OPERA IN PARIS, 1800-1850 by Patrick Barbier

OPERA IN PARIS, 1800-1850

A Lively History
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 More than you want or need to know about a minor era in operatic history. Even the author admits that ``the first half of the 19th century was not the most remarkable period in the history of the Paris OpÇra.'' With this lukewarm endorsement, Barbier (History/Western Catholic Univ., France) embarks on a detailed description of operatic life in Paris during this period, focusing on the relationship between politics and music; the management of the various opera-theaters; opera audiences; the roles of the composer, librettist, and director; and the often vituperative attacks by critics on works that did not fit into the expected mold. Few notable operas originated in Paris at this time; most were imports, and many were bowdlerized by the theaters in an attempt to mold them into a more ``popular'' form. Native composers like Berlioz had difficulty having their more adventurous works staged, and when they were performed they were often roundly jeered. The author offers some lively anecdotes about the period's many colorful operatic stars, as well as the audience and composers, but these are few and far between and do not make up for the many passages in which Barbier bogs down in his enthusiasms. Originally published in French in 1987, the text often suffers from a clumsy translation--``Too much importance should not be ascribed to the staging of a production'' is typical of the often literal- minded rewording. The true opera fan may find a few illuminating moments here, but the casual reader would be better served by a general history that covers more bases. The paucity of illustrations makes this less than ideal for browsers, while the academic community will be put off by its thin scholarship. The fat lady won't stay around long to sing for this one.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-931340-83-7
Page count: 258pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995