fan. OTOH, the lecture on Richard Strauss’s Salome is an absolute home run, while the set on Russian operas left me somewhat cold and unconvinced about the music. The closing set on Puccini (mostly Tosca) let us in on Greenberg as a fanboy. Acknowledging that Puccini might (and could have) done better in many respects as fitting the score to the text, Dr. Greenberg dismisses the many Puccini critics putting himself squarely in the “have a good time with the music and tear-jerking story” side. That is where I am as well, still shedding a tear while watching “Butterfly” for the umpteenth time. It is just great to know that an expert mirrors my amateur reactions. Recommended, but just as “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” went though a couple of new editions, so too should his “How to Listen to and Understand Opera”. Give this course a chance to match that high point.
Date published: 2020-07-31
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Overview

For more than 400 years, opera has been one of the most popular performing arts. Professor Robert Greenberg can show you how you can learn to understand, appreciate&;amp;-even to love&;amp;-opera in just 32 lectures. With the knowledge of opera from this course, you will understand how opera is a unique marriage of words and music in which the whole is far greater than its parts. You will learn the reasons for opera's enduring popularity. And you will be able to explore in great depth the extraordinary and compelling world of opera.

About

Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.

INSTITUTION

San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.

Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic.

By This Professor

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How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition
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Introduction and Words and Music, I

01: Introduction and Words and Music, I

In the first two lectures we develop a methodology for listening to and understanding opera. We are introduced to the concept of opera as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts in its combination of soliloquy, dialogue, scenery, action, and continuous music. We see how music can evoke what words cannot express; the composer is the dramatist. This combination of words and music endows op...

47 min
Introduction and Words and Music, II

02: Introduction and Words and Music, II

In the first two lectures we develop a methodology for listening to and understanding opera. We are introduced to the concept of opera as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts in its combination of soliloquy, dialogue, scenery, action, and continuous music. We see how music can evoke what words cannot express; the composer is the dramatist. This combination of words and music endows op...

45 min
A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, I

03: A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, I

Throughout the history of European music, style and form have changed constantly. Beginning in ancient Greece, we trace the history of vocal music through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We focus on the rise of popular secular music in a world hitherto dominated by the music of the Roman Catholic Church. Renaissance composers turned increasingly to the ancient Greek ideal for inspiration. The...

44 min
A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, II

04: A Brief History of Vocal Expression in Music, II

Throughout the history of European music, style and form have changed constantly. Beginning in ancient Greece, we trace the history of vocal music through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We focus on the rise of popular secular music in a world hitherto dominated by the music of the Roman Catholic Church. Renaissance composers turned increasingly to the ancient Greek ideal for inspiration. The...

47 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, I

05: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, I

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

46 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, II

06: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, II

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

45 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, III

07: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, III

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

45 min
Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, IV

08: Invention of Opera and Monteverdi's Orfeo, IV

In Lectures 5 through 8 we review the Greek idea of music as it related to music of the Renaissance. We see the evolution of intermezzo as a precursor to the first real opera. We look at the role of the Florentine Camerata in the development of opera, and we examine in depth the first real opera, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607....

47 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, I

09: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, I

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

45 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, II

10: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, II

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

45 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, III

11: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, III

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

46 min
The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, IV

12: The Growth of Opera, the Development of Italian Opera Seria, and Mozart's Idomeneo, IV

Lectures 9 through 12 review the main features of early opera and trace its growth from the early 17th century up to Mozart's Idomeneo of 1781. As opera became a public entertainment, its literary and dramatic substance deteriorated. We learn how the formulaic rigidity of opera seria led to vocal abuses, and how Gluck represented a new wave of reform, creating the model for the next generation of ...

46 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, I

13: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, I

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

46 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, II

14: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, II

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

44 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, III

15: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, III

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

46 min
The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, IV

16: The Rise of Opera Buffa and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, IV

In this study of comic opera-opera buffa-we see how comic opera, with its roots in popular folklore, developed separately from the opera seria of the aristocracy. We learn how the more accessible, populist opera buffa was championed by Enlightenment progressives such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opera buffa character types and conventions are discussed, and one of the greatest examples of opera buffa...

47 min
The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, I

17: The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, I

Lectures 17 and 18 discuss bel canto, the dominant style of 19th-century Italian opera. Its features of appealing melodies and florid melodic embellishments are suited to the Italian language. Bel canto operas are based on comic, predictable plots and one-dimensional characters to indulge the contemporary Italian taste for pure entertainment. Our frame of reference is the landmark bel canto opera,...

