Music in the Theater

Music in the Theater: Essays on Verdi and Other Composers

Pierluigi Petrobelli
WITH TRANSLATIONS BY Roger Parker
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 202
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv7cr
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Music in the Theater
    Book Description:

    Well-known for leading audiences to a new appreciation of Verdi as a subtle and elaborate musical thinker, Pierluigi Petrobelli here turns his attention to the intriguing question of how musical theater works. In this collection of lively, penetrating essays, Petrobelli analyzes specific operas, mainly by Verdi, in terms of historical context, musical organization, and dramaturgical conventions.

    Originally published in 1995.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6377-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Pierluigi Petrobelli
  4. A NOTE ON ITALIAN PROSODY
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-7)

    This volume contains a series of essays whose primary subject is musical theater. More precisely: in the following pages facts and problems are centered around that strange, indeed unique, phenomenon of Western civilization in which drama, poetry, music, and spectacle join together to create what is generally known as opera. This term certainly refers to well-defined historical events; yet, at the same time, these essays are concerned with a live experience of our time. Most of the ideas and interpretations proposed in this book—whatever their value—were tested against a direct, emotional response in the opera house. What is...

  6. CHAPTER 1 FROM ROSSINI’S MOSÉ TO VERDI’S NABUCCO
    (pp. 8-33)

    To introduceNabucco, to illustrate even a few of its musico-dramatic characteristics, entails comparison with preceding and contemporary operatic production: we need to define what in this opera is typical of Verdi’s style, to distinguish what isnotVerdian. We should not forget that even during the composer’s lifetimeNabuccowas regarded as his first “authentic” product. What is more, Verdi himself seems to have been of the same opinion: in the so-called Autobiographical Sketch narrated to Giulio Ricordi, he states that “with this opera [Nabucco] one could truly say that my artistic career began.”¹

    However paradoxical it may seem,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 VERDI AND DON GIOVANNI: ON THE OPENING SCENE OF RIGOLETTO
    (pp. 34-47)

    By general agreement,Rigolettois the first work of Verdi's artistic maturity, the opera in which he fully realized for the first time his musicodramatic conception, in which a Verdian “style” (in the broadest sense of that term) finally came into its own and assumed its true features.

    All this meant a break, a sense of distance (gradually established but nonetheless noticeable) from all previous operatic production—not only Verdi’s but also those of his contemporaries. This leap forward has been examined from a dramatic standpoint by others: a clear definition of the characters, for example, closely linked in this...

  8. CHAPTER 3 REMARKS ON VERDI’S COMPOSING PROCESS
    (pp. 48-74)

    Tο varying degrees and in more-or-less obvious ways, Verdi studies have until recently been much influenced—and are in part still influenced—by the manner in which the composer wanted his life and works to be considered. In a certain sense, this “Verdi” personality has determined the directions taken by research on both his art and his life; the image that the composer willed to posterity has unconsciously guided these inquiries, perhaps more tellingly than scholars themselves have been aware. The image of Verdi “the peasant”—devoid of culture, deaf to all that took place around him (especially musical matters),...

  9. CHAPTER 4 THOUGHTS FOR ALZIRA
    (pp. 75-99)

    The compositional process—the activity through which a composer organizes and develops his musical ideas in order to reach the definitive form of a work of art—is closely connected to the artist’s poetics; or, more precisely, it is a direct consequence and manifestation of it. The remark is so elementary as to seem almost banal; but it is worth repeating, if for no other reason than because the document at the center of this chapter reinforces its validity with extraordinary clarity. Moreover, the equation between compositional process and realization of the poetics allows for an important verification, one otherwise...

  10. CHAPTER 5 TOWARD AN EXPLANATION OF THE DRAMATIC STRUCTURE OF IL TROVATORE
    (pp. 100-112)

    In no other of Verdi’s operas does one find even the slightest inclination toward humor. And now the old master writes a work that gives his whole past the lie, so to speak, anopera buffaraised to thenthpower, the sublime example of its kind.Falstaffthrows a light back over all of Verdi’s previous work. It changes the aspect of this work; there must be more to it than we believed; the master who could create such an opera did not writeTrovatoreas mere hand organ music. And, indeed, the brightest ones among us have already...

