AMSGNY Meetings

AMS-GNY Winter Meeting

The following papers will be presented at the AMS-GNY Winter meeting on February 16th at the Metropolitan Opera Guild along with a roundtable discussion on the topic of opera education.


Victoria Aschheim
A Poet Writing Music in “Richard Wagner and Tannhäuser in Paris”

Charles Baudelaire’s 1861 essay, “Richard Wagner and Tannhäuser in Paris,” struck nineteenth-century Europe’s nascent culture industry with the force of an exclamation point.  Baudelaire launched Wagnerism in France.  In the essay Baudelaire records his ecstatic experience of listening in 1860 to instrumental and choral excerpts from The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, Tristan and Isolde, and Lohengrin.

Accounting for the turn of artist to critic and measuring Wagner’s music against criteria for a well-organized poem, Baudelaire opens the prospect of music as a challenge to poetry.  Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe says that Baudelaire “writes Wagner.”  I propose that Baudelaire phrases, rephrases, and punctuates Wagner, marking the music’s effect of sensuality, aiding understanding of the music with knowledge.  I posit punctuation as a metaphor for Baudelaire’s encounter with Wagner’s music, with the contest of expressivity and articulacy between music and the written word at stake.

Robert Butts
Rigoletto and Otello: The Anguish and Tragedy in the Self-Belief in Being Different

Otello and Rigoletto seem worlds apart.  One is a lowly court jester, the other a hero.   Both appear self-confident, one earning the respect of those he leads, the other earning the disdain of those he derides.   Yet, both of these characters suffer with self-image issues that contribute to their decisions which feel logical to them, yet lead to tragic consequences.   While the issues are not overly stressed in the operas, they are touched upon and provide glimpses into the impact of believing oneself to be different, issues arising from their awareness of their physical appearance.   One is deformed, the other a racial outsider.   One fears the worst for the person he loves the most, leading him to conspiracy that results in his daughter’s death.   The other fears the worst of the one he loves, thereby believing in a conspiracy that leads to his wife’s death at his own hands.   One is the confidante of the person he wishes to betray, the other betrayed by one he considers his confidante.  As the title characters of operas composed forty years apart, Otello and Rigoletto are nevertheless united in the deeper recesses of one of the most basic of human fears – that of being too different, of being an outsider.

Michele Cabrini
“'We Gotta Get out of This Place': Dramatic Pacing and Trapped Characters in Gluck’s Telemaco”

Gluck’s Telemaco (Vienna, 1765) represents a perplexing opera owing to its unusual setting and dramaturgical features. An opera seria in two acts, Telemaco features Circe’s magic island as a closed, static domain where everyone is her captive and where Telemachus has landed in search of his father Ulysses. With few exceptions, scholarship has misunderstood the opera, dismissing Coltellini’s libretto as “ill-shaped” and Gluck’s music as uneven in its odd juxtaposition of forward-looking and conservative traits.

This paper reconsiders the dramatic pacing of Act 1, recently understood along the lines of a stark societal clash—traditional da capo arias symbolizing Circe’s unchanging realm and “progressive,” through-composed forms representing the open-mindedness of new-generation characters.  I make a case for Act 1 representing the island as a psychological vortex in which the characters discover their inner selves. Whereas the act’s outer edges unfold quickly, the middle’s deliberate pace allows for psychological introspection: the overall pace thus reflects the characters’ psychological state as captives who are stuck on an island where action is deceptive and leads nowhere.

Barbara Hanning
Powerless Spirit: Echo on the Musical Stage of the Late Renaissance

"Powerless Spirit" explores the role of Echo as a literary trope and theatrical device on the musical stage of the late Italian Renaissance and in early opera.  Examples are drawn from works by Jacopo Peri and Claudio Monteverdi, among others.

Jennifer Jones-Wilson
The New Tenor in the New World: Opera glasses, Ear trumpets, and “la voix de poitrine.”

