Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Books

Book Review: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918

Opera in the British Isles might seem a rather sparse subject in the period 1875 to 1918. Notoriously described as the land without music, even the revival of the native tradition of composers did not include a strong vein of opera.

Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger

Heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris tells us about the lean times when the phone did not ring, as well as those thrilling moments when companies entrusted him with the most important roles in opera.

Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform

Commonly viewed as a ‘second-rate’ composer — a European radical persecuted by the Nazis whose trans-Atlantic emigration represented a sell-out to an inferior American popular culture —

Opera from Cambridge University Press

Although part of a series entitled Cambridge Introductions to Music, Robert Cannon’s wide-ranging, imaginative and thought-provoking survey of opera is certainly not a ‘beginners’ guide’.

James Melton: The Tenor of His Times

Those of us of a certain age have fond memories of James Melton, who entertained our parents starting in the 1930s and the rest of us in the 1940s and beyond on recordings, the radio, and films.

Essays on Italo Montemezzi - D'Annunzio: Nave

An important new book on Italo Montemezzi sheds light on his opera Nave. The author/editor is David Chandler whose books on Alfredo Catalani have done so much to restore interest in the genre.

Alfredo Catalani — A new perspective on later Italian opera

Assumptions about later Italian opera are dominated by Puccini, but Alfredo Catalani, born in the same town and almost at the same time, was highly regarded by their contemporaries. Two new books on Catalani could change our perceptions.

The Sopranos — Dissecting opera’s fervent fans

I was feeling cowed by Herr Engels. The four of us had retired from the Stravinsky performance to a Billy Wilder-themed bar in Berlin, the least horrible late-night option in the high end mediocrity of Potsdamer Platz.

Opera Remade, 1700-1750

This substantial book is one of the latest in the Ashgate series of collected essays in opera studies and draws together articles from a disparate group of scholarly journals and collected volumes, some recent, some now difficult to locate.

Operatic Advice and Counsel…A Welcome New Reference Book

Vincent Giroud’s valuable new French Opera, a Short History, is in hand and very welcome it is.

Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey

The noted operatic impresario and stage director, Lotfi Mansouri, with the professional help of writer Donald Arthur, has issued his memoirs under the title Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey.

Cosima Wagner — The Lady of Bayreuth

Originally published in German as Herrin des Hügels, das Leben der Cosima Wagner (Siedler, 2007), this new book by Oliver Hilmes is an engaging portrait of one of the most important women in music during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Operatic Italian

Robert Stuart Thomson’s Italian language learning text, Operatic Italian, promises to become an invaluable textbook for aspiring operatic singers, voice teachers, coaches and conductors.

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.

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.

Opera from the Greek

Perhaps it will be enough to tell you that I wasn’t halfway through this book before I searched the web for a copy of Professor Ewans’s study of Wagner and Aeschylus’s Oresteia, and ordered it forthwith: It has to be good.

Along the Roaring River

Chinese bass Hao Jiang Tian was 30, when he enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Denver 1983.

Books 'n Things

Two excellent books on opera have come to hand, providing many hours of entertaining reading. I combine notice of them with a few thoughts about composer Paul Moravec’s CDs, and his forthcoming opera premiere at Santa Fe Opera in 2009.

On Venetian Opera: a new edition of Monteverdi's Ritorno, and Eleanor Selfridge-Field on Time and Opera in Venice.

Claudio Monteverdi. Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Edited by Rinaldo Alessandrini. Urtext. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2007. BA 8791. A vocal score is available as 8791a.

Handel's Riccardo primo, Re d’Inghilterra (HWV 23) and Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto (HWV 25) from Bärenreiter

Published in 2007, Riccardo primo, Re d’Inghilterra (HWV 23) and Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto (HWV 25) mark two of the latest installments of vocal-score editions of Handel’s operas based upon Bärenreiter’s Urtext editions.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Books

Paul Rodmell: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918
07 Feb 2014

Book Review: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918

Opera in the British Isles might seem a rather sparse subject in the period 1875 to 1918. Notoriously described as the land without music, even the revival of the native tradition of composers did not include a strong vein of opera.

Paul Rodmell: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918
Ashgate Publishing, 364pp.
ISBN: 9781409441625

A review by Robert Hugill

$134.95  Click to buy

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, who himself composed a substantial body of operas, did not include the subject at the Royal Academy of Music. In this new book from Paul Rodmell (lecturer in music at the University of Birmingham), Opera in the British Isles, 1875-1918 , the author aims to find what was happening operatically in the British Isles. The results are somewhat surprising both in the number of performances, the access people outside London had to opera and the number of new works performed. Rodmell demonstrates that there was s significant amount of opera going on, albeit of a rather variable quality.

The book is part of a series from Ashgate Publishing, Music in 19th Century Britain, which seeks to explore the wealth of music and musical culture of Britain in the 19th century. To explode the myth of the Land Without Music.

Rodmell's book is thematic rather than strictly historical. He starts with a survey of opera in 1875. The year was chosen as start date because it was the year of the first appearance of the major touring company Carl Rosa Opera, the inauguration of the project for a new National Opera House on the Victoria Embankment and the definitive establishment of the operas of Wagner in the repertory. Carl Rosa Opera was important as a significant company playing London in parallel with Covent Garden. The opera house project was an unfeasibly idealistic scheme, but one which helps to articulate the Victorian's concern with a national style in new operas. And Wagner, of course, represents an important step in the modernisation of the operatic repertoire.

Rodmell also draws a strict line between grand or serious opera and operetta or musical theatre. He considers only grand or serious opera, on the basis that the Victorians and Edwardians were quite clear on the distinction. Most operettas and musical comedies were produced in runs of a single show (as in the Savoy Operas), whereas grander, more serious opera was produced on a repertory basis with a different show each night.

The dominant centre through the whole period was Covent Garden opera house, though even there things went through some vicissitudes. For most of the period Covent Garden was the prime opera company in London, as such it formed the model for many other opera companies in Britain. The main opera season at Covent Garden was for much of this time was referred to as the Italian season. Initially everything was in Italian, including the French operas and, at first, the Wagner.

There was no subsidy, opera was a commercial business in Victorian Britain (and remained so effectively until the founding of the Arts Council after the Second World War). The view was that if you had a good product it would sell. The other important element was class; the grand opera season at Covent Garden coincided with the London Season and the aristocratic patrons (and their subscriptions) were the opera house's financial mainstay. So the repertory was heavily influenced by the patrons' wishes.

The operas at Covent Garden were star based, the aristocratic patrons were interested mainly in the performances of the leads, the rest was a bit haphazard. This created the impression that the best opera had to be an aristocratic, star-based object. And the repertoire was essentially reactive, new operas had usually done well elsewhere. Only when Thomas Beecham was introduced into the mix, were new operas (ie. UK premieres as well as world premieres) chosen with flair, imagination and an eye on what novelties would appeal.

All this meant that smaller companies had difficulty in sustaining the model. But Rodmell has done his research and the book is full of admirable detail and tables, both for performances in London and the provinces. These make fascinating reading, seeing what was and was not popular. (For instance, the most performed composers at Covent Garden in 1871 to 1874 were Meyerbeer, Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Mozart, Bellini, Gounod and the top three operas were Gounod's Faust, Rossini's Il Barbiere di Sivigla and Mozart's Don Giovanni). So we can see quite clearly what was going on.

His description of the mechanics of opera production in the provinces makes for interesting and illuminating reading, what with the use of locals to stiffen the chorus and orchestra, the generally small size of ensembles and the rather slap dash production values. As with Covent Garden it was the leads who counted. And again this was all a commercial operation, tours needed to make money and, unsurprisingly, most companies eventually went bust. (Rodmell lists an astonishing 34 different companies touring the provinces in the period 1875 to 1918).

The slightly surprising thing is the number of operas by composers from the UK that were premiered. Covent Garden did few but other companies were more adventurous. Rodmell tables a remarkable number of premieres. The sad thing is that most have not been revived and probably do not warrant it. Most of this reflects the state of British opera composition, but the general choice of new works was often unadventurous and certainly did not reflect some of the interesting work being premiered on the continent.

The question of national opera is also addressed as it was of concern to the Victorians. No solution was found, the National Opera House was an expensive non-starter. Rodmell lists all the known premieres of operas by UK composers and it is an impressive list, but they do not coalesce into a school and only a few would seem worthy of serious revival such as those by Boughton, Stanford and Smyth. No typically English, Irish or Scottish style ever developed and the spirit of Wagner hangs heavy over the librettos and subject matter.

After his description of Opera in the British Isles in 1875, Rodmell has chapters on Opera in London 1876 to 1896, Opera in London 1897 to 1918, Opera in the Provinces, and 'The Operatic Problem' followed by a list of all the operas by British and Irish composers premiered in 1875 to 1918, with details of the opera, plot and further background. Finally there is a summary of opera in the UK in 1918, and the amazing thing is quite how little has changed. Rather sadly it would take a second world war to bring that about.

This book is an impressive piece of research and will be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the field, but there is no denying that it is something of a dry read. As I have said, this is a book of lists (there are 14 pictures, but 31 tables). and to get the most out of it you have to enjoy lists. There is the occasional good story or lively anecdote, but the core of the narrative is essentially who did what and when. As such it helps illuminate chapter in British operatic history which is little written about.

Robert Hugill

Paul Rodmell: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 - 1918
Ashgate Publishing, 364pp.
ISBN: 9781409441625

  

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):