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The COC is excited to share a new exploration of the later works of Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten. Just recently, Falstaff was a great success during the 2014/2015 season at the COC and authors Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon use this as just one example as they explore the complex relationship artists with their own age, career, and experience. 

Read a blog post from the authors here


by Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon


Aging and creativity can seem a particularly fraught relationship for artists, who often face age-related difficulties as their audience’s expectations are at a peak. In Four Last Songs, Linda and Michael Hutcheon explore this issue via the late works of some of the world’s greatest composers.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992), and Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) all wrote operas late in life, pieces that reveal unique responses to the challenges of growing older. Verdi’s Falstaff, his only comedic success, combated Richard Wagner’s influence by introducing young Italian composers to a new model of national music. Strauss, on the other hand, struggling with personal and political problems in Nazi Germany, composed the self-reflexive Capriccio, a “life review” of opera and his own legacy. Though it exhausted him physically and emotionally, Messiaen at the age of seventy-five finished his only opera, Saint François d’Assise, which marked the pinnacle of his career. Britten, meanwhile, suffering from heart problems, refused surgery until he had completed his masterpiece, Death in Venice. For all four composers, age, far from sapping their creative power, provided impetus for some of their best accomplishments.

With its deft treatment of these composers’ final years and works, Four Last Songs provides a valuable look at the challenges—and opportunities—that present themselves as artists grow older.

About the authors

Linda Hutcheon is university professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto and the author of many books on contemporary culture and theory. Michael Hutcheon is a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. Together they have written several books on opera and medical culture, most recently Opera: The Art of Dying.