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

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne

Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which was new in 2012, returned to Glyndebourne on 3 July 2016 revived by Ian Rutherford.

Cosi fan tutte at the Aix Festival

Said and done the audience roared its enjoyment of the performance, reserving even greater enthusiasm to greet stage director Christophe Honoré with applauding boos and whistles that bespoke enormous pleasure, complicity and befuddlement.

In Parenthesis, Welsh National Opera in London

‘A century after the Somme, who still stands with Britain?’ So read a headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard on the eve of the centenary of the first day of that battle which, 141 days later, would grind to a halt with 1,200,000 British, French, German and Allied soldiers dead or injured.

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):