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Opera: the First One Hundred and Fifty Years  

John Prescott For over four hundred years, Opera has been one of the most popular and widespread forms of Western classical music. However, most operas which are regularly performed come from a narrow period of time in the late nineteenth century. This course will trace the remarkable first century and a half of this art form. We will learn about the birth of opera in the intellectual salons of Florence as an attempt to revive Greek Drama. Within a few decades, opera had spread like wildfire to all the major cities of Europe. We will explore the important differences in the way opera was written and performed in different parts of Europe. We will discuss the unique social and historical phenomena of early opera most notably the use of castrated males to perform the leading male roles. We will learn about the ways, both positive and negative in which opera was received and the colorful behavior of opera audiences. We will listen to recordings, watch videos and engage in lively discussion. No previous musical experience is necessary. Week 1. The beginnings, Opera in Florence Week 2 The beginnings of public opera in Venice and the music of Monteverdi. Week 3 Italian Opera in its Maturity: the music of Alessandro Scarlatti Week 4. French opera at the court of Louis XIV. Week 5. Beginnings of English Opera: the music of Purcell and his contemporaries. Week 6. The Operas of Handel John Prescott received his Ph.D in Music History and Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on John Stanley, the 18th-century blind organist, conductor, violinist, and impresario. His academic honors include post-graduate study in music as a Marshal Scholar at St. John’s College, Cambridge University, England. In addition to delivering pre-concert lectures, program notes, and for musical performance groups throughout the Bay Area, he has taught at UC Berkeley and at The Crowden School in Berkeley, OLLI at UC Berkeley as well as OLLI at SF State, and was the musicologist for the San Francisco Elderhostel Arts and Humanities Program.


  • Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at San Francisco State University
    835 Market Street, Sixth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
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