46 min
The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, II

18: The Bel Canto Style and Rossini's The Barber of Seville, II

Lectures 17 and 18 discuss bel canto, the dominant style of 19th-century Italian opera. Its features of appealing melodies and florid melodic embellishments are suited to the Italian language. Bel canto operas are based on comic, predictable plots and one-dimensional characters to indulge the contemporary Italian taste for pure entertainment. Our frame of reference is the landmark bel canto opera,...

48 min
Verdi and Otello, I

19: Verdi and Otello, I

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

46 min
Verdi and Otello, II

20: Verdi and Otello, II

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

46 min
Verdi and Otello, III

21: Verdi and Otello, III

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

46 min
Verdi and Otello, IV

22: Verdi and Otello, IV

The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and opera seria are the focus of Lectures 19 through 22. We learn how Verdi dominated the operatic scene in Italy for more than half a century by the power of his beautiful melodies and his focus on human emotions and psychological insight. We see how Verdi gave the orchestra an increasingly important role in the drama, and how he used technique to endow his ope...

45 min
French Opera, I

23: French Opera, I

In Lectures 23 and 24 we give an overview of the evolution of a distinctly French style; explain why and how French opera is different from Italian opera; and emphasize that operatic content, both musical and dramatic, is most often a function of the language, politics, and economic class of its consumers. French opera composers discussed include Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Jac...

45 min
French Opera, II

24: French Opera, II

In Lectures 23 and 24 we give an overview of the evolution of a distinctly French style; explain why and how French opera is different from Italian opera; and emphasize that operatic content, both musical and dramatic, is most often a function of the language, politics, and economic class of its consumers. French opera composers discussed include Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Jac...

46 min
German Opera Comes of Age

25: German Opera Comes of Age

In this lecture we learn how German opera owed its evolution to German folklore and the requirements of the German language. We see how it came into being with Mozart's The Magic Flute of 1791, and how it was indebted to the traditional German entertainment of singspiel. Weber's Der Freishütz is examined as the work that established 19th-century German opera....

48 min
Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, I

26: Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, I

Lectures 26 and 27 examine the contribution of the paradoxical Richard Wagner to operatic history. Wagner's life and career is summarized. We look at Wagner's theories, his admiration for ancient Greek drama, and his invention of leitmotif. Schopenhauer's philosophy and its influence on Wagner's concept of music drama are also discussed. Finally, we examine Wagner's landmark opera Tristan und Isol...

45 min
Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, II

27: Richard Wagner and Tristan und Isolde, II

Lectures 26 and 27 examine the contribution of the paradoxical Richard Wagner to operatic history. Wagner's life and career is summarized. We look at Wagner's theories, his admiration for ancient Greek drama, and his invention of leitmotif. Schopenhauer's philosophy and its influence on Wagner's concept of music drama are also discussed. Finally, we examine Wagner's landmark opera Tristan und Isol...

46 min
Late Romantic German Opera-Richard Strauss and Salome

28: Late Romantic German Opera-Richard Strauss and Salome

In this lecture, Richard Strauss's opera Salome is discussed as an example of late romantic German opera. After an overview of Strauss's early life, we examine his psychopathological and erotic Salome and the reasons why it is one of the most controversial operas of all time....

46 min
Russian Opera, I

29: Russian Opera, I

This lecture on Russian opera traces the causes, history, and character of Russian musical nationalism. Glinka and his opera Ruslan and Lyudmila are discussed as the foundation of Russian opera leading the way for The Russian Five and the pinnacle of Russian nationalist opera, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov....

46 min
Russian Opera, II

30: Russian Opera, II

This lecture on Russian opera traces the causes, history, and character of Russian musical nationalism. Glinka and his opera Ruslan and Lyudmila are discussed as the foundation of Russian opera leading the way for The Russian Five and the pinnacle of Russian nationalist opera, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov....

42 min
Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, I

31: Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, I

The final lectures examine opera verismo: its origins, character, and greatest exponent-Giacomo Puccini. Puccini's virtues and faults are discussed-especially his marvelous power of lyricism, sometimes pursued at the expense of dramatic reality. The second act of Tosca is analyzed as an example of his style and as one of the most powerful acts in all opera. The study concludes with a musical illus...

46 min
Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, II

32: Verismo, Puccini, and Tosca, II

The final lectures examine opera verismo: its origins, character, and greatest exponent-Giacomo Puccini. Puccini's virtues and faults are discussed-especially his marvelous power of lyricism, sometimes pursued at the expense of dramatic reality. The second act of Tosca is analyzed as an example of his style and as one of the most powerful acts in all opera. The study concludes with a musical illus...

46 min