American Opera Society

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The American Opera Society (AOS) was a New York City based musical organization that presented concert and semi-staged performances of operas between 1951 and 1970. The company was highly influential in sparking and perpetuating the post World War II bel canto revival, particularly through a number of highly lauded productions of rarely heard works by Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Vincenzo Bellini. [1] The AOS also presented many operas to the American public for the first time, including the United States premieres of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd , Giuseppe Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco , George Frideric Handel's Hercules and Hector Berlioz's Les troyens to name just a few. [2]

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Bel canto —with several similar constructions —is a term with several meanings that relate to Italian singing.

Gioachino Rossini 19th-century Italian opera composer

Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he also wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some works of sacred music. He set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large-scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity.


The American Opera Society was founded in 1950 by two young musicians at the Juilliard School: Allen Sven Oxenburg and Arnold Gamson. [3] Oxenburg served as the AOS's Artistic Director throughout the company's entire history. [2] Gamson served as the AOS's Music Director and principal conductor between 1951–1960 and later returned to conduct several performances with the AOS in the late 1960s; including a lauded production of Handel's Giulio Cesare with Montserrat Caballé as Cleopatra in 1967. [4] Composer Samuel Barlow notably served as the President of the board during much of the 1950s. [5]

Juilliard School American performing arts conservatory in New York City

The Juilliard School, informally referred to as Juilliard and located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, is a performing arts conservatory established in 1905. The school trains about 850 undergraduate and graduate students in dance, drama, and music. It is widely regarded as one of the world's leading drama, music and dance schools, with some of the most prestigious arts programs. In 2016, QS Quacquarelli Symonds ranked it as the world's best institution for Performing Arts in their inaugural global ranking of the discipline.

Arnold U. Gamson is an American conductor who is particularly known for his work within the field of opera. He notably co-founded and served as the Music Director and principal conductor of the American Opera Society from 1950-1960. His work with the AOS was highly influential in sparking and perpetuating the post World War II bel canto revival, particularly through a number of highly lauded productions of rarely heard works by Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini. He is the husband of renowned dancer and choreographer Annabelle Gamson. Their daughter, Rosanna Gamson, is also a celebrated choreographer and their son, David Gamson is composer of platinum-selling popular songs.

<i>Giulio Cesare</i> opera in three acts by Georg Friedrich Händel

Giulio Cesare in Egitto, commonly known as Giulio Cesare, is a dramma per musica in three acts composed for the Royal Academy of Music by George Frideric Handel in 1724. The libretto was written by Nicola Francesco Haym who used an earlier libretto by Giacomo Francesco Bussani, which had been set to music by Antonio Sartorio (1676). The opera was a success at its first performances, was frequently revived by Handel in his subsequent opera seasons and is now one of the most often performed Baroque operas.

The AOS was initially envisioned as an organization to perform Renaissance music and baroque operas in the space for which those works were written, in the homes of the rich. The company's first production was Claudio Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea for an audience of 50 in the drawing room of a mansion on 5th Avenue in New York City in 1951. These smaller concerts quickly became so popular that the AOS had to move to increasingly larger venues, ultimately using Carnegie Hall as the company's home. Gamson conducted almost all of the company's performances during the 1950s; concerts which mostly featured rarely heard operas from a variety of musical eras. Many of these operas, such as Christoph Willibald Gluck's Le cadi dupé , had never been heard in the United States before. [3]

Claudio Monteverdi Italian composer

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi was an Italian composer, string player and choirmaster. A composer of both secular and sacred music, and a pioneer in the development of opera, he is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods of music history.

<i>Lincoronazione di Poppea</i> opera by Claudio Monteverdi

L'incoronazione di Poppea is an Italian opera by Claudio Monteverdi. It was Monteverdi’s last opera, with a libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, and was first performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1643 carnival season. One of the first operas to use historical events and people, it describes how Poppaea, mistress of the Roman emperor Nero, is able to achieve her ambition and be crowned empress. The opera was revived in Naples in 1651, but was then neglected until the rediscovery of the score in 1888, after which it became the subject of scholarly attention in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since the 1960s, the opera has been performed and recorded many times.

Carnegie Hall concert hall in New York City

Carnegie Hall is a concert venue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States, located at 881 Seventh Avenue, occupying the east side of Seventh Avenue between West 56th Street and West 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park.

Oxenburg was a shrewd judge of talent and he provided many notable singers with their first opportunity to perform on the New York stage. Singers who make their New York debut with AOS included Teresa Berganza, Montserrat Caballé, Eileen Farrell, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Maureen Forrester, Marilyn Horne, Leontyne Price, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Joan Sutherland, Carol Toscano, and Jon Vickers among others. Oxenburg also presented a lauded production of Bellini's Il pirata with Maria Callas as Imogene in 1959. He had had the presence of mind to approach Callas with a contract after her contract with the Metropolitan Opera had been canceled earlier that year. [2] During the AOS's final season, Beverly Sills sang the first New York production of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment in 27 years in February 1970. [6] [7]

Teresa Berganza Spanish mezzo-soprano

Teresa Berganza VargasOAXS is a Spanish mezzo-soprano. She is most closely associated with the roles of Rossini, Mozart, and Bizet. She is admired for her technical virtuosity, musical intelligence, and beguiling stage presence.

Eileen Farrell singer

Eileen Farrell was an American soprano who had a nearly 60-year-long career performing both classical and popular music in concerts, theatres, on radio and television, and on disc. NPR noted, "She possessed one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century." While she was active as an opera singer, her concert engagements far outnumbered her theatrical appearances. Her career was mainly based in the United States, although she did perform internationally. The Daily Telegraph stated that she "was one of the finest American sopranos of the 20th century; she had a voice of magnificent proportions which she used with both acumen and artistry in a wide variety of roles." And described as having a voice "like some unparalleled phenomenon of nature. She is to singers what Niagara is to waterfalls."

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau German lyric baritone and conductor

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a German lyric baritone and conductor of classical music, one of the most famous Lieder performers of the post-war period, best known as a singer of Franz Schubert's Lieder, particularly "Winterreise" of which his recordings with accompanist Gerald Moore and Jörg Demus are still critically acclaimed half a century after their release.

In 1970 Oxenburg was forced to disband the AOS due to financial reasons. [2]

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Allen Sven Oxenburg was an American opera director. He notably co-founded the American Opera Society (AOS) in 1950 with conductor Arnold Gamson, serving as the AOS's Artistic Director for two decades. He not only ran the administrative side of the AOS, but also was served as the company as stage director, program annotater, libretto translator and score editor. His work with the AOS was highly influential in sparking and perpetuating the post World War II bel canto revival, particularly through a number of highly lauded productions of rarely heard works by Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Vincenzo Bellini.

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  1. Emanuele Senici, The Cambridge companion to Rossini, on google books
  2. 1 2 3 4 Allan Kozinn (July 7, 1992). "Allen Sven Oxenburg, 64, Dead; American Opera Society Founder". The New York Times . Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  3. 1 2 "Music: Opera for Gourmets". Time . October 21, 1957. Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  4. Allen Hughes (March 22, 1967). "Music: In Praise of Handel's 'Caesar'; Miss Caballe Stars in Role of Cleopatra". The New York Times . Retrieved July 16, 2009.
  5. "Obituaries: Composer Samuel L.M. Barlow" (PDF). Central Opera Service Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 2. Winter–Spring 1984.
  6. Performances database on Retrieved 28 December 2013
  7. Met Opera Database of performances. Retrieved 28 December 2013