Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky, edited by Jonathan Cross
07 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky joins more than a dozen similar volumes published by the Cambridge University Press over the years and devoted to the life and works of a single composer. Each one traditionally is a collection of essays by leading scholars in the field, organized into three main sections — biography; works (mostly by genre); reception and posthumous legacy.

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky

Edited by Jonathan Cross, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 344 pages

ISBN-10: 0521663776 | ISBN-13: 9780521663779

 

Predictably, however, just like the composer in question, this Companion is much too complex to fit comfortably into the mold. The reader will immediately note the seemingly disproportionate amount of space dedicated to the issue of reception: six of fourteen articles are placed in that section of the volume, with many essays from the other two sections veering frequently in the same direction. Indeed, as Christopher Butler's and Arnold Whittall's essays in the opening section illustrate, contributions to this collection inevitably represent conflicting trends in Stravinsky criticism. In "Stravinsky as Modernist," Butler casts the composer in his traditional role as a "conservative modernist" as opposed to Arnold Schoenberg's "progressive avant-garde." Meanwhile, Whittall, in a rather unfortunately titled "Stravinsky in Context" (now there's a title that means everything and nothing!), often contradicts his colleague while discussing many stylistic and compositional parallels between Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Commissioned separately, the essays do not engage each other's arguments. Instead, the authors polemicize — vehemently at times — with Richard Taruskin, whose distinct, distinguished shadow has loomed large over the Stravinsky discourse ever since the 1996 publication of his comprehensive two-volume Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions. Indeed, several essays in this Companion are heavily indebted to Taruskin's work. This includes Rosamund Bartlett's opening article "Stravinsky's Russian Origins," the only truly biographical essay in the volume. But while Bartlett's fascinating account of the artistic life in early 20th-century Russia is well worth the reader's attention, I hesitate to make the same claim for the two "Russian" essays in Part 2 of the collection, Anthony Pople's "Early Stravinsky" and Kenneth Gloag's "Russian Rites: Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, Les Noces." While both authors make a point of summarizing the views of other scholars, such as Pieter van den Toorn and Stephen Walsh, as well as bringing their own perspectives to the table, the number of Taruskin references in Pople's account in particular is at times so overwhelming that one feels a strong desire to abandon the Companion altogether and run back to the original.

Thankfully, that feeling disappears as the reader progresses through the volume and away from the "origins." Martha M. Hyde's insightful essay "Stravinsky's Neoclassicism" explores the complex notions of engagement with time, past and present, imitation, anachronism, and the relationship between neoclassicism and post-modern pastiche. Opera lovers will be delighted to see a significant portion of the article devoted to the analysis of The Rake's Progress, in its textual and musical dialogue with Goethe's Faust. Music for — broadly defined — theater is also the subject of the editor, Jonathan Cross's contribution to the volume, "Stravinsky's Theaters," in which he discusses the aspects of "high" and "low" in the composer's various staged projects. One of the most valuable contributions to the volume, in my opinion, is Joseph Straus's wonderful overview "Stravinsky the Serialist"; but a word of caution — the author's detailed analysis of specific passages may prove prohibitive for the uninitiated.

Two of six "reception" essays in the Companion also include analysis of excerpts from Stravinsky's serial compositions. In a part of his "Stravinsky and Us" (to be discussed below), Richard Taruskin offers an alternative (or perhaps a complementary) view of Stravinsky's journey into serialism to the one outlined in Straus's article through the textual analysis of the Cantata. Meanwhile, Craig Ayrey, in "Stravinsky in Analysis: The Anglophone Traditions," traces and critiques the analytical approaches to Stravinsky's music used in the English-speaking world by applying them to the Lacrimosa section of the Requiem Canticles. Unlike Taruskin's, and even more so than Straus's essay, Ayrey's contribution is dense with formulas, and thus not recommended for amateurs or the faint of heart.

To the contrary, Nicholas Cook's delightful essay titled "Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky" is a must equally for a scholar, performer, and intelligent listener. Cook examines the composer's attitude toward the value of interpretation in performance, and poses questions on the relative significance of the composer's own conducting for discerning his intentions by pointing out important interpretive deviations in his successive recordings of the Rite of Spring. The essay also includes astute observations about the connections between Stravinsky's "new objectivity" and the issues of "authenticity" in contemporary performance practice. For a different kind of contemporary practice, Jonathan Cross's interview with Louis Andriessen titled "Composing with Stravinsky" addresses Stravinsky's influence on this Dutch composer, as well as on other composers today, an influence — it is asserted — that is still in its early stages. The interview is a worthy read; the only drawback perhaps is that the discourse all too frequently abandons its supposed subject matter and focuses on Adriessen's career instead.

Two articles in the Companion address the most classic issue in Stravinsky reception — criticism. Stuart Campbell's essay "Stravinsky and the Critics" provides an overview of the composer's relationship with his critics throughout his long career, and elucidates the role played by these critics (including the fellow expatriates and composer colleagues) in disseminating his works and ideas. Max Paddison's "Stravinsky as Devil: Adorno's Three Critiques" discusses the complexities, contradictions, internal motivations, and a gradual evolution of Theodore Adorno's Stravinsky critiques, from the late 1920s through the early 1960s.

Overall, The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky should wear the label "use with caution." While a specialist student of Stravinsky would find in it much fascinating and useful material, the collection would not serve as a good general introduction to the composer's life and works. The reason for this, primarily, is the absence of a continuous narrative or even a coherent argument — in a word, a single point of view. It is a pity that the format of a Cambridge Companion does not provide for an in-depth editorial introduction — beyond, that is, the four sentences available on the opening page. Without it, the diversity of angles and the sharpness of arguments may distract and confuse a reader not easily familiar with the daily fads of Stravinskian discourse. In a stroke of editorial ingenuity, Taruskin's "Stravinsky and Us" serves as a conclusion to the volume. This essay's main focus is unraveling a variety of self-constructed and posthumously imposed "Stravinsky" mythologies that engender our daily engagement with the phenomenon of this composer and his music. To an extent, the controversies and contradictions that fill the current Companion themselves provide a telling illustration of the enduring power of the myths, and the eternal pleasure we musicologists derive from endlessly perpetuating them.

Olga Haldey
University of Missouri-Columbia

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):