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OPERA IN HISTORY by Herbert Lindenberger

OPERA IN HISTORY

From Monteverdi to Cage

By Herbert Lindenberger

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8047-3104-7
Publisher: Stanford Univ.

paper 0-8047-3105-5 There is no doubt that Lindenberger (Opera: The Extravagant Art, not reviewed) knows and loves opera. Stanford professor of Comparative Literature and English (and president of the Modern Language Association in 1997), Lindenberger also clearly knows literature, literary criticism, and social history. What he does not know, apparently, is how to write without academic jargon and stilted prose. Hence we get references to “originary moments” and “historicity,” and meandering sentences that could use some direction. Still, there are some intriguing premises among the verbiage, such as Lindenberger’s basic supposition that history is both represented in works of art and influences the creation of that art. Opera, with its unique melding of music, literature, and drama, is the perfect test case for the theory. Lindenberger’s method of setting opera composers within the context of their times and illustrating their contacts with artists working in other genres, such as literature and painting, is stimulating, as is his discussion of changing interpretations of a given composer’s impact on a society. With chapters analyzing everything from the works of the contemporary composer Monteverdi to the paintings of Caravaggio and the poetry of John Donne, the book certainly can—t be faulted for its breadth. The final chapter, in which Lindenberger describes the five types of opera-goers—the Avid, the Passive, the Conscientious, the Faultfinding (all music critics, it seems), and the Uncompromised—is mildly amusing, although at times stereotypically unsettling, as in Lindenberger’s comments about “gay Avids” and divas. There are some interesting insights here, for those willing and able to slog through the chaff. Not many other than scholars and the most serious opera enthusiasts, however, will likely be willing to do so.