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

Mahler Songs : Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

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):