Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

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):