How to Listen to and Understand Opera

Course No. 740
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course Overview

For more than 400 years, opera has been one of the most popular performing arts. Geniuses—Monteverdi, Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini—produced some of the landmark artistic achievements of all time in this form. With Professor Robert Greenberg to show you how, you can learn to understand, appreciate—even to love—opera in just 24 hours of lectures that are a pleasure to hear.

With the knowledge of opera from this course, you will understand how music has the power to reveal truths beyond the spoken word; 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.

Professor Greenberg is to the lecture what Mozart was to opera. Brilliant, irreverent toward his subject and yet awed by it, he is ingenious in his approach to ensure that his work will have its intended effect on the listener.

The music is transcendently beautiful. In this course, you will listen to some of the most extraordinary artistic works of all time. Customers who have taken this course report:

  • "Dr. Greenberg performed a miracle—he made me enjoy opera."
  • "Now I understand why I already loved opera."
  • "Excellent course! Professor Greenberg gives a lively, informative presentation that opens the heart to love opera as well as the mind to understand it!"

The history of opera is traced from its beginning in the early 17th century to around 1924. The lectures examine landmark operas; musical, cultural, and social developments that influenced opera's growth; and the influence of national languages and cultures on opera.

Part I: The Full Flower and Its Origins

The first eight lectures are foundational. You examine the origins of opera and the adaptations of other musical forms that allowed opera to achieve its full effects, first accomplished in Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607.

But Professor Greenberg does not hide the result while waiting on history to get us there. The course opens with one of the most powerful moments in opera—the dramatically loaded aria "Nessun dorma" ("No one shall sleep") from Giacomo Puccini's Turandot.

In Turandot, you are exposed to opera's unique incorporation of soliloquy, dialogue, scenery, action, and continuous music into an incredibly expressive and exciting whole.

This famous aria shows us the power of the composer—the power of creating music that goes beyond the words of the libretto to express thoughts and feelings that cannot be expressed in words.

The study continues with a discussion of how music reveals character and the unconscious state. You are introduced to operatic archetypes such as Figaro and Carmen.

You examine how the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman culture contributed to the riches of the Renaissance. You see the evolution of the madrigal, a form that was ultimately rejected in favor of a more expressive vocal medium: early opera.

Part I of the course concludes with an analysis of the first successful attempt to combine words and music into musical drama, Monteverdi's Orfeo of 1607.

Part II: The Aria, the Golden Age, Opera Seria, Opera Buffa

Recitative, the essence of Monteverdi's style, made music subservient to words, but because of its forward-driving nature, recitative cannot express personal reflection.

You learn how the invention of the aria gave opera composers a powerful tool to stop the dramatic action for characters' moments of self-reflection.

Gluck's reforms and his Orfeo ed Euridice of 1762 are addressed as the starting point for the modern opera repertory. The explosion of operas in the Golden Age–Dark Age of opera is discussed. You learn how different voice types are assigned different roles, and how this has varied by culture.

The rise of opera seria and its characteristics are discussed, along with an analysis of the second act of Mozart's Idomeneo—opera seria transcendent.

You examine the development of opera buffa, from its origins in the popular folklore of the Commedia dell'Arte to its eventual replacement of opera seria. Mozart's brilliant The Marriage of Figaro is discussed as one of the greatest contributions to the opera buffa genre.

Part III: Rossini and Verdi: The Development of French Opera

You see how the Italian language and culture gave rise to the bel canto style, with its comic plots, one-dimensional characters, appealing melodies, and florid melodic embellishments.

Dr. Greenberg reveals how highly pressurized the business of opera was in the 18th century. Rossini once remarked, "In my time, all the impresarios of Italy were bald by 30." You are introduced to Rossini's The Barber of Seville of 1816 as the quintessential bel canto opera.

You learn how Giuseppi Verdi broke the bel canto mold. He dominated Italian opera for over half a century by virtue of his lyricism, his emphasis on human emotions and psychological insight, and his use of the orchestra and parlante to drive the dramatic action and maintain musical continuity.

Verdi's Otello is discussed as one of the greatest operas of all time.

You next study French opera and why it became a distinctly different genre from Italian opera. Nineteenth-century French opera—grand opera, opéra comique, and lyric opera—are three distinctive French genres. You'll hear why in Act 2 of Bizet's dramatically powerful Carmen .

