Leonora's Last Act

Leonora's Last Act: Essays in Verdian Discourse

Roger Parker
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1287kcc
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  • Book Info
    Leonora's Last Act
    Book Description:

    In these essays, Roger Parker brings a series of valuable insights to bear on Verdian analysis and criticism, and does so in a way that responds both to an opera-goer's love of musical drama and to a scholar's concern for recent critical trends. As he writes at one point: "opera challenges us by means of its brash impurity, its loose ends and excess of meaning, its superfluity of narrative secrets." Verdi's works, many of which underwent drastic revisions over the years and which sometimes bore marks of an unusual collaboration between composer and librettist, illustrate in particular why it can sometimes be misleading to assign fixed meanings to an opera. Parker instead explores works likeRigoletto, Il trovatore, La forza del destino, andFalstafffrom a variety of angles, and addresses such contentious topics as the composer's involvement with Italian politics, the possibilities of an "authentic" staging of his work, and the advantages and pitfalls of analyzing his operas according to terms that his contemporaries might have understood.

    Parker takes into account many of the interdisciplinary influences currently engaging musicologists, in particular narrative and feminist theory. But he also demonstrates that close attention to the documentary evidence--especially that offered by autograph scores--can stimulate equal interpretive activity. This book serves as a model of research and critical thinking about opera, while nevertheless retaining a deep respect for opera's continuing power to touch generations of listeners.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6668-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Chapter One ON REACHING THE BEGUILED SHORE
    (pp. 3-19)

    The final stages of this book were completed in a tiny third-floor room on the south coast of England. I look out onto a suburban landscape, a busy road, a tennis club beyond. As I stare from the window—which I do all too often—my sense of two peripheral objects alters the view. Even though it is just invisible, I know that the sea is very close: its beguiling shore, hesitant and sprawling, begins no more than a mile away, and for me its unseen presence seems often to invite migration, or at least a journey—travel south, travel...

  5. Chapter Two “VA PENSIERO” AND THE INSIDIOUS MASTERY OF SONG
    (pp. 20-41)

    Nabucco(first performed at La Scala, Milan, in March 1842) has always held a special position among Verdi’s early operas; and the reason for this placing may tell us something important about critical attitudes toward the composer and his work.¹ The case ofNabucco, the particular circumstances of its privileged status, may be stated plainly. In many people’s mindsNabuccois the Verdian work that, more than any other, has meaning beyond its sum total of verbal, scenic, and musical gestures. Though its dramatic unevenness and its rhythmic and melodic brashness are fully admitted—might, under other circumstances, have earned...

  6. Chapter Three “INSOLITE FORME,” OR BASEVI’S GARDEN PATH
    (pp. 42-60)

    How can we (how do we) analyze Verdi? The question might to some seem immediately anachronistic: the laying of one age’s preoccupations and aesthetic concerns—in this case, a desire to configure musical works by means of essentially abstract narrative patterns—onto the now quite distant past. Most, if challenged, would probably admit that while we can never avoid such superimpositions, there may nevertheless be a peculiar sense of strain in performing such operations on operatic texts that remain in such lively currency (their “other” narratives, both internal and external, still resonating powerfully). What is more, certain elements of the...

  7. Chapter Four LEONORA’S LAST ACT: LA FORZA DEL DESTINO
    (pp. 61-99)

    As has been hinted more than once in this book, opera is the most richly texted music we study within the academy: it is collaborative, and thus produces copious amounts of text during its creation; its music is accompanied by a literary text, one that commonly derives from an earlier, independent text; it involves characters and character types, many of whom carry texts from elsewhere; and its performance is usually a public event that in turn produces a mass of texts concerned with reception, criticism, and commentary. Opera, in short, challenges us by means of its brash impurity, its loose...

  8. Chapter Five FALSTAFF AND VERDI’S FINAL NARRATIVES
    (pp. 100-125)

    The photograph reproduced in figure 5.1 dates from the summer of 1892, about six months before the premiere of Verdi’s last opera,Falstaff. It presents to the world a familiar, much repeated image, a kind of “personal uniform.”¹ Our hero wears his standard, gentleman-farmer costume: a wide-brimmed, pretty functional-looking felt hat; very plain double-breasted frock coat; perhaps a hint of the “artista” in that flowing cravat. It’s a profile shot, of course: a perfectly conventional, “studio” pose, complete with the standard neutral background; but somehow one gets the impression that Verdi has deliberately turned away from the camera’s eye. The...

  9. Chapter Six READING THE LIVRETS, OR THE CHIMERA OF “AUTHENTIC” STAGING
    (pp. 126-148)

    In that weighty, ongoing monument to Verdi’s composerly intentions, the critical edition of his works, each volume contains a preface that sets out what we might call a basic philosophy. These prefaces, which change little from volume to volume, talk at proper length and in proper detail about the musical text, and they include a paragraph about the libretto and its particular editorial problems. But they offer no guidance on how textual traces of the “third” element of Verdian opera might be approached; there is no mention of staging materials. This absence is far from casual, for the editions themselves...

  10. Chapter Seven LINA KNEELS; GILDA SINGS
    (pp. 149-167)

    At the close of a recent article about newly emerged sketches for Verdi’sStiffelio, Philip Gossett presents what most operatic critics would admit is a highly charged fragment of music (see example 7.1). Gossett himself glosses it as having “profound implications for our understanding of Verdi’s treatment of text and music and, more generally, his compositional process.”¹ The example transcribes one of several preliminary sketches Verdi made for the Act II cabaletta of Lina, his soprano heroine. The final version of the cabaletta, “Perder dunque voi volete,” is a not-much-praised item from a still rather obscure opera. But in this...

  11. Chapter Eight LEONORA’S LAST ACT: IL TROVATORE
    (pp. 168-187)

    Not, I think, exclusively inspired by her recently trumpeted status as the first overtly sapphic cult diva, I have found myself listening to Kathleen Ferrier again recently.¹ For my generation, Ferrier existed only as a recording artist; she died, aged forty-one, in 1953. But her voice retained considerable immediacy: certain of her recordings had very quickly achieved “classic” status, and it seems in retrospect that hardly aYour Hundred Best Tunesor aDesert Island Discswould go by without Ferrier being heard, the favorite being her unaccompanied rendition of the folk song “Blow the Wind Southerly.” The voice was...

  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 188-188)