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With this generous, accessible overview, Elise K. Kirk provides a lively history of one of America's liveliest arts. A treasure trove of information on a substantial, heretofore neglected repertoire, American Opera sketches musical traits and provides plot summaries, descriptions of sets and stagings, and biographical details on performers, composers, and librettists...
With this generous, accessible overview, Elise K. Kirk provides a lively history of one of America's liveliest arts. A treasure trove of information on a substantial, heretofore neglected repertoire, American Opera sketches musical traits and provides plot summaries, descriptions of sets and stagings, and biographical details on performers, composers, and librettists for more than a hundred American operas, many of which have received unjustifiably scant attention since their premieres.
From the spectacle and melodrama of William Dunlap's Pizarro in Peru (1800) and the pathos of Caryl Florio's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1882) to the chilling psychological drama of Jack Beeson's Lizzie Borden (1965) and the lyric elegance of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), opera in America displays the energy and diversity of the nation itself. Kirk shows that this rich, varied repertoire includes far more than the familiar jewels Porgy and Bess, Candide, Susannah, and The Consul.
Beginning with the English-influenced harlequinade and masque of the revolutionary period, Kirk traces the development of comic opera, the rise of melodramatic romanticism, the emergence of American grand opera and verismo, and the explosion of eclectic forms that characterized American opera in the twentieth century. Devoting particular attention to the accomplishments of women and black composers and librettists, Kirk explores how American operas have incorporated indigenous elements such as jazz, popular song, folk music, Native American motifs, and Hollywood's cinematic techniques. She also discusses the impact of radio and television broadcasting on opera in America, the advent of opera workshops in universities, the integration of multimedia effects into recent opera productions, and innovations such as co-commissioning and joint staging that have helped sustain American opera as federal support has declined.
An engaging introduction for neophytes, American Opera also offers an array of welcome surprises for diehard opera fans.
|Introduction: Opera - Lyric Barometer of American Life|
|Pt. 1||The Voyage, 1730 to 1915|
|1||The British Connection||11|
|2||The Earliest American Operas||23|
|3||National Themes and the American Image||36|
|4||Mime, Melodrama, and Song||58|
|5||Grand Opera - the American Way||78|
|6||In the Spirit of Comedy||99|
|Pt. 2||The Signposts, 1880 to 1960|
|7||Wagnerism and the American Muse||121|
|8||Native Americans through Symbolism and Song||139|
|9||American Opera at the Met: The Gatti-Casazza Story||160|
|10||From the Black Perspective||184|
|11||Innovators and Iconoclasts; or, Is It Opera?||206|
|12||The Impact of Mass Media||233|
|Pt. 3||The Discoveries, 1945 to the Turn of the Century|
|13||The New American Verismo||253|
|14||New York City Opera's "American Plan"||272|
|15||Dreamers of Decadence||292|
|16||Bold Turns on Familiar Paths||315|
|17||Heroes for Our Time||335|
|18||Toward the New Millennium and Beyond||359|
|Epilogue: American Opera at the Crossroads||383|
|App||Milestones in American Opera||385|
Posted July 19, 2001
Elise K. Kirk takes on a monumental job in her 'American Opera' (University of Illinois Press). Starting in the Colonial times and ending just about at the publication date, this book traces the checkered career of its subject with a richness of detail that makes the 434 pages (I am not including appendices and index) very interesting reading indeed. It would have been even more interesting if the author had been a little more forthcoming about her own thoughts concerning the more contemporary works that call themselves 'operas' by virtue of their being through-composed; but she certainly seems to have all the facts laid out objectively and in good order. The 18 chapters that lie between the Introduction and Epilogue are divided into three sections: (1) 'The Voyage, 1730 to 1915'; (2) 'The Signposts, 1880 to 1960'; and (3) 'The Discoveries, 1945 to the Turn of the Century.' Each section in turn is divided into 6 topics with such titles as 'The Earliest American Operas,' 'The Impact of Mass Media,' and 'Dreamers of Decadence,' to give one from each part. Ms. Kirk is very good in pointing out the novel aspects of works like 'Einstein on the Beach' and 'Miss Julie.' However, since very few of the works she seems to praise (albeit implicitly rather than explicitly) enjoy frequent (if any) revivals, I strongly feel that she should have examined the reasons why most of them never gained any popularity with the general public. For example, the first night audiences seemed most enthusiastic about Previn's 'Streetcar Named Desire,' but in view of what the music critics had to say, one suspects they were applauding the production and the cast rather than the work. But our author remains silent on this aspect of American Opera. Still in all, I will be using this book as a valuable research tool for my seminars, especially the earlier sections when she does mention negative audience reactions to the Italian school of singing and other features of the granddaddies of 'The Ballad of Baby Doe' and 'Susannah.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.