Part IV: Wagner, Strauss, Puccini

You see how German singspiel, a play with music, grew from humble origins as a low-class entertainment to high art with Mozart's The Rescue from the Harem (1782) and The Magic Flute (1791). You learn how Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz established 19th-century German opera.

You then study Richard Wagner: his personal beliefs, musical theories, and operatic innovations. Wagner turned to the ancient Greek ideal for inspiration, and from it he conceived the idea of an all-encompassing artwork, or music drama, in which the orchestra plays the role of a purveyor of unspoken truths. Dr. Greenberg cites Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as the most influential composition of the 19th century, next to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Richard Strauss and his controversial opera Salome exemplifies late Romantic German opera.

You examine Russian opera and nationalism. The late development of Russian opera is outlined from Mikhail Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila to Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. You see how the Russian language shaped the vocal style of Russian opera.

The course concludes with an overview of opera verismo, a 19th- and 20th-century genre that favors depictions of the darker side of the human condition; a transcendent example of it is in the pivotal second act of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca.

The essence of opera is debated as you hear part of a scene from Richard Strauss's Capriccio. Is it words, or is it music? It is an indefinable combination of both, with the whole greater than the parts.

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32 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    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 opera with a unique dramatic power. We are introduced to the concept of opera characters as archetypes, and we study the reasons for the lasting popularity of opera. x
  • 2
    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 opera with a unique dramatic power. We are introduced to the concept of opera characters as archetypes, and we study the reasons for the lasting popularity of opera. x
  • 3
    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 madrigal was rejected for a vehicle that better expressed this ideal: opera. x
  • 4
    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 madrigal was rejected for a vehicle that better expressed this ideal: opera. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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 opera composers. Finally, we look at Mozart's Idomeneo, the transcendent opera seria. x
  • 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 opera composers. Finally, we look at Mozart's Idomeneo, the transcendent opera seria. x
  • 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 opera composers. Finally, we look at Mozart's Idomeneo, the transcendent opera seria. x
  • 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 opera composers. Finally, we look at Mozart's Idomeneo, the transcendent opera seria. x
  • 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, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (1786), is examined in detail. x
  • 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, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (1786), is examined in detail. x
  • 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, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (1786), is examined in detail. x
  • 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, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (1786), is examined in detail. x
  • 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, The Barber of Seville, by the most important Italian composer of bel canto operas, Gioacchino Rossini. x
  • 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, The Barber of Seville, by the most important Italian composer of bel canto operas, Gioacchino Rossini. x
  • 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 operas with musical continuity and maintain dramatic momentum. Verdi's style is discussed with references to Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Otello. x
  • 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 operas with musical continuity and maintain dramatic momentum. Verdi's style is discussed with references to Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Otello. x
  • 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 operas with musical continuity and maintain dramatic momentum. Verdi's style is discussed with references to Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Otello. x
  • 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 operas with musical continuity and maintain dramatic momentum. Verdi's style is discussed with references to Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Otello. x
  • 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-Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Georges Bizet. x
  • 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-Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Georges Bizet. x
  • 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. x
  • 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 Isolde as the quintessence of his mature style, and as the most influential composition of the 19th century. x
  • 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 Isolde as the quintessence of his mature style, and as the most influential composition of the 19th century. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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 illustration of the nature of opera, scene 9 from Richard Strauss's Capriccio. x
  • 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 illustration of the nature of opera, scene 9 from Richard Strauss's Capriccio. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
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,...
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Reviews

