Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Ralph P. Locke. Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections.
24 Nov 2009

Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections

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.

Ralph P. Locke. Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections.

Cambridge/ New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. xviii + 421 pp.

ISBN-13: 9780521349550

$39.60  Click to buy

Locke divides his investigation into two major parts, which may be characterized as 1) methodological, and 2) illustrative, the latter furnishing numerous examples starting with Händel and Rameau and extending through to current compositions including cinematic music.

In the first part Locke is careful to differentiate his position on exoticism and related terms vis-à-vis others who have approached this topic in the past. Locke’s introductory remarks, in which he elaborates on the meaning of “exotic” especially as used for Western music, set forth terms that he will use extensively in subsequent chapters. He broaches, for instance, an analytical paradigm which he terms “Exotic Style Only,” modifying this with his own “All the Music in Full Context Paradigm.” To be sure, both models receive full expression, with appropriate examples, in the following chapters. Yet the reader is here prepared for a critical discussion that will demonstrate Locke’s point that “exoticness often depends not just on the musical notes but also on their context as well as on other factors, such as the particulars of a given performance and the musical and cultural preparation of a given listener.” [4] Based on this assumption Locke seeks to broaden his readers’ understanding of the exotic in music while claiming that “musical exoticism is not “contained in” specific devices. Rather it arises through an interaction between a work, in all [author’s emphasis] its aspects, and the listener.” [3] Before closing his introductory remarks Locke reinforces such distinctions by reminding his audience of exotic environments or individual characters, often portrayed in opera, which are rendered by traditional, “non-exotic musical means.” [10] Examples of this tendency for Locke include Handel’s Tamerlano and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, both illustrating a culture or milieu in some way foreign to the potential audience. Neither work is composed entirely, or even consistently, of elements that would be identified as distinctly part of an exotic medium. The synchronization of the listener’s expectations with the composer’s means and intentions will then yield an exoticism that is, ultimately, a type of “reception.” [12]

In these issues marking his approach to the exotic in music Locke is able to draw on theoretical grounding in the work of fellow musicologists, e.g. Rose Rosengard Subotnik and Richard Taruskin. Here Locke is especially interested in approaches that are based not only on “musical analysis” alone but also those which consider societal components as well as extra-musical associations. This balance can prove to be difficult to maintain, even among those scholars who are suggested as leading proponents. As an example, the passage cited here from Subotnik’s work on Deconstructive Variations relies on the harmonic analysis of a Chopin score, reflecting a more text-based and traditional approach; only at the conclusion of the relevant chapter does the commentary move toward questions of music in society. Locke admits to the difficulty of submitting much of what he terms “Western art music,” e.g. sonatas, symphonies, quartets, to an overriding social analysis. It is surely then a logical first step in the revisionist approach to musical exoticism here taken that a number of Locke’s examples show a clear association with some “other” place and people. [20-21] This enables the author to establish categories of analysis for his “Full-Context” Paradigm, which may subsequently be applied to other musical examples or forms. Finally Locke considers the approaches taken in recent investigations with a specific focus on his chosen topic. Hence Jonathan Bellman’s and Timothy D. Taylor’s books are examined for their usefulness in the portrayal of musical exoticism, yet both are understood by Locke as functioning within the framework of an “Exotic Style Only” Paradigm, as found in the present study. Locke sets for himself the task of using the foundation already set by these previous scholars and of expanding the possible associations of exoticism with further “crucial and neglected issues.” [24]

In his proposed new definition of exoticism Locke relies on concepts such as “Here and There” and “home country or culture.” [47] Especially significant in the author’s new definition is a differentiation between the perceptions of listeners reacting during the composer’s day and those hearing a piece still performed many years later. As put succinctly by Locke, these latter “listeners may now be living in new and different cultural situations and may thus bring different values and expectations to the work.” [47] As an enhancement of suggestions first put forth by Dahlhaus, Locke assembles a “relatively comprehensive typology” [50] of stylistic features which have been typical in Western music perceived as exotic during the past few centuries. Here he considers not only matters of pitch and harmony or dissonance but also modal features and repeated patterns of rhythm or melody often derived from dance. Locke refers to variations on a number of these stylistic features in subsequent chapters when analyzing specific works and questioning how these might be perceived by a given listener in a given age as exotic.

In the second major division of his book Locke presents a disciplined survey of various musical forms from the beginning of the eighteenth century until the present day in order to arrive at a trajectory of the exotic in music. The section entitled “Handel’s Eastern Dramas” is intended by Locke to examine and compare the portrayal of various historical figures in the operas and oratorios with a relevant geographical anchor. Hence typical despots from the East, characters in Tamerlano and Belshazzar, are discussed from the viewpoint of ideological gesture, political message, and musical style. This depiction is then contrasted with a contemporary display of even greater geographical variety in Rameau’s Les Indes galantes. By using similar methods for analyzing musical-dramatic works from the same period Locke is able to develop, in gradually evolving chronological segments, an aesthetic of the exotic. This range of aesthetic and social concerns is then treated from Mozart’s Turkish style to the gypsy image in Carmen, emerging ultimately into twentieth-century works, a period starting with the exotic in Madama Butterfly. The reader and listener are then left — appropriately — with questions concerning additional works by those very contemporaries discussed, e.g. Gretry and Massenet, and how such pieces might be fit into the model as it further evolves. The extensive bibliography will serve, when combined with Locke’s suggestions for methodology, as a means to explore the topic of exoticism on many other musical avenues.

Salvatore Calomino

Click here for an online preview of Musical Exoticism.


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):