Magazine article Gramophone

Giacomo Puccini and His World

Magazine article Gramophone

Giacomo Puccini and His World

Article excerpt

Giacomo Puccini and His World

Edited by Arman Schwartz & Emanuele Senici

Princeton University Press, PB, 360pp, 24.95 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-0-6911-7286-6

Stemming from annual events at the Bard Music Festival, Princeton's 'composer and his world' series (it's always been 'his' so far) has been running since 1990, offering reassessments and realignments of major and not-so-major musical figures. Puccini and His World follows the familiar format, offering a selection of essays (coming out of papers given across the everit) followed by useful collections of primary sources, in this case some letters, new translations of contemporary writing on Puccini and his contemporaries plus fascinating excerpts from the staging manual produced for the Paris premiere of the revised Madam Butterfly.

These sources, all of them given useful annotations and in-depth, expert introductions, are fascinating, even if several of them are more about Puccini's world than Puccini himself. They deal with questions regarding verismo and realism (operatic realism, a recurring observation tells us, is a contradiction in terms), ideas of national schools and what they represent, and strategies for dealing with the Wagnerian inheritance. There's also, perhaps reassuringly, a great deal of the death-of-opera hand-wringing that is and almost always has been a refrain in writing about opera.

Selections from Fausto Torrefranca's infamous anti-Puccini polemic of 1912, Giacomo Puccini and International Opera, offer a valuable glimpse into the struggle in Italy to establish a strong (usually gendered, unsurprisingly, as masculine) national identity; Puccini's music was, Torrefranca argued, hopelessly feminine. The 'international' epithet, a decade before

Italian fascism fully established itself, was an insult--as it seems increasingly to be now too.

The Butterfly staging manual presents a detailed and fixed record of how Puccini, through the production's director, Albert Carre, wanted his opera staged. In so doing, it inevitably raises questions about the relationship of Puccini's operas, in some ways reluctant subjects for directorial intervention, with modern staging practices. And the same qualities that have been seen as making the works resistant to such approaches, one might think, are precisely those that have traditionally led musicology to be a bit sniffy about the composer.

His popularity of course is one problem, as is the fact that his music is seen as appealing--often cynically and manipulatively--more to the heart than the head, with few hidden layers of meaning. …

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