Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera

Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera

Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera

Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera


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.


This book, written by a fan, a musician, and a scholar, is about performing nineteenth-century Italian opera. It is addressed to all those who share my passion for the music of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. I trust that fans will be intrigued by an occasional technical explanation, musicians will find something of value in the social and textual history of their art, and scholars will indulge me the backstage gossip indigenous to the opera house.

While these three elements of my operatic being are now hopelessly merged, they developed consecutively. My earliest exposure to opera was the Metropolitan Opera's weekly broadcasts, and my father assures me that as a child I sang along with gusto. Unfortunately, my vocal skills have not improved with age. the first opera I actually saw was Carmen with Rise Stevens at the old Met, during the mid-1950s, but memories of this event have long been inseparable from family anecdote. An opera-loving uncle, Jules Schwartz, collected early LPs, which we devoured together. Having studied piano since the age of five, I frequented Juilliard Preparatory Division in uptown Manhattan during my high school years (from 1955 to 1958) for piano lessons and theory classes. By noon on most Saturdays I caught the subway downtown to join the standing-room queue at the Met. I must have heard all the great singers of the period, and there were many, but at that age I was not very discriminating about voices: it was the extraordinary music and drama that captured my imagination.

Heading off to Amherst College in the fall of 1958, I brought along my trusty reel-to-reel tape recorder. Tapes of Uncle Julie's LPs and others borrowed from the New York Public Library were my constant companions, and they ranged from Mozart through Verdi and Wagner to Berg and even Britten: indeed, it was a recording of Peter Grimes that convinced me that opera remained a living art. On our first New York date, I brought my Smith Col-

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