22 May 2011

Opera Remade, 1700-1750

This substantial book is one of the latest in the Ashgate series of collected essays in opera studies and draws together articles from a disparate group of scholarly journals and collected volumes, some recent, some now difficult to locate.

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.

Sue Loder