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Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera Paperback – May 30, 2008
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"To call this book a labor of love' is simply to confirm expectations: Philip Gossett's capacity for labor is legendary in every corner of the operatic profession, and his love for ottocento opera informs every sentence of his extensive writing about it and every bar of his meticulous editions. When some future historian has to describe in a few words the artistic renewal this repertory has enjoyed, I suspect two names will be culled from the hundreds who have contributed: Maria Callas for convincing the public that it was worth taking seriously, and Gossett for showing us all what it would mean to do so. The result has been nothing less than a re-birth for what was once the most popular music in the world, and this book is a wide-ranging and constantly stimulating illumination of the adventure of bringing that about."
"This is the book that is indispensable for opera performers, scholars, and lovers. I am thrilled to have mine."--Marilyn Horne
"I knew Philip Gossett was a great scholar. Now I find out that he is also a tremendous storyteller. "Divas and Scholars" is not only erudite: it's as entertaining and charming as a novel. Singers, conductors, directors, musicologists, real or ideal characters are portrayed here with the right irony (and self-irony). And what a mine of information: for a professional musician such as myself, part two of this book ("Performing the Opera") was a welcome benefit, an indispensable guidebook. In my youth I was a pupil of and assistant to Tullio Serafin. Now in my later years I've found in Philip Gossett my prophet."--Bruno Bartoletti
"Philip Gossett has made a tremendous contribution to the performance practice of Italian operatic repertoire from Bel Canto to Verdi. His research and dedication to the task have enabled him to provide us, the performers, with a depth and breadth of knowledge about how to approach the specific stylistic challenges of this music. In addition to his scholarly integrity, he is also a fine musician who can implement his own research by creating appropriate ornamentation for singers. I would never dream of approaching this repertoire without first consulting and coaching with him. Fortunately, this book provides a reference so now all musicians can benefit from his work."
"To call this book 'a labor of love' is simply to confirm expectations: Philip Gossett's capacity for labor is legendary in every corner of the operatic profession, and his love for "ottocento "opera informs every sentence of his extensive writing about it and every bar of his meticulous editions. When some future historian has to describe in a few words the artistic renewal this repertory has enjoyed, I suspect two names will be culled from the hundreds who have contributed: Maria Callas for convincing the public that it was worth taking seriously, and Gossett for showing us all what it would mean to do so. The result has been nothing less than a re-birth for what was once the most popular music in the world, and this book is a wide-ranging and constantly stimulating illumination of the adventure of bringing that about."
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One thing I take away from this book is a better understanding of why it’s so difficult to establish definitive, “authentic” versions of 19th century Italian opera (and others). Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi revised their operas pretty much every time they were associated with a performance. Music was adapted to the language and tastes of the audience (all of them did French and Italian operas), including the types of spectacle the audience expected (ballet in France) and the current trend in vocal ornamentation. Sometimes music was rewritten to accommodate a diva or divo. Sometimes, especially in Rossini, entire arias, choruses, or duets were given a new text, and subsequently, new orchestrations to reflect that text. All of these variants render the expression, “what the composer intended” moot at best. At the very least, the lesson learned here is that a lot more qualification may be needed before the “composers intent” can be stated with authority (if at all).
I was fascinated by Mr. Gossett's discussion of period versus modern instruments. When I think of period instruments, I think 18th century and earlier. But developments and advances in instrument building have always been going on, and the tone and capabilities, particularly of brass and winds, have changed considerably since the 19th century.
Mr. Gossett also addresses the issues of transposition, and how transposing one aria up or down to meet the needs/limitations of a particular singer can affect the surrounding music. In order to illustrate varieties in ornamentation, changes music to accommodate new text, or changes in instrumentation, Mr. Gossett includes many musical examples, which I found a little difficult, reading on an older Kindle. An analog book might be the better way to go here, unless you have a Kindle Fire, or are reading on a PC.
If your interests lean more towards the how than the why, Mr. Gossett shares a lot of backstage tidbits, too. He has worked closely with the great, and not so great, musicians of the 20th and 21st century to create and recreate opera performances that are as close to authentic as we can get. He names names—the good, the bad, and the unlistenable—but he never really comes across as bitchy or unkind.
Mr. Gossett writes about working with other scholars, conductors, singers and directors. All of his backstage stories are in the context of creating the best performance possible. In the final chapters, he relates the productions of Verdi's Gustavo III, a "hypothetical reconstruction" of the original original version of Un ballo in maschera, and Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims, both in Scandinavia.
Philip Gossett is an opera fan, a musician, a scholar, and the world's leading authority on the performance of Italian opera. The only downside to this volume is the scholarly part may not be of great interest to the diva-followers, while the diva section may seem tedious to the scholarship fans. There may be a few sections you feel the need to skim through (some analysis gets pretty technical), but overall it’s a fascinating read, and it rewards re-reading, too.
Most enthusiastically recommended!
There are very elegantly printed musical examples as well as the odd juicy snide comment about singers whose attitude to performing these works is less than thorough. Sometimes the detail is daunting and perhaps a little dry but you could pick and choose your chapters if this is worrying you.
How reassuring that books like this are still being written when the Music section of Borders is filled with biographies of such musical heavyweights as Sting and Bono.