The format of the series as a whole is continued here: the
Editor, Charles Dill of the University of Wisconsin, USA, provides an
intriguing and detailed introduction to the period itself and also poses some
pertinent questions on the state of current operatic scholarship. Both purely
academic as well as musicological work is included and the reader will find a
variety of approaches represented in the collection: sources, criticism,
performers, authors, composers, culture, theory etc. The historical context is
heavily represented as are the socio-political parameters of the time.
The collection is divided into four separate parts, three general, and one
specific: Librettos, Gender, Theatres & Performing and, lastly, Handel.
Presumably the latter section was given a separate heading due to the
over-arching importance of this composer in this specific period of 1700-1750.
With the regeneration of baroque opera performance in the late 20th and early
21st century, there has been a parallel regeneration of academic study of this
specific period, so this substantial volume of works should meet a need.
However, it is important to note that there are only five essays out of the
total of 23 that were written since the year 2000, the vast majority being from
the years 1995-98. One presumes that more modern work is widely available to
today’s scholars as the essays here need to be placed in their own
context of performance practice in the mid-90’s when much was in flux
still after the seismic rethinks of the 70’s and 80’s.
The original sources for the essays are not wide, many from the
Cambridge Opera Journal, Music & Letters, and Early
Music and some will be already familiar to students of baroque opera
– for example Katherine Bergeron (1996) “The Castrato as
History” (COJ). From a practical viewpoint, there are many pages
reproduced in very small print which is not easy to read; however, this is
somewhat counterbalanced by useful musical illustrations of specific passages
and apposite photographs of artworks and manuscripts. All the original
footnotes and references for each essay are included and there is a useful, if
limited, Name Index at the end of the volume.