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.
02 Mar 2005
TOMMASINI: The New York Times Essential Library: Opera — A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings
"I particularly want to reach newcomers" writes Anthony Tommasini, Times chief classical music critic, in his preface. I do not think they will be helped very much by this book. A rookie who picks it up and reads the subtitle may expect something more than two operas by Bellini, two by Donizetti, one Gounod (not Faust), one Massenet (not Manon) and no Lohengrin.
On the other hand I wonder if he/she will start out with six operas by Britten, four by Prokofiev or some masterpieces by Ruders, Weir or Weisgall. Therefore Mr. Tommasini had better called this selection : "My own subjective choice of 100 operas I like best at this moment; lots of unfamiliar and very modern stuff included ". Now such a very idiosyncratic choice may be interesting to widen the horizon of the experienced opera buff but then we could easily have done without Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Wagner.
Each opera is discussed "in depth" if I may say so on one page, sometimes even on two. On that page Mr. Tommasini crams in the contents of each opera, a discussion of the music and his reasoned choice of the best recordings on CD (he admits not liking DVD's). Now that's what I'd call a classic example of being all and everything to everybody and not succeeding in anything at all. One or two paragraphs on each opera's story make for the briefest outline and even the newcomer will barely know what the opera is all about: he/she still has to read in extenso the liners or the libretto. The musical discussion (can it be otherwise?) barely skims the surface; "Rossini folds the sensational arias, mellifluous duets, and gripping choral scenes into musical and dramatic structure of architectonic genius" writes Mr. Tommasini on Semiramide. Now, tell me how much more you understand Rossini's music after this batch of clichés ? As to the last part of each article, the discussion of "the best recordings," Mr. Tommasini especially (like most of us) prefers recordings with which he learned his trade many decades ago or recordings which are easily to grab up at the nearest Tower Records. He has to restrict himself to two or maximum three recordings at most at a rate of five lines per recording. Therefore don't expect any original thought, anything profound. On the contrary when Mr. Tommasini doesn't know the actual year of recording he simply jots down the re-issue date he found on his CD's: e.g. he dates Pavarotti's first Elisir from 1985 instead of the original 1971.
In short somebody at the Times looked at the list of subjects covered by their "Essential Library", saw Opera was still missing and said: "Ask Tony to write a few pages between the acts of one or another performance. The gap in our collection is closed and he can earn a few bucks extra." A pity, as Mr. Tommasini is an elegant writer with sometimes outspoken opinions who can explain them in clear simple language. If he had restricted himself to lesser known operas from all ages (especially concentrating on the 20th century) we would have had a very useful addition to those many reference works which already discuss stories, discography and music in detail of "the iron repertoire" but then it couldn't be published in "The Times Essential Library".