The Complex Tragedy with a Happy Ending
That the heroes of tragedies and the persons of operas are divided by a historical and philosophical chasm is a core belief that we have inherited from Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Adorno, who insist that life for opera means death for tragedy. We can reach this conclusion only if we refuse to believe that Euripides may be the most tragic of poets and that the representation of pathos may be his essential task. Once we recognize what Euripides meant to early modern librettists, then we can begin to see opera as a creative response to his “escape melodramas.” This chapter studies two intersecting traditions: the tragedy with a happy ending and operatic tragedy. In the early modern repertoire, these intersect in a series of masterpieces running from Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ulisse in patria (Venice, 1641), through Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride (Paris, 1779), to Mozart’s Idomeneo (Munich, 1781).
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