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By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 11 May 2006— Amadeus Press fills a useful function, publishing translations into English of scholarly tomes and also encouraging younger scholars to plug the various gaps in academia. Their series Unlocking the Masters is not aimed at an audience looking for musicological savoir faire, but a public sufficiently aware that its appreciation can be heightened by a guide that does not talk down. Thomas May’s invitation to Wagner and his world of music drama discusses the works in general terms, occasionally referring to specific points and citing the track information for the accompanying CDs (an added attraction for novice opera-goers). This is territory that has been extensively covered in a great many books, but the approach here hones in on certain key moments while placing them in their wider context. It is to the author’s credit that he sustains our interest with some interesting juxtapositions (Cosima and Richard the Yoko and John of their day!) while never losing sight of his non-technical audience who may be seeking additional background material for their Wagnerian moments without having to wade through a lot of musicological mumbo-jumbo. It is unfortunate that the audio comes from BMG-affiliated labels so that all is competent but never exalted.

 Mark Ringer’s study of Monteverdi fills a serious gap, as material on that composer has never achieved the profusion accorded to the Master of Bayreuth. Ringer is an actor and director and approaches the three works under discussion primarily from that point of view, offering almost a line-by-line analysis tied to the music, much simpler for the amateur to deal with as only the score of Orfeo includes indications as to instrumentation, while for all three works the realization of the basso continuo must always be left to the discretion of the performers, be it the number of instruments and their participation at any given moment. Again, the many insights are fascinating, but given the general level of discourse, is it necessary to explain such concepts as da capo arias or sprechgesang ? I greatly appreciated his discussion of Il Corago, a manual for operatic performers and directors, which offers advice that remains pertinent to our era. The CD is offered with the assistance of Harmonia Mundi, which means that the performances are almost all led by René Jacobs (one item by William Christie), thereby guaranteeing the liveliest of approaches rather than the bare bones that also has its partisans.

Thomas May: Decoding Wagner: An Invitation to his World of Music Drama
Paperback: 220 pages
Amadeus Press; Book & CD edition (22 December 2004) Pompton Plains and Cambridge
ISBN: 1-57467-097-2 (Unlocking the Masters Series, No. 1)

Mark Ringer: Opera’s First Master: The Musical Dramas of Claudio Monteverdi
Paperback: 344 pages 
Amadeus Press; Book & CD edition (1 February 2006) Pompton Plains and Cambridge
ISBN: 1-57467-110-3 (Unlocking the Masters Series, No. 8)

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