Television Opera

Television Opera

The Fall of Opera Commissioned for Television

Jennifer Barnes


Boydell Press



The conventions of television and their impact on composer and opera are discussed, with particular reference to Amahl and the Night Visitors, Owen Wingrave, and The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit.
Television opera - that is, opera commissioned for television - was one of the earliest attempts by television to bridge the distinction between high culture and popular culture: between 1951 and 2002, in Britain and the United States, over fifty operas were commissioned for television.
This book discusses three case studies, the first a live broadcast, the second a video recording, and the third a filmed opera made for television: Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors (NBC, 1951); Benjamin Britten's Owen Wingrave (BBC, 1971), taking into account Britten's earlier television experiences with The Turn of the Screw (Associated Rediffusion, 1959) and Billy Budd (NBC, 1952 and BBC 1966); and Gerald Barry's The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit (1995), part of Channel 4's decision in 1989 to embark upon a series of six hour-long television operas. In each case, the composer's response to the demands of television, and his place within the production's hierarchy, are examined; and the effect of the formats and techniques peculiar to television on the process of composing are discussed.

JENNIFER BARNES is Assistant Principal and Dean of Studies at Trinity College of Music, London.


July 2002
12 black and white illustrations
138 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9780851159126
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
BISAC MUS028000, PER010030
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The book's downbeat subtitle says it all: the genre seems to be dying on its shaky feet. It is a slightly esoteric subject, but one the author has pursued with laudable persistence based on extensive research. GRAMOPHONE (Alan Blyth)

(This) study is a significant contribution to the growth of the still-young scholarship on mediated opera. NOTES

Packed with closely researched detail, precisely and elegantly argued. It makes for compulsive and intelligent reading. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE