The Mono-Opera

I recently came upon the term "mono-opera." I don't know if it's much different from the "chamber opera" or the "monodrama." Here's my own simplified description: one singer (usually a soprano), one act, orchestral accompaniment, and a libretto outlining some type of psychological/spiritual development. It's Barbara Strozzi's Baroque solo cantata meets Mahler's orchestral songs. The lack of spoken text differentiates it from a Classical "melodrama" by Jiří Benda. It would be a good thing to write during war time with the small performing forces, or during the upsurge of Neoclassical simplicity. Obviously much more information is needed.

To pique your interest here are some examples of mono-dramas. I'd suggest them to someone who was interested in opera, but didn't have three hours to blow on La Traviata or six on Götterdämmerung.

Erwartung by Arnold Schoenberg
If while "waiting," you found your lover dead in the forest, you'd probably freak out for a good thirty minutes, too. Atonality with practically no formal repetition of ideas or themes is a good way to express that meltdown which ends with the downhearted soprano wandering off into the woods. The whole piece is constant transformation and plasticity. The fact that he composed it in a mere seventeen days probably helped that sense of fervor.

Ozhidanie by Mikael Tariverdiev
I came across Tariverdiev for his prelude set for keyboard and consequently found his mono-opera. It also means "waiting"although I cannot find any more particulars on the plot. Without that, it's difficult to know if it's a real mono-opera or a long orchestral song. The orchestra is very unique for its percussion, lots of harp, and vibraphone. A complete performance by the soprano Tatyana Gurtovenko and conducted by Viktor Oliynyk gives you an excellent picture of the genre. It is a lot more songful than that by Schoenberg with definite sections and repetition.

La voix humaine by Frances Poulenc
The litany of wronged and upset sopranos continues. In this one, we overhear a depressed soprano talking to her ex-lover on the telephone while he tells her that he's going to marry someone else the next day. Jean Cocteau wrote the libretto and Denise Duval premiered it. Apparently the phone system doesn't work all the best and she keeps getting cut off and wrong number calls. Very cute xylophone telephone ringer.

The Diary of Anne Frank and The Letters of Van Gogh by Grigory Frid
(No, not Raphael Frid, the biographer of Boris Goltz.) Very interesting ideas for the librettos/plots here. The candid thoughts of a young girl kept locked up in an attic for her own protection is extremely poignant and heart-rending. The soprano sings here in English, a sound for me which gets us closer and closer to the "solo musical" similar to Jason R. Brown's Songs for a New World. In the "Dialogue of Mr. and Mrs. van Daan" here's a swingin' little jazz part too! Frid's other mono-opera is based on the translated letters of Vincent van Gogh. The production below literally paints a stark picture of mental and artistic turmoil in a very interesting way.

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