While the book has an enormous amount to teach devotees of either Shakespeare or Verdi, opera fans in particular will enjoy...



One genius interprets another: English to Italian, words to lyrics, immortal drama to overpowering opera.

In his latest, Wills (History/Northwestern Univ.; Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer, 2010, etc.) proves once again that he isn’t just a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, full-time public intellectual and Catholic apologist who is fluent in Greek and Latin. In examining how the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) turned three Shakespeare plays into classics of his own, the authors demonstrates how an adaptation can both analyze and interpret its source of inspiration. Wills finds that these two creative dynamos, separated by two centuries, had much in common; both were as productive as they were pragmatic, each tailoring their work to the actors or singers who were available. Although Verdi could not speak English, he perfectly grasped Shakespeare’s complexities. The duets of Macbeth underscore the intent of the devious and deviant Lord and Lady: “[Macbeth] and his wife talk past each other, not to each other, hiding from each other, and each hiding from him- or herself. It is all there in the music.” With Otello, Verdi and his librettist Arrigo Boito turned a fiercely pessimistic play into a nihilistic one, in which Iago sees himself as the devoted servant of a cruel God. With Falstaff, he created virtually a new play, piecing together the larger-than-life character from the Shakespeare’s history plays and his lesser comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. Just as Verdi “gave cosmic reach to Otello’s music,” writes the author, “he turns Falstaff into a force of nature, an earth-daimon.” Wills isn’t afraid to plumb the subterranean depths and the delicate infrastructure of these works.

While the book has an enormous amount to teach devotees of either Shakespeare or Verdi, opera fans in particular will enjoy the author’s close and illuminating attention to backstage history, as well as words, music and phrasing.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02304-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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