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The Wagner Operas Paperback – October 13, 1991

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Editorial Reviews Review

Ernest Newman's study of the major Wagner operas (from Der fliegende Holländer onwards) was originally published in 1949 and rapidly achieved the status of a classic opera text, which it retains to this day. There are plenty of other, differing treatments of the stories of the operas, but none as detailed or as dramatically aware as Newman's magisterial volume. Of course, the reprint does not contain information about the composer and his works that would later come to light, nor does it traffic in current modes of thought about the operas (in some cases, thankfully). What Newman does is begin with a history of the myth or the tales on which each opera is based, widening that out to a discussion of Wagner's interest in the story, his involvement with its genesis, and an account of how the work in question was created and first produced. Since in some cases this gestation took years, Newman's clear explication does much to lift the mists surrounding even the simplest of Wagner's operas. He then discusses each opera in detail. The plethora of musical examples and Newman's understanding of Wagner's use of the leitmotif ensure that his readings are responsive both to the histrionic and musical aspects of the stories.

Reading the details of the often complex backgrounds of the operas, as well as what goes on in the opera itself (the discussion of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg alone runs to more than 110 pages of text), should immeasurably enrich the listener's opera-going experience, even in this age of the surtitle. And an appreciation of the range and cogency of Wagner's musical and dramatic genius, which this book offers, will serve to balance the unflattering portrait of Wagner the human being that dominates today's thinking about the Master. --Patrick J. Smith


"Newman is one of the preeminent authorities on the German composer. This title analyzes ten of Wagner's greatest operas."--Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 746 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691027161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691027166
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #624,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
Scholars and critics say that Herr Wagner's talent was in synthesis. The negative critics, e.g., specialists in a field from which they feel Wagner has stolen, tend to discredit Wagner for that. The grail was not, alas, the cup used at the last supper, prior to the opera "Parsifal" anyway. What's more the Grail theme was plagiarized from Mendelssohn. The plot of the Ring was not, alas, the same plot as the German novel "The Nibelungenlied." Wagnerians like myself, rather, see that synthesis as a symptom of Wagner's genius. He was able to take a series of sources, stories, novels, epics, songs, and cement them into a supreme art form, Gesamptkunstwerk, better than the sum of all the parts.
Newman comments intellegently on all aspects of the operas. He includes musical themes--surely a necessity in the work of that expert user of the leitmotif!--and even the psychological dimensions of the music. (Before I saw "Tristan und Isolde," I attended a presentation of a musicologist who nearly broke into tears as to the depth of the music in that opera. His comments reminded me of those of Newman regarding the same piece, which reminds me of Jung, one, whom you might say, was a product of some of the same Germanic trends of the late 19th century. But, enough on that...)
I read each review before I see the opera to which it applies. I read them again periodically. They are magnificent, allow for reasonable criticism. But they also give the devil his due.
I cannot recommend the book more strongly for anyone interested in Wagner, especially if you plan to hear or see the operas. Then leave the volume next to your bed. It's well worth re-reading, learning all dimensions of the music of perhaps the best composer who ever lived.
Is that extreme? Perhaps. Was Wagner's genius extreme? Off the scale.
Read and enjoy it.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Stephen McLeod on July 11, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nobody ever wrote more insighfully, brilliantly and accessibly about the titanic contribution of Richard Wagner to western culture than did E. Newman. This is a classic that should be read by all and anyone interested in what all the fuss is about. It's an old book but it's not dated. Take his translations seriously. Even though there are a lot of anachronisms (thou sayest...etc), they were anachronisms that RW intended when he wrote the poem. May I also recommend the Solti Recording of the Ring; the Furtwangler studio recording of Tristan; the Jochum Meistersinger and (gasp) the Levine Parsifal (the Knappertsbusch is sublime in so many special ways you may have to buy both. May I also recommend the Ring Interactive CD Rom. It is a blast.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Laon on July 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Ernest Newman's book remains the best introduction to Wagner's operas. He is astonishingly good on Wagner's sources, and on the draft processes Wagner went through as he transformed source material into his final forms. Other books deal with different aspects of individual operas in more depth, but this is still one of the books to start with. Everybody interested in Wagner should - well, the first thing to do might be to listen to excerpts from "Die Walku:re", "Tristan" or "Parsifal", say, and be awed by the music - but once you've heard the music, if you're still interested, you should get this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan F on May 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
Do not be worried by the fact that the first version of this book was published in 1949; the fact that it has been in print for over 60 years is sufficient testament. It remains by far the best book analysing the ten mature Wagner operas, both for laymen and for the professional who works in the field. There is enough (but not too much) discussion of Wagner's life, politics and personality. There is everything that one could want on the background to each opera, with a detailed synopsis, musical analysis (not too deep for the beginner), and ample discussion on the varied aspects of the operas. Please trust me and buy it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Michael M. Eisman on October 23, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Wagner Operas by Ernest Newman is an old book that has never been out of print. In it Newman takes the operas and musical drams of Wagner that are part of the standard repertoire and discusses the source background for Wagner's treatment, the history of the writing process and the story of the opera with comments on its staging and musical development. The later is accompanied by stort examples of the music written in standard musical notations. Newman does this with a minimum of technical language making the book highly accesible for those who have not studied music. The book was first published in England in 1947 and is a distillation of his monumental four volume biography and analysis of Wagner.

Any readers who are interested in Wagner will find material of interest here, no matter how familiar they might be with the the operas and musical dramas. There are some things that should be considered by the reader. 1)Newman's idea of staging is that of Wagner's. Written before the Wagner' grandsons began revised staging at Bayreuth and without any thought of the caprices of modern regio-opera staging we are given what Wagner intened minus modern heavy metal or plank riding Walkuries. 2) Slightly anoying is Newman's snide comments on Wagner's earlier romantic operas (Dutchman, Tannhauser and Lohengrin) for not being later musical dramas. Newman is also blind to the fact that even as late as Gotterdammurg, Wagner did not hestiate to return to this earlier form when needed (e.g. The trio in the second act with Brunhild, Hagen and Gunther). But these are minor quibbles in an excellent book
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