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.
15 Jul 2005
HELLER: Emblems of Eloquence — Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice
In her awesome Emblems of Eloquence, Wendy Heller tirelessly investigates treatises, myths, libretti and letters to illuminate the natures of “real” and “imagined” women who reigned over seventeenth-century opera as subjects of musical portraiture. From Dido to Semiramide, Poppea to Calisto, Heller argues that women and women’s issues dominated the Venetian stage. Librettists struggled with issues of women’s sexuality, dominance, suppression of desire, overt desire, covert desire, homoeroticism and misogyny. And all at the time when, “Venice’s absolute exclusion of women in public life was written into the organization of the Republic.” This apparent contradiction is at the heart of her eminently readable text that displays Heller as a musicological Simon Schama.
The book is divided into seven chapters. The first two explore seventeenth-century treatises written about women by male misogynists and uppity female contrarians. Although these treatises, such as Venetian nun Arcangela Tarabotti's Tirannia paterna, ostensibly say little about women and music, they do give us a clear picture of misogyny practiced eloquently by members of the Accademia degli Incogniti, a center of erudition, who found women to be the cause of evil in the world. Heller provides excellent translations and each painful prejudice is clearly rendered. We read for instance from Francesco Loredano, the Incogniti founder, "Woman, most virtuous gentlemen, is an imperfect animal, an error of nature, and a monster of our species." At least, Loredano includes women in the same species as men; Aristotle argued otherwise.
In this incandescent debate, we find opera flourishing. Heller in the next chapters of her book examines archetypical female opera roles, warriors, courtesans, and lovers. All are essentially victims of their own desires, even if most of the operas end in the lieto fine. Women in Heller's book are a complicated collection of dualities, and we have subheadings such as, "Semiramide and Musical Transvestism" and "Didone and Female Eloquence."
Heller's micro-level descriptions of the music by Monteverdi (L'incoronazione di Poppea), Cavalli (La Didone, La Calisto), Ziani (La Semiramide), and Pallavicino (La Messalina) that accompany these women are also a pleasure to read. For instance, Heller paints the cross-dressing Semiramide: "The light syncopated character and clipped phrases as well as the key of G major are associated with the militaristic Semiramide, contrasting with the metrically regular cadences and E minor with which she expresses her amorous urges." Heller's prose is silky and thoughtful as she weaves a tableau of women's foibles.
Interestingly, while women dominated libretti, it seems that there were few well-known female performers during this time. Anna Rienzi, the first discussed, was a Roman singer for whom a collection of poems and prose was written lauding her. Furthermore, there is little evidence about the way audiences received these female protagonists. In fact, we have to go Padua, Venice's lowly sister, to find the name of the first woman to attend university, one Elena Piscopia (1646-1684), who played the keyboard and was the confidant of an organist and orphaned Venetian Maddalena Cappelli for most of her adult life. While Padua did not have a burgeoning opera, it did have women writers and artists in the early Baroque period. We need to wait for Verdi for women to be given great music and virtue. Perhaps this is one of Heller's important contributions to the history of ideas: more opera libretti and theoretical treatises about women flourish in ages when women are treated particularly poorly. What does that say of our time?
Lewis & Clark College