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.
27 Oct 2005
ALBRIGHT: Berlioz's Semi-Operas
This book examines two of the more interesting musical pieces of the Romantic movement: Romeo et Juliette (1839) and La damnation de Faust (1846). Both were composed by Hector Berlioz (1803-69), and were very much constructed in a Gesamtkunstwerk mode where literature, music, and the other arts are fused together in a hybrid style that defies genre and categorization.
In most of his large-scale works, Berlioz usually followed traditional forms and genres; in these two semi-operas, as the author calls them, experimentation with form and presentation are much more obvious, and this book assists the reader in following the literary and musical adaptations through history of these two texts by Shakespeare and Goethe, illustrating how Berlioz followed and built upon the composers and authors who set these two texts prior to his own compositional settings.
The author realizes that the term semi-opera refers to English opera of the later seventeenth century (according to Henry Purcell’s contemporary Roger North), but there just doesn’t seem to be another genre-term that comes closest to Berlioz’s style in these two compositions: drama that has been wrestled into music, through a strange array of disconnected scenes, where the composer has taken parts of the literary text that stimulated his creative thought and set them to music either vocally or as orchestral pieces. Berlioz, and the French public as well, had a hard time with Shakespearean and German drama. Berlioz was willing to experiment with the challenges of dramatically moving these texts into French theatre and opera, and as a result produced a kind of hybrid music drama that perhaps comes closer to the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk than even Wagner was able to do.
The book takes three chapters each to examine the histories and settings of these two texts. Romeo and Juliet is explored first, looking at Shakespeare’s background and inspiration for this text; the work is then discussed in relation to its expression from the time of Shakespeare up until the nineteenth century; finally the text is discussed in relation to Berlioz’s dramatic manifestation and musical composition. Goethe’s Faust is approached in the same way, from its creation, through the time period up until the nineteenth century, and then Berlioz’s realization of the text through music and drama.
This is a wonderful, concise, and compact discussion of two interesting and complex musical works of the Romantic period, exploring the historical and dramatic backgrounds of two of the more popular literary stories in human history. While written from the scholarly perspective, this book is easy to read and not overly technical in its presentation.
Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas