Formidably knowledgeable and bracingly opinionated.

A HISTORY OF OPERA

An account of opera’s evolution stressing performance practices rather than theoretical mandates.

Abbate and Parker (Music/Kings College London) begin by noting the central divide in opera between the words and the music. “The story, the narrative element, can often be ludicrous; but it’s also essential,” they write, a comment characteristic of their nuanced, all-embracing approach. The authors have no use for the attitude promulgated by Wagner and his disciples, that an individual opera is a sacred work to be approached with reverence. They complicate the standard view that opera was born circa 1600 from the desire of Renaissance Italians to recreate Greek drama, pointing to various less-elevated national theatrical traditions as important contributors to the art form. While their discussions of such game-changing artists as Monteverdi, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Wagner are unfailingly intelligent, they are even better on such neglected but crucial genres as opera seria, grand opera and opéra comique; the out-of-fashion Parisian opera scene in particular, gets its due. The authors occasionally seem unduly preoccupied with the undoubted fact that there has been a steep decline in the creation of new operas, even as recording technology and publicity tactics have expanded contemporary audiences for “opera’s museum culture.” Readers will sense that they prefer the times when opera was part of a living (albeit elite) culture, when people talked, flirted and wandered the auditorium during performances. Nonetheless, their coverage of every period in opera’s history is scrupulous and provocative. Their insights are frequently both shrewd and stimulating: for instance, the distinction they draw between “plot-character” and “voice-character,” a divide that allows a heroine dying of tuberculosis to sing loudly enough to match the orchestra, but that also, more importantly, transforms stick figures moving along with the action into psychologically complex personalities defined in song. Such paradoxes are the lifeblood of opera, and the authors embrace them with gusto.

Formidably knowledgeable and bracingly opinionated.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-05721-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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