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Marcel Danesi and Danila De Sousa. Opera Italian! An Introduction to Italian through Opera.

Marcel Danesi and Danila De Sousa. Opera Italian! An Introduction to Italian through Opera. Welland, ONT: Soleil, 2004.

Comprehensive revision and improvement are the hallmarks of the second edition of this excellent book by Danesi and De Sousa that made its first appearance in 1998. In its original incarnation, it was intended as a self-study manual to introduce students to the Italian language and one of its most endearing and enduring cultural manifestations--the

Italian opera. In their prefatory statement to the second edition, the authors state that "'[t]he comments, critiques, suggestions, and advice that the users of Opera Italian! have passed on to us have guided every phase and aspect of the work of putting together this expanded second edition" (ix). Among the changes in this edition are the following: (1) pre-reading and post-reading sections for each aria; (2) a crossword puzzle in each chapter; (3) the introduction of a final Opinioni/Discussione section intended to facilitate student reaction and to demonstrate comprehension; (4) a monochromatic text: and (5) piano renditions of the eighteen pieces in an accompanying audio CD located on the inside back cover. In recognition of the substantial changes in the second edition, the co-authors have added a subtitle: An Introduction to Italian through Opera.

The preliminary section also contains a section on "How to Use This Book" and "Introduction: A Brief History of the Italian Opera." Part 1 contains some important preliminary matters about Italian sounds and conversational structure, a succinct and informative history of Italian opera, a spelling and pronunciation guide, and some basic expressions.

Parts II-IV contain the essential content of this volume. The structure of each one of the eighteen chapters in these three sections conforms to the following pattern: (1) a performance note with a description of the piece and recommendations on how to sing it; (2) glosses of new musical terms and new words and expressions in the aria; (3) pre-reading activities; (4) the text of the lyrics in Italian and a free translation; (5) a post-reading singing section with true/false comprehension questions: (6) grammar notes and exercises (but only the grammar necessary to understand the specific operatic piece); (7) a final Opinioni/discussione section to allow students to comment on each piece.

Part II ("The Art of Giuseppe Verdi, 1813-1901," chapters 1-9) contains atlas from Rigoletto (chapters 1-3, Questa o quella, Caro nome, La donna e mobile), Il Trovatore (chapters 4-5, Tacea la notte placida, Stride la vampa), La Traviata (chapters 6-7, Libiamo, Ah fors' e lui), La Forza del destino (chapter 8, Pace, mio Dio), and Nabucco (chapter 9, Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate).

Part III ("Memorable Atlas from Rossini, Donizetti, Leoncavallo, and Puccini," chapters 10-16) features Gioacchino Rossini's (1792-1868) Il Barbiere di Siviglia (chapters 10-11, Largo al factotum. Una voce poco fa), Gaetano Donizetti's (1797-1848) L'Elisir d'amore (chapter 12, Una furtiva lagrima), Ruggero Leoncavallo's (1858-1919) I Pagliacci (chapter 13, Vesti la giubba), and Gianni Schicchi (chapter 14, O mio babbino caro), and Giacomo Puccini's (1858-1924) Tosca (chapter 15, E lucevan le stelle), and Madama Butterfly (chapter 16, Un bel di, vedremo).

Part IV ("Two Masterpieces from the 'Italian Mozart,'" chapters 17-18) contains two atlas from the renowned Austrian opera composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). The first aria (chapter 17, Non piu andrai is from Le nozze di Figaro, and the second (chapter 18, La ci darem la mano) is from Don Giovanni.

Opera is quintessentially Italian. Its uniqueness derives from its incorporation of music, art, dance, costumes, and drama into a compelling new composite aesthetic configuration. For this reason, a pedagogical textbook that utilizes this artistic form as the basis for teaching Italian is one that will resonate with instructors and students alike. Selection of appropriate arias for inclusion in a textbook such as this one can be a daunting task and the co-authors have made excellent decisions because all of these pieces are well known, hence, there exists some familiarity with these pieces on the part of many students.

One of the many significant enhancements of this second edition is the inclusion of an audio CD on the inside back cover. Co-author Marcel Danesi provides piano accompaniment for the eighteen operatic selections included in the text in the order in which they appear. For pedagogical reasons, these pieces are played very slowly to facilitate aural comprehension and the arrangements themselves are greatly simplified. The recordings last one hour, eighteen minutes, and forty-seven seconds. The co-authors recommend that it would be useful to listen to a professional recording of these works. I found this new aspect to be most enjoyable and I am sure that instructors and students alike will too.

Three appendices ("Answers to the Exercises," "Answers to the Crossword Puzzles," and an Italian-English glossary) complement this fine text.

The first edition of this book was favorably reviewed in Italica by Keith Mason (76.4 [19991: 515-16) and now it is even better. Danesi and De Sousa provide us with a well organized, balanced, and pedagogically sound approach to the study Italian opera. It can serve as an adjunct to an elementary or intermediate text or it may be used as a primary text in a course on the Italian opera in a school of music.


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Author:Nuessel, Frank
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2004
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