The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview
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admiration. The applause lavished on her accomplishment was unending. Tasteless as coloratura singing may be, simply as a means of displaying a singer's virtuosity. it can also serve the opera composer in developing a dramatic situation. The "Mad Scene" in Act III of Lucia provides an example. This senseless up and down vocalizing on the vowel a, does it not resemble the nonsensical stuttering of a lunatic? Might one not also conclude, on the other hand, from these ludicrous vocal capers called coloratura that the solemn, noble figure of Norma at the sacrificial alter in the first act of the opera that bears her name had already lost her wits? For me, at least, she was clearly out of her head. Whether others felt as I did, I know not.

41. La Gioconda In Absentia

February 22, 1885

Whoever could not attend the German performance of La Gioconda, as I, for example, could not, but who would like to talk about it, as I would not, or who has to describe it (however unwillingly), as I do, finds himself in a rather critical situation. It becomes less critical, however, if he who would like to talk about it possesses some degree of imagination, as I do, for example, who must write about it. For there are very, very many things, as demonstrated daily, that one can talk about and write about without having seen them, heard them, felt them or understood them, especially a performance of La Gioconda There is nothing in it to feel or to understand, although there is more to hear than is tolerable to the most hardened eardrum, and just enough to see to distract one's aural attention from the great spectacle of the orchestra.

This apparently critical situation becomes manifestly so, however, when a critic in such a critical situation is supposed to criticize. Under such dubious circumstances a critique, no matter how good, might be beneath criticism insofar as the critic's intention is to be properly critical, that is, objective, as the critic's calling requires. The perceptive reader may, without jeopardizing his judgment of character, of which he doubtless holds, and rightly, a high opinion, credit me with enough sense on this occasion to write anything but a critique of the performance of La Gioconda. Nothing is more foreign to my nature than to deceive myself wittingly, and thus to deceive my readers. I shall be on my guard, accordingly, against serving up assumption about which I can offer only a surmise, and facts about which I can hand down a verdict (and possibly a false one) as one and the same dish.

About this opera, to be sure, I have reached a verdict. Since my task now,


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