How to Listen to and Understand Opera is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 71.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Instructor was a little pretentious but content wa Very good review before we actually visited the site this past fall.
Date published: 2017-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great so far! I have only listened to the first 4 lectures, but from the first one, I was hooked. The lecturer is informative as well as entertaining. He has a fun sense of humor that adds to understanding the subject. Looking forward to the next lecture.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really Fine Course Have not finished all of it but I certainly will. Very informative and inspiring. Inspiring me to listen to Monteverdi and more of Dr. Greenberg.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great overview This course gives a musical and historical overview of the various great composers and genres of opera. I learned a lot and Professor Greenberg is, as usual, well informed, organized, interesting, and entertaining.
Date published: 2017-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The place to learn opera from scratch I knew nothing about opera but I am going to be able to know how to enjoy it thoroughly when I finish this course.
Date published: 2017-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dated presentation but brilliant content. I have been studying Monteverdi in depth over the last year; I have read many books, looked at the music scores, listened to CDs and watched DVDs, so I wondered if this course would have anything to add to that. At first it was a little disappointing. It was recorded about 20 years ago, and others have referred to the dated style of presentation. I also found that some of the pronunciation jarred, for example the first syllable of 'chittarone' should sound like "keet" and not like "chit". The content was far better. Professor Greenberg (who delighted in telling us that the Italian version of his name was 'Monte Verdi') had many insights which I had not picked up from elsewhere. This is a good course, and it should be worthwhile remaking it so that the presentation is up to the standard of the content.
Date published: 2017-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great intro to opera I loved the course, although I wish that Prof. could have just jumped in with opera proper; the first 4 lectures were not what I wanted. However, the rest was wonderful and I learned so much, especially after getting DVDs of the operas. I also bought the course on Mozart's operas.... now we need more courses on each of the other major composers!
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Purchased as a gift Unable to access the audio product so can't review. Would like to log on and try.
Date published: 2016-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Greenberg Classic This is the fifth Great Courses class I have taken taught by Professor Greenberg. Let me preface this by saying that prior to beginning Professor Greenberg's courses I had almost no knowledge about classical music. Deciding to begin the series of his classes has completely changed my musical tastes. I am certainly no musical expert (very, very far from that), but Professor Greenberg has opened the door for me to not just listen to but to actually really enjoy what he terms "concert music" (i.e., classical music in the vernacular). I have gone from someone who rarely listened to classical music (I'll stick to the vernacular term) to now listening almost exclusively to classical music. However, I had yet to venture into opera beyond the small taste Professor Greenberg provides in How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. So, as a Professor Greenberg fan, I decided to give this a try, and I am very glad that I did. This was an eye-opening experience to an artistic genre that I had never experienced beyond seeing Les Miserables a couple times. If you read through all of the reviews, you are going to see some reviewers that don't like Professor Greenberg's style or somewhat corny sense of humor. I am in the group that really likes his style. If he approached this topic with a more serious, or perhaps snobbish tone, I would be very turned off and would have a hard time learning this subject. Instead, his relaxed, approachable, and sometimes corny style makes the topic approachable. I can't say that I'm going to be rushing off to see an opera after finishing this course, but it gave me a deeper appreciation and awareness that I previously lacked.
Date published: 2016-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ah, Early Greenberg After taking many of the courses taught by Robert Greenberg, I have learned one lesson that stands a TGC learner in good stead. If it's an early course, the likelihood is that it will be a winner. Greenberg is very fastidious in his early courses. He sets a high bar. The organization is superb. There's a lot of effort and discipline in the teaching. And, typically, the content and substance are rich. Further, the schtick humor, which is overly abundant in the later courses, is under reasonable control. And the tendencies to go off on inapt historical tangents or to make cute, but bizarre allusions to, and comparisons with, modern day cultural phenomena are not as apparent here as they are in many later courses. There are some very nice aspects of this course, in particular. The time spent with Orfeo was a treat to me. It will never be something I want to explore much further, but I liked learning about this pioneering work in some detail. The teaching of the two Mozart operas was exemplary, mostly in that there was great focus on the music itself. This is always where Greenberg does his best teaching. The Verdi lectures are fine, far better, in fact, than in the course he teaches on Verdi. In sum, this is a nice broad course, with many worthy specific features, and one I would recommend to someone wanting a survey course in opera. It doesn't quite rise to five stars, in my view, however. The introduction is too long. There is too much history that fails to serve the music and, thus, not enough music. And the last several lectures on French, German, and Russian opera, with a dose of Puccini, give coverage, but very little depth. They have the feel of the Verdi course, in which Greenberg spends too much time reading from the libretto, too little time teaching about the music, and then letting the listener hear just a touch of the music itself. Nevertheless, this is, overall, a good and worthwhile course.
