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Contrasting the experience of morality in opera to that in tragedy, the Hutcheons find a mote apt analogy in the medieval custom of contemplatio umrtis - a dramatized exercise in imagining one's own death that prepared one for the inevitable end and helped one enjoy the life that remained. From the perspective of a contemporary audience, they explore concepts of mortality embodied in both the common and the more obscure operatic repertoire: the terror of death (in Poulene's Dialogues of the Carmelites): the longing for death (in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde); preparation for the good death (in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung); and suicide (in Puccini's Madame Butterfly). In works by Janacek, Ullmann, Berg, and Britten, among others, the Hutcheons examine how death is made to feel logical and even right morally, psychologically, and artistically - how, in the art of opera, we rehearse death in order to give life meaning.
An interesting, informative, and original piece of scholarship that contributes to an ongoing reexamination of opera currently underway in a variety of academic disciplines. The book treats both highly canonical and some very esoteric operas, thus providing something of interest to the neophyte and to the more experienced.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Music and "Murky Death"