Katharina von Bora is an historical, non-religious opera written by conductor and composer Mihai Valcu, with lyrics by Bill Zeiger.
In his critique after the opera’s premiere, November 7, 2015, Dr. Edward S. Groves, wrote: “The absolutely beautiful, soaring, unforgettable melodies”of this work set it “above many others.”
Why would someone in the twenty-first century write an opera based on beautiful melodies? Katharina von Bora is written from the point of view of an opera conductor, not of a composer. The modern composer will display knowledge of compositional science by using a variety of contemporary writing techniques. The opera conductor, however, shares the room with the audience during the performance, and apprehends their sense of what they want to see and hear when they come to the opera. He knows that every audience member after a day of having to deal unceasingly with the sonic and visual agitation of the alarm clock, the microwave, the car engine, traffic horns, the copy machine at work, mobile phones with their multitude of ringtones, and a myriad of other harsh and ungovernable stimuli, one longs for more soothing, agreeable sounds.
In the evening, that person may have tickets to the opera. Once in his seat, he savors an hour of repose, of escape to a fantasy world suggested by colorful costumes, elegant sets, complementary lights, leaping dancers, soaring voices, melodies and harmonies woven into a tapestry of orchestral sound. The composer of Katharina von Bora wished to provide just such a respite from the world, to give his audience a few moments of joy, of warmth for soul and spirit and forgetfulness of daily strife. He believes that culture is the heart of civilization and when culture disappears, humankind will also disappear. That is why his cherished goal was to attract the new, young audience next to the regular opera-goers in the performance. Today the opera house hardly attracts young people, especially in competition with electronics that bring to young ears a cacophony of seductive but uninspiring sounds. This plan was easy to conceive, but putting it into practice was tricky- not because it is hard to write either classical or pop style music, but because it is difficult to appeal to both audiences simultaneously. One does not want to bore the young audience when the music sounds like Verdi, nor to exasperate opera lovers with lighter melodies. Librettist Zeiger preserved historical truth as much as possible, and Valcu combined the sounds of Renaissance, Romantic and Classical music with the atmosphere of pop. The sonorities’ roots of the opera, Katharina von Bora can be found in the music of the Protestant reformation and in the styles of accomplished Saxon composers of the 16th to 18th centuries-Michael Praetorius, Handel and J. S. Bach.
On the other hand, the soprano who sings Katharina and the tenor who sings Hieronymus Baumgartner need classically trained voices as well as the color of pop. From the pit they are accompanied by an orchestral ensemble composed of both classical and pop elements.
Any director who will do this work is expressly requested to stage it in the customary manner, in traditional sets and dress. The subject presents Katharina’s life in the 16th century from the age of five to the day she dies. This long period of time described in the opera results in a big cast, and necessarily involves some roles which are brief and passing; therefore, sometimes one person can play two, three, or even four roles in this piece.
The work is written in three acts – twenty musical numbers played without interruption except for the change of acts where the captivating music fascinates and enthralls the audience for more than two and a half hours.