Give the arts enough time and zero resistance and they will confuse madness with innovation. Let’s look at the macro and then zoom into the micro.
From a macro point of view, Russian composers dominated the 20th Century. It isn’t even close. The primary Russian composers are Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Rachmaninoff. Can we find any nationality which can add a composer to that list in the 20th Century?
Richard Strauss could join as could Benjamin Britten and maybe Ralph Vaughan Williams. Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy are candidates but they both died before World War II. Bela Bartok was a solid composer but hasn’t enjoyed the widespread popularity of the Russians.
Gustav Mahler is another but he died in 1911. How about Jean Sibelius? He lived until 1957 but stopped composing in 1926. Giacomo Puccini lived until 1924 but his major successes, save Turandot, were from the 1890s. There are bunches of other names such as Steve Reich, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, etc but they aren’t of the same stature as Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich.
Accuse me of confirmation bias if you must but I think the Russians dominate. Why are they so much better? Because they went through the horrors of the Russian Revolution, faced the full brunt of the Hitler’s aggression, and were then actively censored by the Communist Party. No one faced more adversity in the 20th Century than Russian composers.
Experimentation without consequences and political correctness are the censors of the West. It has even become difficult to find a music critic who is willing to say that any concert anywhere was less than “glowing” or “sparkling”. We in the West think the arts need to be propped up with false rhetoric—just like our kids.
The most recent development is the idea of contraltos singing tenor roles in opera because of identity politics. That is the stupidest thing I’ve heard all year and I’m counting everything which has crawled out of President Trump’s mouth into the light of day.
Yes, there is a tradition of women singing male characters in the operas of, most famously, Mozart and Richard Strauss but the roles were written for women.
The great composers are keenly aware of where the pitches of the vocal line are in relationship to vowel and intensity based on the voice type they are composing for. They base their orchestration on this ratio as well.
When a tenor sings a high C the orchestra can be as loud as they want to be without covering the note of the vocal line. Should a contralto sing the same exact pitch it will not be as audible because of the overtones in the voice.
The vocal cords function like a string instrument. The higher the pitch the shorter the string. The higher the pitch the shorter the segment of the vocal cords. A full grown tenor singing a high C has a smaller percentage of his vocal cords vibrating compared to a contralto singing the same pitch.
The effect is like a nozzle on a garden hose. The smaller and tighter the nozzle is adjusted the more intense the stream. This is why a tenor singing a high C is terrifying and thrilling at the same time. A contralto singing the same pitch doesn’t have the same nozzle on the hose and the consequences of the pitch are less intense.
The article I’ve referenced asks the question, “Who is to say only a man should ever sing Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’?” I shall answer this asinine rhetorical question.
For starters no one has ever said that. Women sing “Nessun Dorma” all the time in concert settings. If the question is broadened to “Who is to say only a man should ever sing the role of Calaf, the character which sings ‘Nessun Dorma,’” again no one — not even Puccini. However, Puccini did write the role for a tenor with specific vocal abilities.
Should a woman arise whose voice fits the quality which Puccini was writing for then let her have at it. That woman has never existed but should a trans singer arrive with the appropriate vocal talents then fine. Let that person have a shot if ze (gender neutral pronoun) wins the audition.
Given our current arts culture of equality of outcome, aka Marxism, this is going to happen sooner than later. It will be terrible but no one will say it.
Octavian is a male role written for a woman. Presentation of the Rose from Der Rosenkavalier.