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94 Comparative Drama of English comedy. All in all, this book manages to maintain a judicious balance between enthusiasm and impartial analysis. Auburn shows how Sheridan’s work relates to comedy as a genre, and he successfully dem­ onstrates apart from chronology why Sheridan is the “finest comic play­ wright after Congreve and before Shaw” (p. 178). JUDITH MILHOUS University of Iowa Gary Schmidgall. Literature as Opera. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Pp. xi + 431. $15.95. Gary Schmidgall’s Literature as Opera seeks to “approach the musical values of certain operas from a literary perspective” (p. 24), with a hope “to demonstrate that a comparison of a source with its operatic ‘edition’ can illuminate the nature of opera as much as strict musical analysis or biography” (p. 23): Why a librettist or composer (or both) chooses a particular novel, short story, drama or poem; what the intellectual environment of the source was; how loyal the musician was to the spirit of his source; how the ambience of source and opera compare—the consideration of such questions gives valu­ able insight into the composer’s personality, his aesthetic, the operatic fashions he labored under, as well as into the distinctive features of literary and musical a rt (p. 23) At the same time Schmidgall attempts to give various kinds of selective coverage: a history of the genre itself from Handel to Britten; at least one example from each of the great opera-producing nations; and differ­ ing kinds of operatic literary sources, including one autobiography— Cellini’s, for the Berlioz opera. It is a lively and interesting book animated by the enthusiasm of its author for his subject. Reviewing it in the New Republic, John Robinson (one of the people, by the way, thanked by Schmidgall in his Preface for reading the book in typescript) said that if Joseph Kerman’s critical austerities in Opera as Drama made one feel guilty about enjoying Puccini or Strauss, then Schmidgall (“Sing along with Gary”) could help to put one at one’s ease, although Robinson goes on to argue that Schmidgall adds an historical dimension to one’s comprehension and enjoyment of operas which are below the artistic level of the greatest ones of Mozart or Verdi or Wagner. This argument seems to me quite specious: what has history to do with one’s (surreptitious?) enjoyment of Lucia di Lammermoor or Madame Butterfly? It is a case, rather, that Schmidgall, consciously or unconsciously, is making an argument for what in the common mind from the nineteenth century on is thought of as Grand Opera: variety of stage action; rhythm and movement; concen­ trated plots; “eloquently passionate characters,” for “passion is at the heart of opera”; musical peaks and high points: the sextet in Lucia (“If ever an author gave a composer an operatic moment, it is this”); the sleep­ walking scene in Verdi’s Macbeth (“It is consistently terrifying . . . the Reviews 95 dark lugubrious turns that remind us of her earlier coloratura, the tenuous reach of her last vacant octave. . . Salome’s “Ich hab ihn gekiisst, deinen Mund,” at the end of Strauss’ Salome (“The two bars following her last words . . . are the quintessence of Decadence; here is ecstasy following in upon itself, crumbling in the abyss at the sound of that most sickening chord in all opera in the second bar”). In short, as these quotations illustrate, the text itself is operatic at certain points. Speaking as one who is somewhat dubious about how exactly high points in opera can be translated into prose discourse which purports to show how the music, precisely and superlatively, displays the emotions of the characters or encapsulates the ambience of that particular moment in the musical drama, I have mixed feelings about some of Schmidgall’s own prose arias. If meaning in serious literature is often complex and debatable, in music and the other fine arts it often becomes positively Delphic. Schmidgall, of course, is aware of this and most of the time his examples are chosen from musical “moments” when sound and sense are surely in a discernible relationship; in other words, his own predilections are for the more simple and direct. In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 94-96
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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