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Opera and Libretto II.

This is the second volume of essays on opera and librettos that the Fondazione Cini has published, and it includes selected papers from meetings that the Foundation sponsored over a three-year period: six from "Exoticism and Foreignness in Musical Dramaturgy" (1988), ten from "Levels of Language and Style in the Melodramma" (1989), and six from "Roles and Parts in Opera" 1990). Essays are presented in chronological order. They span three centuries and encompass operas in English, French, German, and Italian. The essays are mainly in Italian though there are a few in French and one in English.

Essay topics range from in-depth studies of some aspect of a single work to broad overviews covering nearly two centuries. Even though individual essays may at first seem quite detached from one another, with a careful reading comes the realization that several shared concepts have emerged and that the essays, if grouped together by the issues they address, produce powerful insights into the many-faceted world of opera.

Essays from the meeting on exoticism form the most cohesive grouping and span the entire period treated in the volume, They also convey the clearest and most all-pervasive message. Angelo Piemontese categorizes a broad spectrum of librettos on Persia and Persians in Venetian opera from 1650 to the 1830s and looks at the function of the "ombra" or ghost in "Ciro" librettos. He points out that the exotic "foreign" setting offered safe distancing in which allegories of political morals could be played out. Other essays on exoticism strengthen this concept. Elena Sala Di Felice, specialist on Pietro Metastasio, explores the delights and wisdom of China as Metastasio interpreted them in his festa teatrale Le cinesi and in his opera seria Leroe Cinese. Francesca Romana Conti presents a detailed study of Ranieri Calzabigi's imaginative libretto Amiti e Ontario, where the author places in cultural contrast with European society two Indian lads ("natural" men), who have been captured and taken in by Quakers in Pennsylvania. Wolfgang Osthoff explores the Turkish and the German musical elements in W. A. Mozart's Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. Finally, Gianfranco Vinay considers the subject of blacks as an exoticism in American theater. In each of the operas, convention and extra-textual purposes produce dramas that present life in a manner quite at odds with reality. A single basic concept emerges from all of these essays -- the same concept that Piemontese pointed out in regard to Persian subject matter -- that exoticism is an excellent vehicle for various instructional, philosophical, dramatic, or theatrical purposes because subjects are so far removed from the familiarities of everyday society that authors are left free to fabricate a world that suits their own purposes.

Three authors deal with issues of tradition and symbolism. Reinhard Wiesend considers the twin concepts of Alessandro as hero and as ruler in Metastasio's Alessandro nell'Indie. Sven Heed uncovers the reasons for the apparently unconventional choice of the baritone voice to sing the hero's role in Johann Gottlieb Naumann's Gustaf Wasa (Stockholm, 1786). Jacques Joly grapples with the apparent contradiction implied in the assigning of the father's role to a tenor rather than to a baritone in Fromental Halevy's La Juive and Gaetano Donizetti's Mawa Padilla.

Five authors deal with interrelationships. Jean Mongredien looks at the degrees of emphasis on masculine friendship, fraternal love, and amorous love in opera librettos based on the subject of Iphigenia in Tauris. Paolo Gallarati points out aspects of Middle Eastern music, the influence of fantasmagoric effects, and the representation of nature in Carl Maria von Weber's Oberon. Arthur Groos establishes a pluralistic intertextuality between the "Preislieder" in Richard Wagner's Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg and the Composer's aria on music in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. Daniela Tortora explores the idea of "teatro potente" in works by Benjamin Britten and Peter Maxwell Davies. Virgilio Bernardoni considers the confrontation of the ancient and the modern in the works of Gian Francesco Malipiero.

Three authors consider the natures of genre: Maria Grazia Accorsi directs our attention to parallel productions of comic dialect opera based on everyday contemporary subject matter in Bologna, which parallels better-known activity in Naples in the early eighteenth century. Gilles de Van defines theatrical parody and examines four parodies of Alexandre Dumas's La Dame aux camelias. Luca Zoppelli categorizes the dramaturgical functions of music presented as part of the action -- choruses, marches, serenades, prayers, dances, and so forth.

Three authors explore the inner workings of a single opera. Harold Powers looks at the role of the baritone's "do" sonority and its pairing with "re" flat in several Giuseppe Verdi operas, and then points out how the baritone's sonority interacts with those of other characters. Marco Beghelli looks at musical caricature in Falstaff. Michele Girardi takes a pluralistic approach to Giacomo Puccini's La fanciulla del West.

Three authors look at trends. Alessandro Roccatagliati tells why the history of Italian opera from 1860 to 1870 is one of renewal and not of collapse. Adriana Guarnieri Corazzol points out the breaking up of cultural levels in Italian opera from 1870 to 1915. H. Robert Cohen examines some of the reasons why our ability to reconstruct the original mise en scene of nineteenth-century operas has not resulted in more historically informed productions and suggests ways to remedy the situation.

In sum, this is an interesting, informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining volume, which anyone seriously interested in opera will want to own.
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Author:McClymonds, Marita P.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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