LITERATURE AS OPERA by Gary Schmidgall


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Conceived as ""a kind of sequel and counterpart"" to Joseph Kernan's Opera as Drama, this erudite but inconclusive study examines ten operas and their foundation in major literary works, seeking to reaffirm opera's ""intellectual ties with the sister arts."" Lacking the sort of argumentative, overarching drive that made Kernan's composer-as-dramatist thesis so pungent, Schmidgall tends to lose sight of his basic question--""what is operatic?""--and becomes entangled in the literary-musical-philosophical side questions (always a danger in writing about opera, the great composite) that bedevil the sometimes idiosyncratic works he has singled out. Thus, the discussion of Handel's Furioso operas (based on Ariosto's epic poem) strays away from the main, Ariosto-into-Handel point to a general defense of Handel sans wig. Salome--Wilde into Strauss--is weighed down by a mini-history of Decadence (far more than necessary to understand Strauss' Expressionist takeover), and, before Britten's treatment of Death in Venice is tackled, we face Socrates, Nietzsche, Apollo, and Dionysus. Hone of these excursions into movements, trends, and -isms are totally irrelevant--Schmidgall works hard at his musico-literary connections--but they produce a book of dense, rather academic essays that too often substitute an intellectual moment for a theatrical one, never quite reaching the heart of the matter. The other operas: Marriage of Figaro, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Lucia di Lammermoor (complete with gratuitous abuse for Walter Scott), Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini, Verdi's Macbeth (desperately in need of a companion piece on Otello), Tschaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and Berg's Wozzeck. No Wagner. Ambitious and bubbling with haft-realized, provocative ideas--but only for the opera lover/student who is prepared to trade his ear for a textbook at the door.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press