Verdi's Shakespeare: Men of the Theater

Verdi's Shakespeare: Men of the Theater

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by Garry Wills
     
 

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A dazzling study of the operas Verdi adapted from Shakespeare- and a spellbinding account of their creation.

In Verdi's Shakespeare, Pulitzer Prize winner and lifelong opera devotee Garry Wills explores the writing and staging of Verdi's three triumphant Shakespearian operas: Macbeth, Othello, and Falstaff. An Italian composer

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Overview

A dazzling study of the operas Verdi adapted from Shakespeare- and a spellbinding account of their creation.

In Verdi's Shakespeare, Pulitzer Prize winner and lifelong opera devotee Garry Wills explores the writing and staging of Verdi's three triumphant Shakespearian operas: Macbeth, Othello, and Falstaff. An Italian composer who couldn't read a word of English but adored Shakespeare, Verdi devoted himself to operatic productions that authentically incorporated the playwright's texts. Wills delves into the fast-paced worlds of these men of the theater, focusing on the intense working relationships both Shakespeare and Verdi had with the performers and producers of their works. We see Verdi study the Shakespearean dramaturgy as he obsessively corresponds with his chosen librettists, handpicks the singers he feels are best- suited to the roles, and coaches them intensely.

With fascinating portraits of these artistic giants and their entourages, sharp insights into music and theater, and telling historical details, Verdi's Shakespeare re-creates the conditions that allowed Verdi to complete his masterworks and illuminates the very nature of artistic creation.

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Editorial Reviews

John Simon
There is a fair, but not daunting, amount of musical analysis, as well as much acknowledged borrowing and quoting from other relevant writers. This only makes the book more useful, what with burrowings (rather than borrowings) a worm would be proud of, and a panorama worthy of a fly's multifaceted eye. We get, it seems, everything known about the circumstances of the plays' and operas' productions…Where information is lacking, Wills provides shrewd and judicious guesses.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Opera aficionados will delight in Wills's (Outside Looking In) thoughtful, deeply rehearsed essays on Verdi's treatment of Shakespeare's plays. Both the Elizabethan playwright and the 19th-century composer were steeped in the language and logistics of the theater, and both tailored their work for the performers at hand. Shakespeare created his characters in Macbeth, Othello, and The Merry Wives of Windsor especially for leading actor Richard Burbage, who doubled for parts in the same play, as all the players did, with boy actors assuming the women's roles; Verdi partly chose to do Macbeth because it required a strong baritone, which the Florence Teatro della Pergola had, rather than a leading tenor, which the theater did not. Wills looks closely at how each director handled scenes of witchcraft—more challenging for the skeptical 19th-century audience—and Verdi's neat, dramatic compression of events in the plays. Verdi employed for the operas Otello and Falstaff his masterly, much younger librettist, Arrigo Boito, whose boldness and vibrant ideas "reinvigorated the Maestro's creative force." Their collaboration towered over Rossini's gold-standard Otello, notes Wills, especially in beginning the opera with an apocalyptic storm and creating for Otello and Desdemona a love duet, and in later fashioning an inventive composite Falstaff as a "a force of nature." Wills's detailed depictions of the operas' subtleties, sublimely rendered for opera fans—perhaps tedious for other readers—endlessly elucidate the work of these "creative volcanoes." (Oct.)
From the Publisher
------A Booklist Editors Choice Pick for 2011-------

“Wonderfully illuminating. This book is the product of a lifetime of listening and watching….No lover of Verdi-or Shakespeare, for that matter-will want to miss it.”-Opera News“Riveting…a double-barreled salvo that hits two bull's-eyes. Shakespeare scholarship is one of the world's thriving industries, with no factories but worldwide workshops. While you are reading this, there must be hundreds (thousands?) of worthies turning out articles and books from pole to pole. But ­Garry Wills has upped the ante. There is a fair, but not daunting, amount of musical analysis, as well as much acknowledged borrowing and quoting from other relevant writers. This only makes the book more useful, what with burrowings (rather than borrowings) a worm would be proud of, and a panorama worthy of a fly's multifaceted eye. “Nomen est omen” goes a Latin adage: the name is a signifier. So the noun “Wills” suggests manifold motivation, multiple resolve. Whatever Garry undertakes, trust Wills to get done.”
John Simon, The New York Times“Wills's joyously engaged, scholarly yet personable essay is not just a treat but also a banquet succulent enough to make Shakespeareans and Verdians of all who partake of it.”
Booklist, starred review-“Opera aficionados will delight in Wills's thoughtful, deeply rehearsed essays. . . . [His] detailed depictions of the operas' subtleties, sublimely rendered for opera fans, endlessly elucidate the work of these ‘creative volcanoes.'”
Publishers Weekly“Wills brilliantly explores the evolution, development, and performance histories of the three plays (actually, four, counting both Henry IV and Merry Wives of Windsor as inspirations for Falstaff), the three operas, and the connections among them. As essential purchase. ”
Library Journal, starred review-“Wills's insights into both Verdi's acute understanding of Shakespeare and his ingenious methods of conveying it are thrilling-particularly his account of how, when composing “Otello,” Verdi encapsulated the six hundred and eighty-six lines of the play's first act within a few minutes of music.”
The New Yorker“Fascinating.”
Commonweal Magazine“One genius interprets another: English to Italian, words to lyrics, immortal drama to overpowering opera. . . . While the book has an enormous amount to teach devotees of either Shakespeare or Verdi, opera fans in particular will enjoy the author's close and illuminating attention to backstage history, as well as words, music and phrasing.”
Kirkus- “A labor of love.”
HistoryWire.com“Despite the novelty of the subject in VERDI'S SHAKESPEARE, Wills's writing is characteristically clear and marked with literate ping. . . . Throughout, he demonstrates an innate understanding of drama and music and how they can work together. His analysis of melody, harmony and orchestration are as solid as his examination of theatrical practice and technique. And his research is thorough. He draws on the considerable store of data unearthed by others, citing in his more than one hundred footnotes a veritable Who's Who of opera and theater scholars.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books-

Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg; What the Gospels Meant) here turns his attention to the three operas by Giuseppe Verdi based on plays by Shakespeare—Macbeth, Othello, and Falstaff. At once scholarly and conversational in tone, the book ping-pongs between the worlds of 17th-century Elizabethan drama and 19th-century Italian opera. Wills brilliantly explores the evolution, development, and performance histories of the three plays (actually, four, counting both Henry IV and Merry Wives of Windsor as inspirations for Falstaff), the three operas, and the connections among them. Verdi was a great lover of Shakespeare, and though he could not read a word of English, he understood the complexity and emotive force of the plays and strove to create compelling works that would do justice to their sources. This meant micromanaging the work of his librettists, collaborators, and singers. In doing so, he redefined the genre with each work. VERDICT Compared to Gary Schmidgall's excellent Shakespeare and Opera, Wills's survey is necessarily less broad but equally interdisciplinary and thought-provoking. An essential purchase. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/11.]—Larry Lipkis, Music Dept., Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143122227
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/27/2012
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
918,749
Product dimensions:
7.60(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

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“Wonderfully illuminating. This book is the product of a lifetime of listening and watching….No lover of Verdi—or Shakespeare, for that matter—will want to miss it.”
Opera News
 
“Riveting…a double-barreled salvo that hits two bull’s-eyes. Shakespeare scholarship is one of the world’s thriving industries, with no factories but worldwide workshops. While you are reading this, there must be hundreds (thousands?) of worthies turning out articles and books from pole to pole. But ­Garry Wills has upped the ante. There is a fair, but not daunting, amount of musical analysis, as well as much acknowledged borrowing and quoting from other relevant writers. This only makes the book more useful, what with burrowings (rather than borrowings) a worm would be proud of, and a panorama worthy of a fly’s multifaceted eye. “Nomen est omen” goes a Latin adage: the name is a signifier. So the noun “Wills” suggests manifold motivation, multiple resolve. Whatever Garry undertakes, trust Wills to get done.”
—John Simon, The New York Times
 
“Wills’s joyously engaged, scholarly yet personable essay is not just a treat but also a banquet succulent enough to make Shakespeareans and Verdians of all who partake of it.”
Booklist, starred review
 
“Opera aficionados will delight in Wills’s thoughtful, deeply rehearsed essays. . . . [His] detailed depictions of the operas’ subtleties, sublimely rendered for opera fans, endlessly elucidate the work of these ‘creative volcanoes.’”
Publishers Weekly
 
“Wills brilliantly explores the evolution, development, and performance histories of the three plays (actually, four, counting both Henry IV and Merry Wives of Windsor as inspirations for Falstaff), the three operas, and the connections among them. As essential purchase. ”
Library Journal, starred review
 
“Wills’s insights into both Verdi’s acute understanding of Shakespeare and his ingenious methods of conveying it are thrilling—particularly his account of how, when composing “Otello,” Verdi encapsulated the six hundred and eighty-six lines of the play’s first act within a few minutes of music.”
The New Yorker
 
“Fascinating.”
Commonweal Magazine
 
“One genius interprets another: English to Italian, words to lyrics, immortal drama to overpowering opera. . . . While the book has an enormous amount to teach devotees of either Shakespeare or Verdi, opera fans in particular will enjoy the author’s close and illuminating attention to backstage history, as well as words, music and phrasing.”
Kirkus
 
“A labor of love.”
HistoryWire.com
 
“Despite the novelty of the subject in VERDI'S SHAKESPEARE, Wills’s writing is characteristically clear and marked with literate ping. . . . Throughout, he demonstrates an innate understanding of drama and music and how they can work together. His analysis of melody, harmony and orchestration are as solid as his examination of theatrical practice and technique. And his research is thorough. He draws on the considerable store of data unearthed by others, citing in his more than one hundred footnotes a veritable Who’s Who of opera and theater scholars.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books
 
 

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