Date published: 2015-04-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from How to Listen to and Understand Opera I thoroughly enjoyed this course. It moves quickly - it is an introductory course, after all, not an in-depth study. I am fairly new to opera, only really trying to get into it in the last 3 or 4 years, so this course was perfect for me. I now listen with different ears and I have a deeper appreciation for the personal struggles of the composers. I really enjoyed Dr. Greenberg's presentation style, including his "Freudian slaps". And I really appreciate his defence of Puccini, whom I adore. Yes, he is a composer for the masses, but nothing can bring you to tears or joy like Puccini. A few words of advice: purchase the course in video format (there are a lot of visuals that make the course much more interesting) and purchase the companion book (it will make your journey much more meaningful). Thank you, Dr. G.reenberg and The Great Courses. This has been a wonderful way to spend 30 hours
Date published: 2015-04-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Learn Opera by not watching it? I quit watching this course about half way through. How do you learn about an art form by not watching it? Opera is not just the music. I would like my money back.
Date published: 2015-01-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very disappointing I bought this course after I heard Prof. Greenberg's Verdi course. I was not terribly impressed with that, but I thought the problem must be that the course covered The Life and Operas of Verdi, with, IMHO, way too much emphasis on the life and not enough on the operas. Surely, I thought, a course on how to listen to opera would not have that problem. Alas, I was wrong. Prof. Greenberg is an appalling lecturer. He seems to think reading aloud using funny voices is in any way useful or entertaining. The voices are annoying and very distracting. I found myself wondering just what Muppet character he was trying to imitate. Not useful, at all. There is far too much reading aloud of texts which are included in the course guide. This unnecessary reading takes up considerable time which might otherwise be devoted to, say, learning how to listen to and understand opera. Playing a lengthy excerpt and then declaring it extraordinary contributes nothing to my understanding. What makes the passage extraordinary is the unanswered question. His lectures are disorganized, which is quite a feat considering several are supposed to cover a specific opera. Odd little (and sometimes not so little) rants are peppered throughout which have little or nothing to do with the ostensible topic of the lecture. He often interrupts himself when he realizes he has forgotten to include a definition of a term he has been using, thus disrupting the flow of the lecture. The amount of actual information that might enable me to have a deeper or indeed any understanding of how to listen to and understand opera is minimal at best. Altogether a very regrettable purchase. The money would have been better spent on some opera recordings and libretti.
Date published: 2014-10-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could Use an Update I consider Prof Greenberg's work, taken as a whole, as the best of the many Great Courses offerings I have purchased. However this course on opera, clearly one of the earliest works, could use an update. The course has the feel of being out of date--not the content--but the presentation. The problem is that the good professor is basically reading the text he is holding, which is distracting. Perhaps this course was prepared before the days of the teleprompter. I don't want to be overly critical because this fellow is my favorite of the many Great Courses lecturers I have experienced. He has, over the years, done a remarkable job covering a great many areas in the field of music. I just feel this particular course could be brightened up. Thank you, Paul Evans
Date published: 2014-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From an opera grump to an enthusiast Yes, I play the classical violin, yes, I love music - but opera? To me this had remained a mysterious and not always pleasant presentation of music, and I was convinced that I simply didn't quite understand it. I must say that I was true. I simply didn't understand it. And this lecture truly changed a part of my life. Mr. Greenberg draws his audience into this cosmos of music. He explains how opera came to be, why it was invented and what the first operas were (I love Orfeo now, I bought the Ponnelle version as DVD afterwards). With many music samples and great fun analysis he also explains how opera style changed through time - and he presents some of the greatest masterworks and goes through them - at times in detail (which makes this course even more valuable). I got to know so many opera works, started understanding the differences between them, their basic ideas, what was new and what was old - a whole new world of art has been opened up for me. I can totally recommend to listen to this course on the way to work - it lighted up my days and I kept thinking about it all day through. Such a pity that it had to be over at some point - and big thanks to Mr. Greenberg!