When the New Orleans French Opera Company returned to New York City in 1845, it presented a landmark season, which not only introduced a new style of singing, but also premiered many _grands opéras_, stirring a debate between pro-Italian opera aficionados and the proponents of French opera.  The arrival of tenor Gabriel Arnaud (1814?-?), who used a new vocal technique, caused a dynamic exchange within the New York press.  He appears to have been the earliest tenor in the city’s history to use “la voix de poitrine” in his upper register and to employ the dramatic and powerful high C.  This paper traces the reception of Arnaud and the opera company through the lively altercation between two New York dailies, the French-language _Courrier des États-Unis_ and the _Evening Gazette_.

Ji Yeon Lee
Critical Reflections on Robert Lepage’s Staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle At the Metropolitan Opera

From its premiere over the 2010-12 seasons, Robert Lepage’s technology-driven staging of the Ring at the Metropolitan Opera has engendered fierce debate among critics. Despite some positive reviews, published critical reactions have been far more negative: generally speaking, the theatrical coup created by 24 movable planks, dubbed ‘the machine,’ is considered dramatically unsuccessful, distracting and ineffective. It creates intrusive noise during musically quiet moments, dwarfs the singers, raises safety issues, and is far less helpful acoustically than opera sets should be. Even worse is the absence of story, as the director overlooks a nuanced reading of Wagner’s Weltanschauungsmusik in focusing on the visual spectacle. In face of such complicated torrents of opinion on Lepage’s Ring production, the paper aims primarily to examine the multiple conflicts surrounding his stagecraft in both philosophical and aesthetic dimensions.

Catherine Ludlow
The Imp, the Harem, and Dukas's Barbe-bleue

In the opera _Ariane et Barbe-bleue_ (written 1899-1906), Paul Dukas elevates representations of female submission and independence present in Maurice Maeterlinck's original play.  While such archetypes are found in other French depictions of the Bluebeard story, Dukas's opera highlights this dichotomy through a contrast in musical styles: the former wives' constraining modalities versus the relative harmonic independence of the new bride, Ariane.  Notably, Dukas manipulates an antique folk song to become a symbol of the entrapped women, and by extension, of the walls of the castle itself.

For this lecture, the opera's literary themes will be related briefly to Georges Méliès's short film _Barbe-bleue_ (1901), which similarly features an "impish" wife and a harem of ready and willing brides.  The opera _Ariane et Barbe-bleue_ extends these metaphors further, developing a musical interaction between the story's women.  The former wives' archaic tune alternates between harmonic minor and Phrygian; fragments of the melody appear throughout in the opera, often referencing the wives' situation and mental states.  Acting out her own impish will, Ariane provokes the former wives to break the constraints of their antique modalities and find tonal freedom, stressing that truth is only to be found in that which is forbidden.

Robert Waters
Envoicing the Other in Indianist Opera: Separation and Assimilation in Victor Herbert’s Natoma

Although American composer Victor Herbert ultimately changed his mind, he initially claimed that Indianist compositions were not representative of Anglo-Saxon American culture and the idea of a soprano portraying a Native American woman unpalatable. Nevertheless, Herbert eventually composed Natoma, in which he treated four races textually and musically. The opera contains Native American, Spanish, Caucasian, and biracial characters, and explores these factions with racial, national, economic, and religious conflict. The work is set in 1820s California under Spanish rule and shows fixed and emerging social hierarchies, both through the Spanish treatment of Native Americans, and through the encroaching Anglo-American culture’s behavior towards the Spanish. Herbert reflects his quest for a national identity in Anglo-Saxon American music by the othering of races through distinctive musical devices, including the employment of specific types of themes, musical gestures, modes, and melodies. These devices speak to Herbert’s perception of this otherness and of ethnic assimilation, the latter apparent by the Christianization of the Native-American character of Natoma at the opera’s conclusion. Natoma becomes the sacrificial martyr as an allegorical representative of a disappearing culture through religious conversion, and this is similarly reflected in the music.   

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