  11. CHAPTER 6 MUSIC IN THE THEATER (APROPOS OF AIDA, ACT III)
    (pp. 113-126)

    In opera, various “systems” work together, each according to its own nature and laws, and the result of the combination is much greater than the sum of the individual forces. In this essay I wish to discuss the interaction of the three main systems—dramatic action, verbal organization, and music. The dramatic action unfolds the events of the plot; the verbal organization, structured most of the time in lines and verses, offers support and definition to the action; and the music interprets and transforms, in its own terms, both action and text. I may add that by “music” I mean...

  12. CHAPTER 7 MORE ON THE THREE “SYSTEMS”: THE FIRST ACT OF LA FORZA DEL DESTINO
    (pp. 127-140)

    In musical theater, three “systems” of communication act simultaneously, each operating in accordance with its own nature and laws. Their combination, however, is something more than their sum total or simple juxtaposition. These “systems” are:

    1.the dramatic action, in which the events on stage unfold;

    2.the verbal organizationof the dialogue, which embodies the interaction between characters onstage and is in most cases structured in lines and verses; and

    3.the music, by which I mean not merely the singing of the poetic text but also the instrumental part(s) that move with it. The function of the music is twofold: it...

  13. CHAPTER 8 VERDI’S MUSICAL THOUGHT: AN EXAMPLE FROM MACBETH
    (pp. 141-152)

    I should first clarify the terms of the discussion; what I mean bymusical thoughtwhen writing about a composer such as Verdi, whose production—at least to a casual observer—will suggest no association with either philosophical matters or cultural movements (and still less with manifestos): a body of work that even today is often referred to as “popular,” in both the best and the most derogatory senses of that word. What is more, the object of my discussion always liked to portray himself as a man devoid of culture, as the preeminentmusicus practicus, without intellectual pretensions, strongly...

  14. CHAPTER 9 THE MUSICO-DRAMATIC CONCEPTION OF GLUCK’S ALCESTE (1767)
    (pp. 153-161)

    Alcesteholds a rather unusual place in the history of music. The preface tο the opera, signed by Gluck and written under the strong influence of Calzabigi, is cited time and again;¹ but interest in the prose that precedes the printed score is not matched by an equally lively concern for what follows—the opera itself. Why is this?

    The preface toAlcesteoffers all the advantages that writings similar in character and function carry with them: the clear, firm adoption of a stance, in turn clearly set against what had until then been taken and practiced as normal in...

  15. CHAPTER 10 NOTES ON BELLINI’S POETICS: APROPOS OF I PURITANI
    (pp. 162-175)

    Critical evaluation of that aspect of Italian culture usually calledmelodramma—the operas written by nineteenth-century Italian composers—represents a vast, unexplored territory for musicology. This statement might perhaps seem paradoxical given the extent of the repertory and its amazing, ever-increasing vitality (we need think only of the recurring “renaissances,” “revivals,” and “rehabilitations” that make up the programs of the world’s great opera houses), but it will be very clear to anyone who cares to glance at the bibliography devoted to this area or to the work of its most significant figures—a bibliography markedly lacking in serious scholarship. And...

  16. CHAPTER 11 BELLINI AND PAISIELLO: FURTHER DOCUMENTS ON THE BIRTH OF I PURITANI
    (pp. 176-192)

    The creation of a work of art may sometimes remain mysterious because of lack of information on the compositional act that gave it birth. When documents exist, however, they can illuminate the various phases through which the opera took its final shape: the basic criteria, the working method, the ideas and decisions that the author established during the creative act. But a document concerned with the composing process can also shed light, if only indirectly, on the larger significance of a work and on its exact historical position. It is easier that all this happens when the artist is constrained...