How did this website come to be? When Covid-19 shut everything down, the Metropolitan Opera opened up their streaming library. Up until that point, I had been a casual watcher of opera, whenever I can catch a performance on PBS or a live in cinema event. Before Covid-19, I had seen maybe 20 operas. With a different opera streaming every night, I watched almost all of them. No more gigs, my teaching schedule reduced, I had the time to watch opera. It was a good distraction, and my usual ways of unwinding to a silent movie—yes, that’s my way to de-stress—no longer worked. If you are familiar with silent movies in the 1920s, there is a lot of overlap between opera and the movies. If you can watch the movie, it’s easy to transition to the opera or vise versa.
The opera that started it all is Hamlet, by Ambroise Thomas. That was my entry point to studying the saxophone solos in opera. The Met’s 2010 performance is a wonderful production, and the saxophone solo expressed the choreography so well, I had to learn more about the composer and find other saxophone solos. Next I was watching Turandot (2019 production) and I heard the faint sound of the alto saxophone. After that was Werther by Massenet, then Lulu by Berg. How did the saxophone make that progression from French Grand Opera, to Puccini, finally to the Expressionist Berg?
I have spent years studying the saxophone, having received my DMA in saxophone performance at the University of Kansas in 2012. I learned the history of the saxophone, composers, performers, standard saxophone history that everyone learns when getting their doctorate. Other than the knowledge of Sax’s work at the Paris Opera, I did not learn anything about the operas that use the saxophone. Generally, these operas and ballets do not really enter the pedagogy of the saxophone, not in the same way orchestral works do. So every saxophonist learns of L’Arlésienne by Bizet, but not of the several contributions by Massenet. This website is meant to rectify those gaps in saxophone history. Really I started this as a way to organize my own notes, organize the operas themselves in order to study them better. So if I want to dig into the history of Zeitopern, I can type in “German” under language, or look by date. This database is a great starting point to learn of these larger trends of opera and ballets. So if you are writing about the saxophone in Soviet ballets, this is the perfect place to start your search.
Phase two of this project is to create saxophone solos of all of the works. I am currently working on French romantic era. Just like any other instrument learns their major solos in opera, saxophonists should have those same opportunities. Most of the solos I am arranging are grade 3-4, easy enough to learn in middle school or high school. I will give updates as the solos become available.
If you want to know more about my playing, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. I update it with sample recordings of etudes, opera recordings, and all district solos for the state of North Carolina. I also research saxophonists in the 1920s. In fact, I just like all history of the 1920s so if you want to know more about silent movies or the masterpieces of the Weimar cinema, email me your questions. Since there is so much overlap between silent movies and opera, I can give you my personal favorites and tell you which is better, the movie or opera? For example Fritz Lang’s Siegfried is much better than Wagner’s Siegfried and Gotterdammerung (Lang’s movie covers both operas, and in just a little over two hours). Alban Berg’s Lulu is much better than G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box. Every version of Faust is excellent; F.W. Murnau’s 1926 movie or Gounod or Berlioz’s operas. As for Die Drei Groschen Oper, both the 1931 movie and the stage version are quite good. Pabst doesn’t really know how to make a comedy so there’s a bit of gothic horror in the movie, but I like the ending better than the stage version.
If you want to know how I created the database, the database collects all of the information I find through searching publisher’s catalogues. The Publisher List contains the entire list of publishers I have used to create this website. But there is more to that. I also use IMSLP and the Gallica from the French Bibliothèque to find scores no longer carried by publishing houses. And when I comes to self published works, I follow various opera houses to see what major works they are performing that are self published. Self published works are harder to find, but that is the future of publishing. I also do very general searches in various online databases like ProQuest to find reviews of major works. If you know of any opera or ballet that isn’t in the database, email me and I will add it.