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Foreign Opera at the London Playhouses: From Mozart to Bellini.

Foreign Opera at the London Playhouses: From Mozart to Bellini. By Christina Fuhrmann. (Cambridge Studies in Opera.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. [xi, 262 p. ISBN 9781107022218 (hardback), $103; ISBN 9781108722117 (paperback), $27.99; ISBN 9781316348871 (e-book), $77.50.] Music examples, appendices, bibliography, index.

Musical and theatrical scholarship on opera in recent decades has turned to both dissemination (Operatic Migrations: Transforming Works and Crossing Boundaries, Roberta Montemorra Marvin and Downing A. Thomas, eds. [Aldershot, Eng.: Ashgate, 2006]; Opera Indigene: Re/presenting First Nations and Indigenous Cultures, Pamela Karantonis and Dylan Robinson, eds. [Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011]) and canon formation (Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music [Oxford: Clarendon, 1992]; William Weber, The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study in Canon, Ritual, and Ideology [Oxford': Clarendon, 1996]). By highlighting the political nature of operatic programming, these studies brought to light the ideological contexts of operatic canons and institutions as well as a variety of responses to those ideologies in new contexts.

Christina Fuhrmann's new study considers canon formation in conjunction with the ideological concerns of new contexts themselves, foregrounding the role of early nineteenth-century London theaters in the construction of both an operatic canon and the interrelated, work-oriented concept of "faithfulness" in opera production. While making her way through specifics of execution and critical reception, Fuhrmann positions the importation of foreign-composed operas within "debates about repertoire, class and nationalism" (p. 2) that pitted performer against author, playhouse against opera house, native taste against foreign style, and immediate response against the ideal of transcendency. Introducing foreign opera to London audiences often required revision, translation, and alteration ranging in degree from pastiche to what Fuhrmann considers more faithful adaptations (versions in which libretto and score remain largely in line with the original).

Regarding cultural changes catalyzed by these altered versions of the operas, Fuhrmann argues that the process of adaptation contributed to the emerging concept of the canon by gradually shifting focus to validity in interpretation. This shift provided a source for critical debates about the "nature and desirability" of that fidelity and served the "rhetoric of canonicity" (p. 2). These adaptations were the primary means by which native audiences came to know foreign operas, and with familiarity they bridged divides between national and more exotic tastes while breaking down "repertoire boundaries" within the often class-bound venues: the "major theatre, minor theatre and opera house" (p. 15).

Toward this end, the book's central narrative outlines debates on fidelity, the rise of canonic thinking, and the cultural-political climates entangled with the progression of these ideas. Chapter 1 juxtaposes contrasting approaches by examining two 1814 versions of Adrien Boieldieu's Jean de Paris'. one at Drury Lane (which liberally modified the libretto and replaced musical numbers entirely) and one at Covent Garden (which included cuts and interpolations in service of English tastes while taking steps to preserve as much of the original text and music as possible). Fuhrmann compares these productions in order to spatialize historical progression, with the Drury Lane performance representing an older approach to staging foreign opera and the Covent Garden venue as a " 'halfway house' on the road to greater musical refinement and hence fidelity" (p. 38). Chapter 2 furthers this line of inquiry into the relationship between critical reception, degrees of adaptation, and assessments of native taste by comparing Henry Bishop's versions of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's operas Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni and Gioacchino Rossini's II barbieri di Siviglia at both Covent Garden and the King's Theatre from 1817 to 1819. She demonstrates the influence of audiences' familiarity with other versions of the tales, social appraisal of Mozart over Rossini, and critics' desire to "improve" taste on the balance of adaptation and fidelity in these productions. In chapter 3, Fuhrmann positions the 1824 success of Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz--with eight versions of varying faithfulness to the original--and subsequent commission of Weber's Oberon as turning points in operatic adaptations that intensified the divisions between major and minor theaters, closed the gap between native and foreign taste, ended the Italianate operatic hegemony in London, and opened the door for more direct involvement of foreign composers in London theatrical life.

