Recently in Books
Opera in the British Isles might seem a rather sparse subject in the period 1875 to 1918. Notoriously described as the land without music, even the revival of the native tradition of composers did not include a strong vein of opera.
Heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris tells us about the lean times when the phone did not ring, as well as those thrilling moments when companies entrusted him with the most important roles in opera.
Commonly viewed as a ‘second-rate’ composer — a European radical persecuted by the Nazis whose trans-Atlantic emigration represented a sell-out to an inferior American popular culture —
Although part of a series entitled Cambridge Introductions to Music, Robert Cannon’s wide-ranging, imaginative and thought-provoking survey of opera is certainly not a ‘beginners’ guide’.
Those of us of a certain age have fond memories of James Melton, who entertained our parents starting in the 1930s and the rest of us in the 1940s and beyond on recordings, the radio, and films.
An important new book on Italo Montemezzi sheds light on his opera Nave. The author/editor is David Chandler whose books on Alfredo Catalani have done so much to restore interest in the genre.
Assumptions about later Italian opera are dominated by Puccini, but Alfredo Catalani, born in the same town and almost at the same time, was highly regarded by their contemporaries. Two new books on Catalani could change our perceptions.
I was feeling cowed by Herr Engels. The four of us had retired from the Stravinsky performance to a Billy Wilder-themed bar in Berlin, the least horrible late-night option in the high end mediocrity of Potsdamer Platz.
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.
Vincent Giroud’s valuable new French Opera, a Short History, is in hand and very welcome it is.
The noted operatic impresario and stage director, Lotfi Mansouri, with the professional help of writer Donald Arthur, has issued his memoirs under the title Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey.
Originally published in German as Herrin des Hügels, das Leben der Cosima Wagner (Siedler, 2007), this new book by Oliver Hilmes is an engaging portrait of one of the most important women in music during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Robert Stuart Thomson’s Italian language learning text, Operatic Italian, promises to become an invaluable textbook for aspiring operatic singers, voice teachers, coaches and conductors.
Ralph Locke’s recent book on Musical Exoticism is both an historical survey of aspects of the exotic in Western musical culture and a discussion of paradigms of the exotic and their relevance for musicological understanding.
Readers may recognize the author of this book, David J. Buch, a specialist on the origins of the libretto to Mozart’s Magic Flute.
Perhaps it will be enough to tell you that I wasn’t halfway through this book before I searched the web for a copy of Professor Ewans’s study of Wagner and Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and ordered it forthwith: It has to be good.
Chinese bass Hao Jiang Tian was 30, when he enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Denver 1983.
Two excellent books on opera have come to hand, providing many hours of entertaining reading. I combine notice of them with a few thoughts about composer Paul Moravec’s CDs, and his forthcoming opera premiere at Santa Fe Opera in 2009.
Claudio Monteverdi. Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Edited by Rinaldo Alessandrini. Urtext. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007. BA 8791. A vocal score is available as 8791a.
Published in 2007, Riccardo primo, Re d’Inghilterra (HWV 23) and Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto (HWV 25) mark two of the latest installments of vocal-score editions of Handel’s operas based upon Bärenreiter’s Urtext editions.
18 Feb 2005
KRAMER: Opera and Modern Culture — Wagner and Strauss
"New musicology" is the cultural study, analysis and criticism of music, which proffers the belief that music has societal, religious, political, personal, and sexual agendas. Consequently, new musicology, much like the discussion of such topics at social gatherings, can be polarizing.
Among the leading scholars of the "new musicology" is Lawrence Kramer. Opera and Modern Culture is another work in his quest to clarify the many roles of music in Western society through intellectual discourse. Kramer does not engage in a recitation of facts but rather invites the reader to an intellectual exercise of "thinking through Opera." By their very nature, philosophical discourses tend to indulge themselves in semantics. Kramer's use of guiding concepts (philosophical and symbolic investiture, the norm, Opera), often varies. As he states it, they do not act as "leitmotifs throughout this book," and are rarely "invoked by name." Kramer sees this as an effort not to "box [his] topic in . . . but to open it out in as many dimensions as possible." Others however, may find it to be a matter of "too many words," to paraphrase Peter Schafer.
This investigation of opera and modern culture may be summed up as follows: An exploration of the manner in which opera's legendary antithetical states of being, debasement and supremacy, as exemplified in select operas of Wagner and Strauss -- Lohengrin, The Ring, Parsifal, Salome, and Elektra -- creates a certain idea of opera, a "generic fiction," which is termed Opera (capital O), and, which in turn, influences modern culture's norms of desire, identity and social order. Do not be misled. Wagner and Strauss are not being indicted. They are seen as "symptoms of Opera" -- Wagner as a "symptom of modernity" and Strauss as the "very incarnation of modernity in music." To add to this mix, prominent topics of current opera scholarship intertwine with those of social and cultural history, thus further tightening the weave.
There are indeed risks involved in creating a "tight weave" between music and modern culture. As Kramer expects, "old questions of subjectivity and appropriation in interpretation . . . [for some readers] will rear their ugly heads." (16) Why would they not? New theories or speculations regarding the ethnomusicology of opera -- is this not fundamentally the discourse? -- have no litmus test other than that of time. The intention of such philosophical studies is to engage the reader to think in a new way about an established subject or topic, to question. Whether the questions are old or new, attractive or not, they help the "new thinker" to refine and hone the point, keeping the tumblers turning in the search for truth. In this regard, Kramer's "speculative foray" into opera and modern culture is quite effective. The concerns raised in this book regarding the phenomenon of Opera overlap with those of general world concerns via Opera. In terms of the latter, two of the best discourses in the book are chapter two, "Contesting Wagner: The Lohengrin Prelude and Anti-Anti-Semitism" and chapter five, "Modernity's Cutting Edge: The Salome Complex." The erotic/sexual/psychosexual philosophical discussions however, are becoming tiresome.
Running the continuum of debasement and supremacy, with humanity seeming to prefer debasement, Kramer arrives at a "norm" in Opera, in which the abnormal is actually the hidden truth of the normal; where Wagner is both the cause and the cure for "modernity" and Strauss is the "Wagnerian remainder." This "speculative foray" is not meant to be a walk in the park. It is an intense inquiry, but one that is masterfully crafted.
Geraldine M. Rohling