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The Ultimate Art: Essays Around And About Opera
by David Littlejohn
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From Publishers Weekly
Critic-novelist Littlejohn, who teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley, is on such easy terms with history, art, literature and architecture, as well as music, and writes such compelling, expressive prose that this collection of 16 essays, reprinted from San Francisco Opera magazine, is a great pleasure to read. His hope of being "sufficiently engaging to lead readers to listen more carefully to the music" is immoderately modest given the scope of erudite opinion and factual material here, especially his 78-page introduction surveying the major and secondary opera houses worldwide and repertories past and present. Opposed to canon, Littlejohn's judgments about specific works are never "altogether closed" and he "potentially likes" most of the operas in the standard repertory. His formula for a "satisfactory" opera experience comprises these elements: the right opera, the right production and the right spectator. Opera buffastet itals/eed , for example, can be turned into "silver (if not gold) given the right production"; at the same time, Littlejohn does not countenance "directorial conceit alien to the score" as in Peter Sellers's stagings of the Mozart-da Ponte operas. New readings, though, are welcomed, for, after all, "The Ring is ours now, not Wagner's." Photos.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Most of these pieces originally appeared as background essays in the program book of the San Francisco Opera. They deal with specific issues, such as a survey of 20th-century operas based on Shakespeare. While some of these topics may seem a bit recondite for the average reader, the introductory essay more than justifies purchase of the book. It sets forth a down-to-earth aesthetics of opera based on a consideration of what goes into an ideal performance: "the right opera, the right production and the right spectator." The "Suggestions for Further Reading" section is a delight. Littlejohn has written opera reviews for the London Times and the Wall Street Journal , and possesses a sanguine and broadminded sensibility. His writing is a pleasure to read and reread. Highly recommended for serious music collections.
- E. Gaub, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Washington Post Book World
"These essays . . . celebrate the flourishing state of opera in America, especially the expansion of the repertoire in recent years: revivals of such overlooked works as Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel, Massenet's Cherubin, and Handel's Guistino and performances of such new ones as Philip Glass's Satyagraha and Krzysztof Pendericki's The Black Mask."
Anyone who cares about opera will find The Ultimate Art a thoroughly engaging book. David Littlejohn's essays are exciting, provocative, sometimes even outrageous. They reflect his deep love of opera--that exotic, extravagant, and perpetually popular hybrid performing art form--and his fascination with the many worlds from which it sprang.
From its seventeenth-century beginnings, opera has been decried by its detractors for its elitism, its artifice, its absurd costliness, and its social irrelevance. But Littlejohn makes us see that opera embraces an extraordinary amount of intense human emotion and experience, Western culture, and individual psychology. It is also the most complex, challenging, and demanding form of public performance ever developed--at its most spectacular it pulls together in one evening a play, a concert, a ballet, and a pageant, not to mention an exhibition of painting and sculpture. Every opera is a veritable piece of cultural history.
The book begins with "The Difference Is They Sing," a potentially controversial essay on the nature of opera and its place in modern culture. From there Littlejohn goes on to consider everything from "Sex and Religion in French Opera" to "What Peter Sellars Did to Mozart." He tells us about every major staging of Wagner's Ring cycle since 1876, the troubled fate (in legend, history, and opera) of the city of Nuremberg, and the volatile collaboration of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
Littlejohn presents these and many other fascinating moments in the history of opera with conviction and flair. By the end of the book the reader may very well be persuaded that opera is indeed the ultimate art.
From the Inside Flap
"A marvelous tribute to the modern history of opera."--Lofti Mansouri, General Director, San Francisco Opera
From the Back Cover
"A marvelous tribute to the modern history of opera." (Lofti Mansouri, General Director, San Francisco Opera)
About the Author
David Littlejohn, who teaches in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has been writing opera reviews for over twenty years--first for his "Critic at Large" programs on PBS, then for the Times (London), and now for the Wall Street Journal. Among his books are Black on White: A Critical Survey of Writing by American Negroes (1966); The André Gide Reader (1971); Dr. Johnson and Noah Webster: Two Men and Their Dictionaries (1971); Architect: The Life and Work of Charles W. Moore (1984); and two novels, The Man Who Killed Mick Jagger (1977) and Going to California (1981).
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