Not everyone gets to be famous. In the world of opera, we think of Mozart, Wagner, and Verdi. But how many not-so-famous composers of operatic delights do you know? Well, that’s why we are here. It is with education in mind that we put together this list of obscure opera composers hailing from all over the globe. We hope that this blog post inspires you to research their works further.
PS: For the best of both popular and obscure opera works, click here.
1. Leslie Kondorossy
This Hungarian-born composer was brought into this world in 1915. Kondorossy was educated in musical composition and opera at the Academy of Music in Budapest. As with many other composers on our list, this creator of opera settled in the United States after World War II was over.
Once again he studied composing and opera only this time it was at Western Reserve University only to travel for educational purposes in music to Japan. At Tokyo’s Sophia University Leslie Kondorossy studied Japanese music and theater. Kondorossy is well known for his production of short operas. His works include Night in the Puszta, The Voice, The Pumpkin, The Midnight Duel, and Unexpected Visitor.
2. Harold Blumenfeld
Blumenfeld was born in 1923 in Seattle, Washington. Having written over thirty musical compositions Blumenfeld was a prolific composer, to say the least. During the Great Depression, Blumenfeld’s family traveled a so his father could find work.
Educated at the Eastern School of Music he also earned a Bachelor of Music from Yale University. In 1948 Blumenfeld studied at the University of Zurich and later he went to Tanglewood Music Center to train as a conductor. His works are vast and he directed the Opera Theater in St. Louis for four years in the 1960’s.
Blumenfeld was awarded fellowships from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letter and the National Endowment for the arts.
3. Gail Kubik
The next American composer on our list is a Pulitzer Prize winner for composition and an array of other musical talents. He was born in 1914 in South Coffeyville, Oklahoma. At the age of fourteen Gail Kubik was awarded a scholarship to study opera and composition at the Eastman School of Music.
Kubik also earned an M.A. at the American Conservatory studying with Leo Sowerby and Harvard University with Walter Piston and Nadia Boulanger. Kubik took a job teaching composition at Monmouth College and another at Columbia University. Later he was hired as the staff composer for NBC Radio where he directed the musical composition for the Motion Picture Bureau at the Office of War Information.
During World War II he created scores for movies and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1952. Having only composed two operas that we know of Boston Baked Beans (1952) and A Mirror for the Sky (1957), this interesting musical composer solidifies his spot on our list of little-known opera composers.
4. Peggy Glanville-Hicks
Glanville-Hicks is the only woman to appear on our list of obscure opera composers. She was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1913 and began studying music composition at a very young age. Hicks won a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music in London in 1931 where she studied for five years.
Choral Suite was the first Australian piece to ever be represented at the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in London. She set voyage to the United States and the majority of her musical work and operas written while living in America between the 1940’s and the 1960’s. Her opera The Transposed Heads premiered in New York in 1958 and solidified her standing in the composition world as a unique voice of the musical genre.
During World War II Peggy Glanville-Hicks was active with the League of Composers. It was also Glanville-Hicks who thought to create the International Music Fund and was active in the organization’s early activities. Hicks made her way back to Australia and became a prominent fixture in the national music scene until she died in 1990. She left aside funds to create a residency for young Australian composers at her home.
5. Lee Hoiby
This American composer of opera was born in the Midwest in 1926. Hailing from Wisconsin this creator of musical story studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia with Gian Carlo Menotti. With Menotti’s influence, Hoiby found his love for opera.
His one-act opera The Scarf was performed at the first Spoleto Festival in Italy in 1957. Hoiby converted Shakespeare’s The Tempest into operatic verse and it was premiered at the Des Moines Metro Opera in 1986. Lee Hoiby passed on in 2011 but not before receiving the Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award.
6. Carlisle Floyd
Born in 1926 Carlisle Floyd earned a musical education of high caliber at Syracuse University in New York State. In 1947 he began teaching in Florida and remained there until the mid-seventies. Then he moved to Houston where he was awarded the M.D. Anderson Professorship.
Floyd was also heavily involved in the opera scene in Houston. His opera Susannah won the New York Music Critic’s Circle Award. This opera was also selected to represent the United States as an operatic entry in the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.
Cold Sassy Tree was first released in 2000 and has been performed numerous times all over the country. Floyd has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, Citation of Merit from the National Association of American Conductors and Composers, and the National Opera Institute’s Award for Service to American Opera.
7. Hugo Weisgall
Let’s move on to an excellent obscure composer who was born in what is known as the Czech Republic in 1912. He is still considered an American composer because he moved to Baltimore with his parents when he was eight. Weisgall’s style of opera is revered for the literal quality they convey.
His operas are also known for their original vocal arrangements. Weisgall comes from a long line of composers branching out from his family tree. He studied composing at the Peabody Conservatory and then moved on to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Weisgall studied under famous composers, all while earning a doctorate in German Literature at Johns Hopkins University. After a seven-year stint in the Army Weisgall began to teach at Johns Hopkins and Juilliard. Still, it was in 1952 when he premiered The Tenor and The Stronger that he was recognized as a master in composing operas. He was awarded three Guggenheim fellowships before his death in 1997.
8. Charles Dibdin
This British composer of opera was born in Southampton in 1745. At one time he was among the most renowned musical composers of his time. Yet now, his music is not highly regarded according to one of his biographies.
Dibdin studied music at the young age of nine after enrolling into the College of Winchester. He was given basic lessons on the organ and from there he was all on his own. Dibdin was commissioned to compose the opera The Shepherd’s Artifice in 1762 when he was only seventeen years old.
A 1767 opera he composed, Love in the City, failed miserably although the music was praised. At one point he lived in India and paid his way by giving live performances in England. Dibdin had his hand in opening many theaters, not all of which succeeded.
Not a stranger to scandal Dibdin had an affair with a chorus singer, they were both married to other people. Yet, the two lovers had children together. Dibdin left the mother of his illegitimate children to die in poverty.