Saturday, 14 April 2012

New perspective on late Italian opera - Alfredo Catalani

Alfredo Catalani and Giacomo Puccini, both born in Lucca, four years apart. Everyone knows Puccini. Yet Catalani was a respected composer whose last work, La Wally,  predates Manon Lescaut. Two new publications, editd by David Chandler, bring together all the sources on Catalani for the first time, accessible to English language readers. Our perceptions of later Italian opera are dominated by Puccini. These books add a whole new perspective, on the period and on the way composers' reputations are created.

The First Lives of Alfredo Catalani and Alfredo Catalani : Composer of Lucca  (ed. David Chandler) are reviewed by Robert Hugill here in Opera Today. You'll need both books as they are companion pieces, each built around the two major accounts of Catalani's work.  All the sources are here, evaluated and objectively analyzed. Chandler shows how Puccini's publishers, Ricordi, promoted him heavily, yet Catalani remained highly regarded into the 1930's. Then superficial received wisdom set in, reshaping popular opinion. It's a cautionary tale: we only know what we're taught to know. All the more reason why these books offer an alternative approach bto the period. On the basis of the recording recommendations in these books I've got hold of all the Catalani's CDs I can. Scores are also available. There's more to Catalani than La Wally and more to La Wally than you'd expect.

Also essential reading : David Chandler's superb essay "Bewteen Heaven and Earth" in the London Magazine on La Wally, which is much more than a review of the opera. Also read Chandler's article "Alfredo Catalani: the Great In-betweener"here.  But read the review in Opera Today , get the books and listen to the music!

You might also like my piece on Das Blaue Licht, about a free spirited woman who lives wild in the mountains and has visionary relationships with supernatural forces.  I knew the film long before I knew the opera, but immediately recognized La Wally as part of this Romantic - and particularly Alpine - tradition.

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