Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):