The Forschungsinstitut für Musiktheater in Thurnau launched the peer-reviewed, open-access electronic journal Act: Zeitschrift für Musik & Performance (ISSN 2191-253X) in 2010. This international interdisciplinary publication provides a platform for essays, reviews, and columns at the intersections of musicology, theater studies, dance studies, and media studies. Act places particular value on methodological plurality and on supporting young academics.
Appearing twice a year, each issue will comprise two to five essays and an editorial, along with a review section (in the form of review essays) and a section for columns and announcements. The inaugural issue was edited by Anno Mungen and Knut Holtsträter.
On this Columbus Day let’s look back to 1892, when the Milan publisher Francesco Vallardi celebrated the quadricentennial of the explorer’s first voyage with Albo di onoranze internazionali a Cristoforo Colombo, a lavish 406-page volume that presented reproductions of handwritten tributes by diplomats, scholars, and other luminaries.
When the call went out for contributions Verdi’s Otello had recently premiered to great critical acclaim. For his offering he penned a short excerpt from the opera (below).
Darwin’s On the origin of species and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, both completed in 1859, share an articulation of the shift from one worldview to another: from change as a repetitive circular movement to development as a cyclic process. Darwin’s treatise is more than a scientific theory—it is an aesthetic account of the wonders and beauty of nature. Wagner’s opera is more than a subjective work of art—it clearly reflects dimensions of evolution akin to scientific explanations of the phenomenon.
This according to “Darwin and Wagner: Evolution and aesthetic appreciation” by Edvin Østergaard (The journal of aesthetic education XLV/2 [summer 2011] pp. 83-108). Below, the unresolved harmonic tensions of the opera’s prelude create (in Østergaard’s words) a feeling of ongoingness, unfinishedness, and incertitude in a performance by Zubin Mehta and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester.
Filed under Opera, Science
George Enescu’s use of elements of Romanian traditional music is well known; his most popular works today, the Rhapsodies roumaines, attest to his enthusiasm for his homeland’s music. Less known is his interest in the Turkish melodic type makam (pl. makamlar) and its influence on his masterpiece, the opera Œdipe.
In this work, Enescu used three makamlar: Müsteâr, for music associated with the characters Creon and Jocasta; Hisâr, for the motif of fate, and Nişâbûr, for the motif of justification.
This according to “Modale Strukturen in Annäherung zur orientalischen Kirchenmusik im Oedip von George Enescu” by Adriana Şirli, an essay included in Enesciana II-III: Georges Enesco, musicien complexe (Bucureşti: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, 1981).
Today is Enescu’s 130th birthday! Below, an excerpt from the 1970 production of Œdipe by the Opera Naţională Bucureşti; above, the Enescu statue in front of the opera house. For more Enescu iconography, see Music on money.
Ricordi’s Disposizioni sceniche (1856–93) reflect the nineteenth-century concept of definitive operatic stagings. These manuals describe the scenery of each opera through plans and diagrams, and outline the entrances, exits, gestures, movements, and positions of the characters; they also provide a list of stage accessories. In most cases, the date and location of the described performance are indicated on the title page.
This practice was continued by the Casa Musicale Sonzogno, which issued seven Messe in scena manuals between 1894 and 1922; the Italian market for them dried up in the 1920s, when the concept of an ideal performance as a reproducible model waned and directorial creativity was increasingly valued.
This according to “The Messa in scena of the Casa Musicale Sonzogno: An iconography of stage direction at the end of the nineteenth century” by Laura Citti (Music in art XXXIV/1–2, pp. 245–253). Above, a sketch made for the Società degli Scenografi della Scala e del Teatro Lirico Internazionale for the Café Momus scene in Leoncavallo’s La bohème; inset, a page from Sonzogno’s Messa in scena for Massenet’s Manon (click to enlarge).
In The saint of Bleecker Street, which earned Menotti the 1955 Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, the microcosm of Little Italy suggests a new reflection on questions of difference and integration, with connections to metaphysical and religious ideas. As a metaphor for American society, the opera symbolizes all multicultural societies and reveals the polysemic character of Menotti’s works.
This according to “Immigration, différence et intégration dans The consul et The saint of Bleecker Street de Gian Carlo Menotti” by Walter Zidaric (La revue LISA/LISA e-journal II/3  pp. 188–200).
Today is Menotti’s 100th birthday! Above, the 2011 Dicapo Opera production of The saint of Bleecker Street; below, the opera’s finale from New York City Opera’s 1978 production.
In May 2011 the Library of Congress launched National jukebox: Historical recordings from the Library of Congress, an Internet resource that makes historical sound recordings available to the public for free. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives. These recordings were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings.
At launch, the Jukebox already included over 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other U.S. labels, including Columbia, Okeh, and some Universal Music Group-owned labels. The selections range from jazz and popular styles to ethnic traditions to Western classical works, including opera arias.
Above, a Victor acoustical recording session ca. 1920.
In an experiment, 250 adults were offered a glass of wine in return for answering a few questions about its taste. After clearing their palates, each received a glass of either cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and was taken to one of five rooms: four that each featured a different type of music playing in a continuous loop, and a silent one serving as a control. Participants were asked to spend about five minutes sipping the wine, and were told not to converse.
A smaller pilot study had determined the four types of music:
- “powerful and heavy” (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina burana)
- “subtle and refined” (“Вальс цветов” [Val’s cvetov/Waltz of the flowers] from Cajkovskij’s Щелкунчик [Ŝelkunčik/Nutcracker])
- “zingy and refreshing” (Nouvelle Vague’s Just can’t get enough)
- “mellow and soft” (Michael Brook’s Breakdown)
After drinking the wine and listening to the music, participants were asked to rate the wine’s taste on a scale from zero to ten in the categories represented by the music types. In each case, participants perceived the wine in a manner consistent with the music they had listened to while drinking it.
This according to “Wine & song: The effect of background music on the taste of wine” by Adrian C. North (Wineanorak, 2008). In an earlier experiment, documented in “The influence of in-store music on wine selections” (Journal of applied psychology LXXXIV/2 [April 1999] pp. 271–276), North and two colleagues demonstrated that playing music identified with a particular country in a wine shop had a positive influence on sales of wine from that country.
For a related post, see As bitter as a trombone. Below, Placido Domingo shares observations on wine and synesthesia from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.
Filed under Food, Science
Scholars have long known that Wagner had a deep and lasting interest in Buddhism; less known are the specific insights garnered from Buddhism that are manifested in Parsifal. The key to understanding this connection is the enigmatic figure of Kundry.
Contrary to the common interpretation of Kundry as the incarnation of the will, and in light of Wagner’s admiration for Schopenhauer, she may be seen as the personification of desire. Desiring, which is different from wanting, is a fundamental aspect of Buddhism. As Buddha explained in his very first sermon, desire is the cause of suffering (dukkha). Buddhist teaching holds that suffering can only be overcome when desire is vanquished.
Kundry appears in three forms in Parsifal; these correspond to the three forms of desire in Buddhism. This interpretation aligns the work’s Christian, pagan, and Buddhist symbolism as an expression of the inner way that is shared by all who tread the path of religious mysticism.
This according to “Kundry: The personification of the role of desire in the holy life” by Cittasamvaro (Phra Pandit) (Wagnerspectrum III/2  pp. 97–114). Above, Christa Ludwig as Kundry; below, Jordanka Derilova in the role.