Stranded Stories from the Operas

By Harrison, Max | Musical Opinion, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview

Stranded Stories from the Operas


Harrison, Max, Musical Opinion


Stranded Stories from the Operas Gerry Zwirn Travis & Emery Ltd, 17 Cecil Court, London, WC2N 4EZ. UK. Hardback, ISBN 978-1-84955-094-9, £24.95p. Paperback, ISBN 978-1-84955-095-6, £17.50p.

Stranded Stories from the Operas is, as the publishers correctly claim, a humor - ous synopsis of the great operas. It is aimed at the serious opera lover who, in addition to possessing a good knowledge of the subject, has a sense of humour. No author, until now, has dared challenge the esoteric world of opera by relating these stories in a humorous way: opera is far too serious a subject to be made fun of!

I have to say that I found this a thor - oughly enjoyable book, and a very good read into the bargain. Gerry Zwirn has thoroughly entered into the spirit and language of the operas in question - here are both The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro as related by Figaro himself in his own inimitable style; as Travis and Emery go on to claim, the stories of Samson et Delilah and Salome are retold in appropriate biblical prose; not entirely cod-Shakespeare in Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet , 'while Wagner lovers, after reading Die Meistersinger, Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal , may want to check their Kobbé.'

There is so much to enjoy in this delightful publication that one really does not know where to direct the reader at first - suffice to say that this is one of those publications that deserves to be in the collection of all opera-lovers: apart from the good humour, there is a lot of solid information also imparted here, albeit a little tongue-in-cheek, but done in such a manner as to make one rethink some of one's lifelong prejudices.

Alexander Leonard

late for that. However, Grainger appar ently con - sidered even the music of Ellington and Gersh - win to be 'Nordic' and we are told on page 162 that 'He did not regard this as a problem,' which suggests that a word meant whatever he wanted it to mean.

The Preface rightly speaks of greater awareness of him during the past 30 years, since publication in 1981 (his cent enary year) of the original Percy Grainger Companion edited by Lewis Fore man. Certainly there was a large increase of recordings in the 'nineties yet live perform ances, especially of orchestral and choral works, are still rare, and it is a main aim of this new book to encourage further exp loration of his very large output. In the Introduction we are told that 'A convincing interpretation requires intelligent musical analysis, but a true understanding of Grainger rests, also, on a genuine attempt to try to understand his philosophy, his life, and some of the experiences that shaped him.' But that is true of any composer of significance, and as to the fact that 'Grain ger grew up in a very different world from ours,' one has to say, again, that so did many other composers. Likewise the old Companion assures us (71) that for all their freshness and immediacy, their sometimes mercurial excitement, 'Grainger shaped and polished his miniatures with the care and precision of a diamond-cutter,' yet one hopes that all composers do that.

Linked, presumably, to his objections to the benefits of civilisation was his approval, cited in the old Companion (194), of Frederick Fennell's recording his music 'fiercely, loudly, savagely.' This is confirmed in the new Companion (21) by his ass - ertion in 1955 that his music 'should be fiercely and wildly performed, rather than in a staid and modest manner.' Not un rel - ated is his being quoted on 58 of the new volume as remarking, even of such things as Shepherd's Hey and Molly on the Shore , that they 'are good ... because there is so little gaiety and fun in them. Where others would have been jolly in setting them, I have been sad and furious.' There is also a comment on 11 about 'the essential gritty core' of this music and Grainger declared that his out put could only be fully understood as 'a pilgrimage to sorrows. …

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