Unsettling Opera: Staging Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Zemlinsky

University of Chicago Press
2
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What happens when operas that are comfortably ensconced in the canon are thoroughly rethought and radically recast on stage? What does a staging do to our understanding of an opera, and of opera generally? While a stage production can disrupt a work that was thought to be established, David J. Levin here argues that the genre of opera is itself unsettled, and that the performance of operas, at its best, clarifies this condition by bringing opera’s restlessness and volatility to life.

Unsettling Opera explores a variety of fields, considering questions of operatic textuality, dramaturgical practice, and performance theory. Levin opens with a brief history of opera production, opera studies, and dramatic composition, and goes on to consider in detail various productions of the works of Wagner, Mozart, Verdi, and Alexander Zemlinsky. Ultimately, the book seeks to initiate a dialogue between scholars of music, literature, and performance by addressing questions raised in each field in a manner that influences them all.
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About the author

David J. Levin is associate professor in the Department of Germanic Studies, the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies, and the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago.  In addition to his academic work, he has served as dramaturg for various opera companies in the United States and Germany.

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Reviews

3.5
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Nov 15, 2008
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Pages
274
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ISBN
9780226475257
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / German
Music / General
Music / Genres & Styles / Opera
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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David J. Levin
This highly original book draws on narrative and film theory, psychoanalysis, and musicology to explore the relationship between aesthetics and anti-Semitism in two controversial landmarks in German culture. David Levin argues that Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and Fritz Lang's 1920s film Die Nibelungen creatively exploit contrasts between good and bad aesthetics to address the question of what is German and what is not. He shows that each work associates a villainous character, portrayed as non-Germanic and Jewish, with the sometimes dramatically awkward act of narration. For both Wagner and Lang, narration--or, in cinematic terms, visual presentation--possesses a typically Jewish potential for manipulation and control. Consistent with this view, Levin shows, the Germanic hero Siegfried is killed in each work by virtue of his unwitting adoption of a narrative role.

Levin begins with an explanation of the book's theoretical foundations and then applies these theories to close readings of, in turn, Wagner's cycle and Lang's film. He concludes by tracing how Germans have dealt with the Nibelungen myths in the wake of the Second World War, paying special attention to Michael Verhoeven's 1989 film The Nasty Girl. His fresh and interdisciplinary approach sheds new light not only on Wagner's Ring and Lang's Die Nibelungen, but also on the ways in which aesthetics can be put to the service of aggression and hatred. The book is an important contribution to scholarship in film and music and also to the broader study of German culture and national identity.

Philip Gossett
Winner of the 2007 Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society and the 2007 Deems Taylor Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

Divas and Scholars is a dazzling and beguiling account of how opera comes to the stage, filled with Philip Gossett’s personal experiences of triumphant—and even failed—performances and suffused with his towering and tonic passion for music. Writing as a fan, a musician, and a scholar, Gossett, the world's leading authority on the performance of Italian opera, brings colorfully to life the problems, and occasionally the scandals, that attend the production of some of our most favorite operas. 

Gossett begins by tracing the social history of nineteenth-century Italian theaters in order to explain the nature of the musical scores from which performers have long worked. He then illuminates the often hidden but crucial negotiations opera scholars and opera conductors and performers: What does it mean to talk about performing from a critical edition? How does one determine what music to perform when multiple versions of an opera exist? What are the implications of omitting passages from an opera in a performance? In addition to vexing questions such as these, Gossett also tackles issues of ornamentation and transposition in vocal style, the matters of translation and adaptation, and even aspects of stage direction and set design. 

Throughout this extensive and passionate work, Gossett enlivens his history with reports from his own experiences with major opera companies at venues ranging from the Metropolitan and Santa Fe operas to the Rossini Opera Festival at Pesaro. The result is a book that will enthrall both aficionados of Italian opera and newcomers seeking a reliable introduction to it—in all its incomparable grandeur and timeless allure.
 

Fred Plotkin
Opera is the fastest growing of all the performing arts, attracting audiences of all ages who are enthralled by the gorgeous music, vivid drama, and magnificent production values. If you've decided that the time has finally come to learn about opera and discover for yourself what it is about opera that sends your normally reserved friends into states of ecstatic abandon, this is the book for you. Opera 101 is recognized as the standard text in English for anyone who wants to become an opera lover--a clear, friendly, and truly complete handbook to learning how to listen to opera, whether on the radio, on recordings, or live at the opera house. Fred Plotkin, an internationally respected writer and teacher about opera who for many years was performance manager of the Metropolitan Opera, introduces the reader (whatever his or her level of musical knowledge) to all the elements that make up opera, including: A brief, entertaining history of opera; An explanation of key operatic concepts, from vocal types to musical conventions; Hints on the best way to approach the first opera you attend and how to best understand what is happening both offstage and on; Lists of recommended books and recordings, and the most complete traveler's guide to opera houses around the world. The major part of Opera 101 is devoted to an almost minute-by-minute analysis of eleven key operas, ranging from Verdi's thunderous masterpiece Rigoletto and Puccini's electrifying Tosca through works by Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini, Offenbach, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner, to the psychological complexities of Richard Strauss's Elektra. Once you have completed Opera 101, you will be prepared to see and hear any opera you encounter, thanks to this book's unprecedentedly detailed and enjoyable method of revealing the riches of opera.
David J. Levin
This highly original book draws on narrative and film theory, psychoanalysis, and musicology to explore the relationship between aesthetics and anti-Semitism in two controversial landmarks in German culture. David Levin argues that Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and Fritz Lang's 1920s film Die Nibelungen creatively exploit contrasts between good and bad aesthetics to address the question of what is German and what is not. He shows that each work associates a villainous character, portrayed as non-Germanic and Jewish, with the sometimes dramatically awkward act of narration. For both Wagner and Lang, narration--or, in cinematic terms, visual presentation--possesses a typically Jewish potential for manipulation and control. Consistent with this view, Levin shows, the Germanic hero Siegfried is killed in each work by virtue of his unwitting adoption of a narrative role.

Levin begins with an explanation of the book's theoretical foundations and then applies these theories to close readings of, in turn, Wagner's cycle and Lang's film. He concludes by tracing how Germans have dealt with the Nibelungen myths in the wake of the Second World War, paying special attention to Michael Verhoeven's 1989 film The Nasty Girl. His fresh and interdisciplinary approach sheds new light not only on Wagner's Ring and Lang's Die Nibelungen, but also on the ways in which aesthetics can be put to the service of aggression and hatred. The book is an important contribution to scholarship in film and music and also to the broader study of German culture and national identity.

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