Date published: 2013-11-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good, but not Greenberg at his best This course dates from 1997 when Professor Greenberg was sporting a 1970s-style moustache and was still finding his way, forming his lecture style which today is so distinctive ~ inimitable. It is a tremendously valuable course, but it should be titled "The History and Development of Opera". In my opinion the course does not fulfill its actual title at all. It starts off pretty much plunging you in at the deep end, with minimal explanations or background, and thereafter relates the history of opera, how styles developed, what the characters and arias are about, all with a fair amount of wonderful extracts from the operas. I found it very off-putting that Dr. Greenberg continually held in his hands a stack of fluorescent-yellow-coloured notes from whiich he basically read most of the lectures. His sarcastic humour, snide throwaway lines and corny jokes mainly fell flat (presentation still a work in progress). There were very few chuckles and guffaws from the studio audience, and I often winced at his remarks... sorry! Whether the very heavy emphasis on specific operas was correct or appropriate, I cannot say at this point... I'm very much a newcomer to opera. I'll have to run this course again to obtain maximum benefit. Right now I do not feel that I have learned HOW to listen to and understand opera, but I have learned much about the history and development of opera.
Date published: 2013-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Greenburg Masterpiece! This is the fourth Robert Greenburg music course that I have completed. Like the other three, "How to Listen to and Understand Opera" is a masterpiece. This course integrates history, biography, politics and music as Dr. Greenburg traces the development of opera from its beginnings in the early 17th century through the early 20th century. Changes in Italian opera during the 18th and 19th century shape the development of opera in France, Germany, Russia and England in the same and later periods. These influences are illustrated with libretto and score. Doctor Greenburg is emphatic that the operas he chose for illustration are his favorites, but that many others could be selected. His wit and humor spice the course. This is a marvelous course for a neophyte to understand and appreciate opera. I suggest that other Greenburg courses, "The Symphony," "How to Listen to Great Music," and "Fundamentals of Music" serve as prerequisites to this course.
Date published: 2013-05-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Opera comes alive in this course I knew very little about opera before this course, which I purchased several years ago. I had never been to an opera before this course because of the "language barrier." But with Dr. Greenberg's vast knowledge and ability to share his understanding, I now can enjoy opera, and now am not intimidated. This is a fun course.
Date published: 2013-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent primer on Opera! This was not my first course from Prof. Greenberg. As such, it was very amusing to see him as a much younger (as well as thinner and mustachioed). I was not aware just how old this course was. Indeed, I deducted a point for presentation based on the fact that Prof. Greenberg is holding a stack of notes throughout each lecture! The survey of the history of Opera was interesting, but the course hit a high note with the lectures on Mozart and Verdi. Indeed, I would have preferred more of The Marriage of Figaro! I purchased the dvd version, but would have been just as pleased with the audio cd version. I was hoping for some live video performances, but only audio was provided (as explained in the course description). I was also disappointed that Prof. Greenberg was not allowed to divulge the names of the singers and where we could obtain the recordings. This was a major flaw in my opinion, but a legality, and of no fault of the professor. I will certainly revisit this course from time to time.
Date published: 2012-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Romp Through History I enjoyed opera before taking this course. I really enjoy and appreciate opera now. This course is that good.. Please. There are 32, 45 minute lectures, a lot of opera talk. Not enough I say! Dr. Green Mountain makes the subject so interesting that you will want more! And I ordered the Verdi course to get more! That should say something. The course is a perfect balance of history, music appreciation and interpretation with a dash of terminology to impress your friends. The perfect balance. There are occasional jokes but never silliness. Again a perfect balance because Dr. GruhnBerg does not go overly serious or too far toward humor. Great course. I wish the course had more time to go all the way through the offered operas. But then, I'd still want more. Great job Dr. Monteverdi! Chris Reich, TeachU.com
Date published: 2012-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent History of Opera My husband and I stock up on CDs whenever we go on a road trip. The opera series was a wonderful companion. As everyone notes, Prof Greenberg is excellent. We have some familiarity with opera but are not opera buffs. I was a little concerned with the amount of time devoted to specific operas, but every minute was educational and enjoyable. If you have any interest at all in opera, this course is for you.
Date published: 2012-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg is Excellent Prof. Greenberg is an excellent professor. He is either the best or one of the best the Teaching Company has to offer. His wit and enthusiasm make these lectures a pleasure. I had just a small amount of knowledge regarding opera, even so, Prof. Greenberg managed to draw me in and make this music accessible to me. I especially enjoyed his lectures on Mozart. Anyone with an interest in opera would enjoy this introductory course in opera. Thank you for this great course.
