Opera at Columbia: A Shining Legacy

Griffel, Margaret Ross

Opera has always been central to my life. Listening to the
Saturday afternoon broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera was a ritual
in my parents' home, and we talked about our visits to the Met (albeit in
the "nosebleed" seats) for weeks afterward. My love for opera was further
nourished by my years at New York City's High School of Music and Art,
then some twenty blocks north of Columbia University, during which time
Handel oratorios were semistaged at the school's major concerts and Aaron
Copland's The Second Hurricane (1937) was revived at Carnegie Hall in a
1960 performance by M&A students conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
In the 1960s, it was my good fortune to attend Barnard College and
then do graduate studies in musicology at Columbia, where chances to
hear contemporary as well as older operas abounded and opera composers
such as Douglas Moore, Otto Luening, Henry Cowell, and Jack Beeson
were members of the faculty. Sadly, such opportunities diminished in the
following decades, breaking Columbia's tradition of being a major source
for the creation and performance of operas, which had reached its height in
the 1940s and 1950s-the heyday of the Columbia Opera Workshop.
After a brief history of the Workshop, the present article examines what
it was like to be an opera -loving student at Columbia in the mid -1960s when
Current Musicology was launched. Surrounded by the prominent composers
mentioned above and other former participants of the Workshop who
still taught courses in the Department of Music, including Willard Rhodes
and Howard Shanet, we students had the chance to hear new and rarely
performed works on campus or at nearby music conservatories and opera
houses. In addition, this essay explores the contributions of Columbia
graduates, particularly composers, to the world of opera.
The article's final two sections detail the operas given at various Columbia
locations from 1941 to 2004. The first lists operas presented by the
Music Department and the Workshop. It also includes those operas that were
put on independently during the same period at venues such as McMillin
Theatre (later renamed Miller Theatre), Barnard College's Minor Latham
Playhouse, and Brooks Hall, which featured Mozart operas in honor of his
bicentennial year of 1956. The second section describes operas that were
given at various Columbia locations after the Workshop closed.



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Current Musicology

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Columbia University
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October 29, 2014