We have expressed our opinions about opera; but, while we share them with you, please keep them in perspective. They are only opinions. Yours may be quite different. However, one thing is a factual constant throughout the history of music: musical composition keeps changing form. Nevertheless, it doesn’t do this in a vacuum.
In the world of music, one composer builds on the works of prior practitioners of the art. From one standpoint, the world of opera can be appreciated on its own. For that reason, we have included on this website this entire Section dedicated to the art form. However, opera can also be appreciated as an influence on musical development. In this light, we can understand that opera, as an art form in Europe, was dying out, even as Giacomo Puccini’s operas were being given their premieres. In their place came a flood of operettas from European and American composers.
Before Madame Butterfly could be performed in 1904, Johann Strauss brought forth Die Fledermaus (1874), and Gilbert and Sullivan wrote their fourteen operettas. One year after the premiere of Madame Butterfly, Franz Lehar premiered The Merry Widow (1905).
Victor Herbert’s The Fortune Teller was produced in 1898 and his Babes in Toyland hit Broadway in 1903. By 1910, Herbert’s Naughty Marietta was produced; and by 1917, Jerome Kern’s Have a Heart was seen on Broadway. By 1917, operettas had started to become a dying art form, and music comedies were taking center stage. Nothing stays the same forever.
Art forms come in waves; the great European operas ruled for 150 years and then disappeared. Gilbert and Sullivan shows were the hottest ticket in London from 1871 to 1896, and then they were gone.
However, most great art is preserved and performed. We still have opera companies all over the world, supported by generous contributions from charitable funding. Gilbert and Sullivan societies exist solely for the purpose of performing the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
The only exception to this pattern of preservation lies in the field of pre-1943 Broadway shows; and we would like to change this pattern of neglect to one of preservation.