Date published: 2012-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo, Bravi Once again Dr Greenberg shows he is a star in the GREAT COURSES stable. I had zero background in opera, yet he made it very approachable. Passion for subject is obvious. Strongly recommend for those wanting an intro' to this aspect of human culture.
Date published: 2011-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Course! I really like this lecturer. His passion for the subject really shows in the content and presentation. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is because I found a bit of it over my head.
Date published: 2011-12-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Class Professor Greenberg is highly entertaining. His explanations are very humorous in many cases, particularly when he got on "his" soap box. They were very expansive and interesting. He gave good anectodal and historical explanations of the operas and the composers, and many were quite profound. I think that I would have prefered a bit less of the anecdotes and a bit more of the tie in of the music with actual performance; for example his discussion about Othello was most enlightening -- it tied in the music with what was expected to be the performance. I think I would have liked more of that sort of discussion, even at the "expense" of making the class somewhat longer. I think that there was in some instances too much time spent on the history and less on important operas, for example faust or pagliacci. All in all, it was a very good class.
Date published: 2011-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highest Recommendation Before this course, I had almost no background with music and none with opera. To Dr. Greenberg’s credit, I now have a greater understanding of both. More importantly, because of his clear and accessible approach, and his passion, I am now listening to classical music (and opera) and am reading about both. I cannot recommend Dr. Greenberg’s courses enough!
Date published: 2011-07-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from For less than the price of an opera ticket! If you're looking at this course thinking "I know nothing about Opera...Maybe I *should* learn something," this course would be perfect for you. Just like "Oldie But Goodie" below indicated, this course engaged me in Opera, and now I have favorites. Give Prof Greenberg a chance to help you see how beautiful the human voice can be. This would be a great course to watch either *before* you get "Met" tickets to the opera... or *instead* of tickets to the opera.
Date published: 2011-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enlightening! Professor Greenberg is excellent as usual: knowledgeable, enthusiastic, well-organized, and never pedantic. He claims that the human voice is the most elaborate instrument and opera the most civilized musical form. This belief truly transpires throughout his lectures. His course certainly succeeds in making me understand opera better, how it developed, how it works, what it entails. It is fascinating for instance to know more about Monteverdi, Rossini, Lully, Mussorgsky and Puccini or to learn how operatic bases vary with the libretto’s language. Unfortunately, that is still not enough for me to actually enjoy the art form. Though a few excerpts integrated in the course are enjoyable, to me, most sound exaggerated, overblown and just artificial. In some cases, I even find them aggressive, particularly if the singing is very high-pitched. Still, I strongly recommend this information-rich course to all curious about this lasting musical genre.
Date published: 2011-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from an oldie but a goodie This review is based on the DVDs. In retrospect, audio would have sufficed given the fact that I often sat back and closed my eyes to take in the music and Greenberg's lessons. First off, I was quite pleased with the amount of music. Compared to two other music courses I have, there are a lot of music samples, and they're longer than usual, too. Admittedly, I never could have imagined that I'd be hooked on opera, but thanks to Dr Greenberg, I am. Not only have I learned a great deal about the culture and history of opera and it's composers, but also the words and music. I now have favorites and I can explain why. So why only 4 stars? Well, the course dates back to 1997. You can tell by the cramped studio set and Greenberg's young and thin frame, mustache, and Dockers. Not a big deal at all. By the second or third lecture, I was used to it. However, the sound quality wasn't up to 2010 standards and secondly, Bob's humor was still a work in development back then (The Nile=denial, etc. plus dated cultural references that may not stand the test of time (Snake Plissken might "Escape" a few people)). I wonder if it's worth investing in a 2nd edition, perhaps including modern opera and going into more depth regarding the range of operatic voices. Nevertheless, oustanding selection. Next up, Verdi and Mozart's operas.
Date published: 2010-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As expected for a survey course Review is on the Audio Download version... This is a survey course. That is, Professor Greenberg presents various types of Operas and discusses them in some detail. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that it will be a bit too diffused and diverse for some people. Don't get me wrong, it's a great course. I highly recommend this and other Greenberg courses. If all you want is a general overview of opera. that is, without focusing on one composer in particular, then this course is for you. The only negative about this course is that some of the lecture titles are misleading: Lectures 9-12 -- Idomeneo is discussed only in lecture 12. Lectures 13-16 -- Figaro is only discussed starting in either Lecture 14 or 15.
Date published: 2010-12-15
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