- Musical Theatre in Europe 1830–1945 ed. by Michela Niccolai and Clair Rowden
This collection of essays, despite its generic title Musical Theatre in Europe, brings together a series of contributions that focus specifically on popular European musical theatre, primarily from the nineteenth century. The volume is part of a growing field of nineteenth-century popular music studies, and its greatest value is in calling attention to works, genres, theatres, and trends that until recently have received little scholarly consideration. Nineteenth-century European musical theatre comprised a vast number of different genres and venues and included several extraordinarily popular 'light' genres. As the editors themselves note in their introduction, nineteenth-century genres were fluid, with frequent interactions between 'high' art and entertainment, subsidized and commercial stages. Understanding one facet of musical theatre of any period depends on a knowledge of all concurrent genres and practices. These essays for the most part offer preliminary glimpses into the complex theatrical world of nineteenth-century Europe, focusing on specific works, genres, and theatres rather than examining cross-currents or the cross-pollenization of popular entertainment with 'high art' theatre.
Almost all of the essays in this volume stem from a conference. While several essays provide context and perspective, others are short, sometimes superficial glimpses into narrow topics. The articles have also been published in their original languages, which include English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian (all have English abstracts). The array of topics is somewhat haphazard, again because of the volume's origins in a conference that had an open call for papers; and indeed, the editors acknowledge that this is far from being a comprehensive study. Nevertheless, several of the chapters complement each other nicely, with different views of a given topic.
Operetta receives by far the most weight, with thirteen of the nineteen essays devoted to different manifestations of the genre in different countries. This no doubt follows from operetta having a more extensive history of scholarly research than other popular genres. Both Stephanie Schroedter and Jacek Blaszkiewicz propose new approaches to Offenbach research. While most chapters mention dance only in passing, Shroedter's essay demonstrates [End Page 565] that Offenbach's music was literally suffused with dance rhythms. Some, she argues, were choreographed and made visible, others were not danced but rather were only audible, serving to underscore the narrative, delineate character, and contribute to the audience's understanding of characters' emotions. Schroedter provides a vast number of examples of dance used by Offenbach in myriad ways along with an in-depth example of how dance works in the score, staging, and narrative of Orphée aux enfers. Blaszkiewicz examines Offenbach's use of street cries in Mesdames de la Halle (1858), which he reads as a music-theatrical memorial to old Paris, then quickly vanishing under Haussmann's transformation of the cityscape. Offenbach's score includes direct quotations of cries notated and published a year before the work's premiere—a volume received by critics as a nostalgic tribute to a lost way of life—and was created alongside several literary works that also dealt with the changing urban landscape.
Clair Rowden and José Ignacio Suárez García turn their attention to parodies. Rowden explores the rich history of Faust parodies that graced the Paris stage in 1869, moving from opera to opéra-bouffe, to comédie-vaudeville and café-concert parody, and finally to the revue fin d'année. Her study offers a window into the complex cultural landscape of the time by tracing intertextual references across genres and theatres, both elite and popular. Suárez García's chapter looks at parodies of Wagner's dramas, with analyses of three different works that parodied Lohengrin for early twentieth-century Spanish audiences. With Marion Linhardt's chapter, we move to Viennese operetta for an exploration of the different types of spaces that shaped the production of the genre, from the stages themselves to the shifting urban socio-political...