Opera in the 20th Century

Ref: C3741096

The 20th century showed much innovation in opera and there is a very wide variety of styles to enjoy, some ultra-modern and others more traditional. Notably, we see real innovations from Britain with Benjamin Britten and others. From the USA, not previously at the forefront of opera development, there are original contributions from George Gershwin, John Adams and Philip Glass. In contrast, there is very little contribution from Italy, the most fruitful source of opera in the 19th century, although Puccini was still a major force in the early decades of the century. Richard Strauss broke new ground with Salome and Elektra early in the century but then reverted to more conventional form with Der Rosenkavalier. There are notable contributions from Eric Korngold and Alban Berg and Shostakovich made waves in Russia with Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk during the Stalin era. So there will be much new opera to experience and enjoy through audio and video excerpts.

Course aim

The main aim of the course is to explore the innovations and new directions taken by opera composers in the 20th century.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • identify contributions from opera composers in Britain;
  • identify the distinctive contributions from opera composers in the USA;
  • identify operas which have endured of composers from Europe and Russia;
  • list at least twenty composers of opera from the 20th century;
  • watch or listen to these operas with greater enjoyment.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No prior knowledge is assumed, but watching or listening to any 20th century opera would help to get you in the right frame of mind!

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Information on relevant books, CD recordings and videos will be given out during the course, as well as information about forthcoming opera performances.

Download full Course information sheet

Opera in the 20th Century


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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