Monday, November 05, 2007


I wrote to Philip Gossett:
I have finally made it to the chapter on opera in The Romantic Generation and see your name. Why is it that opera both is and isn't silly, is and isn't trivial? The answer is singing. The best opera is the kind that makes a situation, makes a musical framework for singing and stands back out of the way and allows it to happen. Less is much much more.

There is no correlation between how long an analysis you can write about something and its intrinsic value. At least that's how I felt after listening to Moses und Aron.

Dr. Gossett responded:
You know, I don't really think that opera is silly or trivial. I believe in these works for their content, NOT just for their singing (that isn't to deny the importance of the singing). We tend to judge them on the basis of a theatrical tradition that isn't theirs, a theatrical tradition that stops with Restoration comedy and picks up again with Ibsen and Shaw. But what about the whole history of drama between the eighteenth century and the end of the nineteenth? We know NOTHING, truly NOTHING. Most people know the Voltaire dramas exclusively through Rossini; they know the Hugo dramas exclusively through Donizetti and Verdi; and don't even think about Spanish Romantic drama. Once you see the operatic literature of the first sixty years of the nineteenth century in the CONTEXT of the dramatic conventions of the time, there is nothing either silly or trivial in the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, or Verdi.

As for "analysis," well you are perfectly right that the number of words spilled over an opera because it is great to analyze has little to do with its effectiveness in the theater. There are a FEW works where the analysts can have a great time and the effectivness is magnificent. I think particularly of Tristan or Wozzeck. As for Moses und Aron, sigh! I like it better each time I see or hear it, but I don't ever expect it to be a crowd-pleaser!

Me again:
I think the history of drama and its relationship to the opera libretto is a subject I could get interested in. I'll look into it.

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