In the next three chapters, Fuhrmann explores shifts and instabilities in the practice of operatic adaptation during the decade following Der Freischutz, downplaying chronology to highlight the impact of composers and their nationalities on critical reception. In chapter 4, she underlines the search for Weber's successor, considers adaptations of Heinrich Marschner, Ferdinand Ries, and Louis Spohr, and pits native taste against the increasingly faithful interpretations of what critics viewed as definitively Germanic qualities. While some critics decried the "learned" German style as harmful to "legitimate drama" (p. 94), others saw the trend as an improvement of the musical landscape; in turn, critics panned a pastiche of Spohr's Der Alchymist, solidifying preferences for greater fidelity in adaptation. In chapter 5, Fuhrmann revisits debates about Mozart and Rossini with an eye to greater fidelity and critical reassessment of the composers' overall output. While adaptations generally preserved even difficult and commercially challenging portions of scores, adapters viewed fidelity to a composer's oeuvre as a compromise to earlier forms of interpolation. In chapter 6, Fuhrmann uses the reception of grand opera as a background for emerging discourses on class. Major and minor theaters and opera houses all vied for premieres on nearly equal footing, while critics debated composers' control over productions, the importance of orchestration to a work's identity, and the value of grand opera for the native stage.

Fuhrmann discusses in chapter 7 the landscape of operatic adaptation in 1833, providing a stark contrast to the scenario described in the opening chapter. The largely identical repertoires of the playhouse and opera house, as well as the appearance of Maria Malibran on the stage and reception of fidelity in playhouse productions, demonstrated that audiences increasingly recognized canonic works and the dissolution of boundaries between class and national tastes. While the newly emerging concept of the transcendent work allowed for a body of standard operas adhered to in performance with greater faithfulness to the "original," the wildly popular, but less faithful, adaptation of D. F. E. Auber's and Eugene Scribe's Gustave III showed the acceptability of modification in the case of works of lesser stature.

Persistent and nuanced analysis of contemporaneous critical discourses reveals that critical reception not only impacted theatrical choices but also framed concepts of identity at the intersection of nation, gender, class, and repertoire. The patent system originally encoded these concepts and mapped them onto specific theaters: the King's Theatre produced foreign opera, minor theaters offered other forms of music and spectacle, and major theaters specialized in spoken, "legitimate" drama. Because of "long-held suspicions of music as effeminate and frivolous" in English conceptions of taste, some critics decried the major houses' adaptations as a betrayal of the native stage to lightweight foreign pieces (p. 24). At the same time, the incorporation of spoken roles and use of music outside of the drama's action helped adaptation serve, as some critics argued, as an introduction to more refined artistic taste.

The impact that financial considerations, legal concerns, and competition between theaters had on programming decisions and means of adaptation takes up a significant portion of each chapter. The issue of performance rights connected many of these threads. For example, in the battle with Covent Garden for Boieldieu's Jean de Paris, Drury Lane interpolated entirely new music while keeping the opera's basic dramaturgical framework, using adaptation as a "crafty tool to evade the need to acquire performance materials and to win the race for the earliest premiere" (p. 19). Elsewhere, Fuhrmann complicates the impact of the regulation of rights on fidelity and canon formation. On the one hand, attempts by publishers and composers to limit score access to a single theater encouraged "more unscrupulous adaptation" among competing theaters rather than the intended stricter adherence to authorized versions of operas (p. 146). On the other hand, "foreign operas, foreign stars and touring foreign companies" eventually became so common across theaters that "boundaries for change had narrowed significantly," and the patent system had all but dissolved before its official repeal in 1843 (p. 193).

Fuhrmann's engagement of evidence demonstrates tensions with constructing historical narratives about canon formation and work concepts in the face of incomplete musical records, providing further insights for discussions of value, permanence, and power in the archiving of early nineteenth-century musical cultures. Publishers offered few scores of these operas, and none provided anything beyond piano-vocal editions. While Fuhrmann discusses nearly twenty imported operas, her study primarily relies on playbills, advertisements, critics' reviews, and manuscript librettos submitted for censor review. Ephemerality complicates the book's assessment of fidelity to an original work; a more complete set of evidence would have nuanced the progression of adaptation techniques--and their adherence to composers' original version(s)--more effectively and convincingly. Addressing the incompleteness of the record, Fuhrmann argues "these adaptations have slipped from history primarily because of their challenge to the canonical norm" (p. 15). In other words, degrees of fidelity point toward--but do not equal--a work's identity, a reality rife with implications for adaptations as well as a composer's own multiple versions of the same work. Going beyond the consolidation of repertoire, this book's welcome and engaging analyses thus position canonicity, fidelity, and the transcendent work as concepts constructed, archived, and regulated contextually.


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Author:Chambers, Lee
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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