While some people go through their entire lives not knowing what they were meant to do on this Earth, others get that insight at an astoundingly early age. Child prodigies appear in many areas of expertise like science, math, history, and the arts. Of course, we are interested in prodigies in the performing arts world. More specifically we would like to focus on those that grew or will grow, to become famous operatic composers. Here are some notable operatic child prodigies you should know.
1. Alma Deutscher
Born in 2005, this musical genius could play the piano when she was two years old and quickly moved to the violin by the age of three. The first efforts Deutscher put toward musical composition came when she was four years old. It was at that early age that she composed her first opera, Don Alonzo, the story of a pirate. Two years later she finished her first full-length piano sonata and the year after that, at the age of seven, Deutscher composed her next opera titled The Sweeper of Dreams.
When Deutscher was ten, she completed another opera titled Cinderella, and it was produced and staged in 2015 as chamber music. It wouldn’t be until the next year, in December of 2016, when the full-length version of this opera would debut in Vienna to an astounded audience. Maestro Zubin Mehta conducted the orchestra, and the performance brought the crowd to their feet.
All of this achievement and she isn’t even twelve years old. Her discovery is also a fascinating story. It turns out, British comedian Stephen Fry was a friend of her father’s through a mutual love of linguistics. In fact, Deutscher’s father is a linguist by trade. He was made aware of some YouTube videos the family had put up and tweeted them out to the world. The videos quickly garnered millions of clicks and pushed her to stardom with appearances on The Ellen Show with Ellen DeGeneres,
We look forward to seeing what this young talent has in store for the future.
2. Georges Bizet
Born in 1838 to a father who taught voice and a mother who knew her way around a piano, it is no surprise that Bizet began showing his musical talents at an early age. The Paris Conservatoire had accepted as a student before he was ten years old. While there, educators like Charles Gounod and Fromental Halévy helped Bizet cultivate his talents.
Bizet took to his training early and was immediately awarded a scholarship through the Prix de Rome for his creation Clovis et Clotilde. On this scholarship, Bizet agreed to work for the French Academy in Rome as a composer, and he was given a stipend to last five years.
Over the span of his career, Bizet composed several operas including a one-act piece titled Le Docteur Miracle, which was an early indication of his talent and inevitable success. Other operas include La Jolie Fille de Perth, Djamileh, and Don Procopio.
His most successful and remembered opera is Carmen, which ranked last season as the third most performed opera worldwide. The plot is centered on the character Don José who falls in love with Carmen, a gypsy girl who works in a nearby factory. His decision to leave his life behind and follow Carmen proves to be the biggest mistake Don José ever makes.
Unfortunately, the world missed out on any further works of genius by this child prodigy. He suffered two heart attacks at a young age and died when he was only thirty-six. He had constant throat problems due to excessive smoking.
3. Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga
Born in 1806, also hailing from a musical family, Arriaga learned most of his musical talent from his father and his brother. His father worked as a seller of goods like rice, coffee, and wool in Bilbao, Biscay, Spain, where the composer was born. He was glad to use his wealth to support his son whom he knew was a musical talent at a very young age.
When he was sixteen, Arriaga was sent to study in Paris with the help of his father and José Sobejano y Ayala. While there he trained with Luigi Cherubini and Pierre Baillot, both notable teachers. Records show that his superiors well respected Arriaga for his craft of musical composition.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the faculty and students learned of Arriaga’s amazing talent, and he became a teaching assistant. Records also claim that Arriaga wrote an opera titled Los Esclavos Felices, but there are no copies still in existence. Another work of his that has been lost forever is a memory piece with eight voices that one of his instructors raved as a work of genius.
From all accounts, Arriaga had a bright future ahead of him in operatic composition. His father bet his earnings on it by spending a great deal to ensure Arriaga had the training he needed to succeed. The type of success they were hoping for never came about since this composer died at twenty.
It is said that he either died from either tuberculosis or exhaustion, either way, the operatic world was once again robbed of a massive talent.
4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born in 1756, Mozart, the most famous of all operatic composers, is probably the most notable child prodigy. Mozart also died at a very young age, 35. Still, he was prolific having begun writing musical compositions at a very early age. His first public performance was at the age of six, and until the day he died, he worked diligently to create operas, symphonies, concertos, and many other styles of classical music.
In fact, there is no denying that his style and prolific nature has helped shape and define classical music today. His father was also a composer and played the violin. The senior Mozart served the Salzburg court and discovered his son’s prodigal ways when he was teaching his older daughter to play the piano. At the age of three Wolfgang could understand and repeat what he heard on the piano flawlessly.
Mozart’s sister, known to him as Nannerl, also showed exceptional skills as a musician due to her father’s initial training. Of course, only Wolfgang would go on to reach the type of notoriety that only comes a few times a century. The next musical composers to have the same profound impact on popular music would be the Beatles two centuries later.
One of Mozart’s most famous works is The Magic Flute, which was his final opera and possibly his most successful. It is number two in last season’s list of most performed opera worldwide, beating out Bizet’s Carmen by one slot. Other operas you may be familiar with that Mozart penned are Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, and Idomeneo.
Just as it was with Arriaga above, there is no definite ruling on what exactly killed Mozart, but he at least, unlike Arriaga, could rise to fame quickly before he died and bask in some of the glory his type of genius deserves.