Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

David J. Buch: Magic Flutes & Enchanted Forests: The Supernatural in Eighteenth-Century Musical Theater
15 Jul 2009

Magic Flutes & Enchanted Forests: The Supernatural in Eighteenth-Century Musical Theater

Readers may recognize the author of this book, David J. Buch, a specialist on the origins of the libretto to Mozart’s Magic Flute.

David J. Buch: Magic Flutes & Enchanted Forests: The Supernatural in Eighteenth-Century Musical Theater

450 pages; University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2008

ISBN-13:978-0-226-07809-0
ISBN-10: 0-226-07809-4

$39.84  Click to buy

Buch has written a number of articles for scholarly journals which provide an opposing point of view to those who consider Mozart’s magical opera to be a symbolic roadmap to Masonic nirvana. Buch’s latest opus, however, is a much more ambitious study, focusing not so much on Mozart’s Zauberoper as on its seventeenth- and eighteenth-century forerunners in France, Italy, and Germany. Magic Flutes & Enchanted Forests provides the reader with a detailed description of how the supernatural (or ‘marvelous’) was depicted in eighteenth-century operas, comedies, pantomimes, farces, ballets, and other theatrical works, and provides extensive analysis of the various literary sources for these productions.

Buch strives in his monograph to refute what he feels are the most common false assumptions about eighteenth-century opera, effectively arguing against those who have maintained that works with magical themes or sections are inherently less important than serious compositions. He also attacks the thesis that the ‘enlightenment’ was not exclusively a period of order and symmetry, and that there was ample room in the aesthetic of the day for the marvelous and fantastic. His most valuable contribution, however, is undoubtedly the detailed and comprehensive discussion of the origins of the fantastic in eighteenth-century operas and stage works. Buch successfully outlines the astonishingly wide range of material used by librettists, including fairy tales, folk legends, and obligatory references to the underworld from classical models, which provided the inspiration for so many memorable scenes or entire compositions.

The book is organized into a chronological discussion which also takes into account the important differences in European national tastes and traditions. After a brief introduction which outlines the history of the ‘marvelous’ before 1700, Buch provides two chapters on French traditions, two chapters on Italian traditions (depictions of the marvelous in opera seria and comic opera), and a chapter on Germanic musical theatre before Mozart. The final chapter is devoted to the supernatural in the operas of Mozart. The author is in his element in these discussions, and offers important insights into the fantastic elements of Mitridate, rè di Ponto, and Lucio Silla (both of which contain ombra scenes), as well as Thamos, König in Ägypten and Idomeneo. Buch’s discussion of Don Giovanni, particularly the infernal scene, contains excellent background material on the origins of the story of Don Juan. The author also focuses on Da Ponte’s effort to highlight the moralizing aspects of the story rather than follow the tone of Bertati’s Giovanni Tenorio, o sia Il convitato di pietra. Buch’s presentation of Die Zauberflöte will be of interest to any lover of opera. The origins of Schikaneder’s libretto are explored in detail, including his indebtedness to C. M. Wieland and other authors represented in the Dschinnistan collection (i.e., F. H. von Einsiedel and A. J. Liebeskind). In the course of this discussion Buch provides an analysis of the popular fairy-tale motifs of the day, and makes his most powerful arguments against a Masonic interpretation of the work. Buch shows clearly that most of the fantastic elements of Die Zauberflöte can be found in the stories of the Dschinnistan, and that attempts to explain the work by referencing complex Masonic symbolism (as was done by Paul Nettl and, more recently, Julian Rushton in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera) are misguided.

In a brief conclusion Buch’s theorizes that the fascination with supernatural, as seen in the theatrical works of Gluck and Mozart, led to a new approach to instrumental music. Buch sees the influence of the supernatural in Mozart’s two piano concertos in minor keys (K. 466 and K. 491, both composed in close proximity to Don Giovanni) and in the Requiem. The author closes by pointing out that “without this legacy of marvelous, supernatural, and terrifying topics, Beethoven might not have developed his own powerful expression in instrumental music (…) neither would Carl Maria von Weber or Richard Wagner have had as rich a musical vocabulary upon which to draw when creating their operas.”

This monograph also contains four color plates, five black-and-white figures, an excellent index, and a detailed bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Along with this there are five appendices: a chronological list of operas and stageworks with supernatural content, a list of operas based on the stories of Circe, Medea, or Orpheus, a list of operas based on the works of Ariosto and Tasso, a list of settings of the Don Juan story, and a chronological list of German theatrical works with supernatural content.

Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Music and Fine Arts
Loyola University New Orleans

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):