A journal of turn-of-the-century theatre

Issue 1 - Summer 2010

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Book Reviews


Fauser, Annegret and Mark Everist, eds. Music, Theater, and Cultural Transfer: Paris, 1830-1914. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009. Pp. 439. ISBN 0-226-23926-8

Arline Cravens, Saint Louis University

This collection represents contributions to the international symposium on "The Institutions of Opera in Paris from the July Revolution to the Dreyfus Affair" held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, 24-26 September 2004.  Through a study of the unifying theme of French opera, the 15 essays focus on the vital issues of "institution" and "culture" with respect to lyric theater in the long nineteenth century.  In the introduction, editors Annegret Fauser and Mark Everist establish that "Nothing was more central to cultural life in nineteenth-century Paris than the lyric stage," a statement that serves as the basis for this volume.

      The six articles in Part I address the problematic aspect of institution in the understanding of French opera and the influence of individuals involved in its production.  The noteworthy opening essay by Olivier Bara examines the evolving role of singers, such as Jean-Baptiste Chollet, in Opéra-Comique during the July Monarchy.  In her critical inquiry of the position of the composer Fromental Halévy in the Paris Opéra, Diana Hallman reveals the complexities of the relationship between the artist and his public image.  Katharine Ellis describes the fractures within French opera as an institution through an examination of Théâtre-Lyrique during a time of state subsidy and private enterprise.  Mark Everist underscores the complexities of the artistic vision and professional mission for the composer-manager Jacques Offenbach in the development of the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens.  Closing Part I, Lesley Wright emphasizes the impact of Léon Carvalho as a central figure of the Opéra-Comique, while David Grayson brings to light the influence of Victorin de Joncières' 1880 grim assessment of the state of music in France. 

      Part II focuses on the performance of lyric theater and its integration into the culture of French opera. Two contributions in this section provide a close examination of surviving documents, such as Sarah Hibberd's article on Auber's Gustave III and Arnold Jacobshagen's discussion of Halévy's La juive.  Rebecca Harris-Warrick's essay on the translation of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and Annegret Fauser's detailed analysis of revisions in Wagner's Tannhäuser question the impact of performance space and audience specificity on opera production in Paris.  Part II concludes with Marian Smith's comparison of the ballets La sylphide and Les sylphides, and Peter Lamothe's investigation of genre at the Théâtre-National-Lyrique.

      The three essays of the final section address the transfer of cultural materials from the Midi and Spain to Paris.  While Kerry Murphy explores the authenticity of Bizet's depiction of Spanish culture in Carmen, Ralph Locke uncovers the transformation of Spanish songs in the score and Steven Huebner examines the opera singer Emma Calvé and her quest for authenticity in performances.   

     The concluding Appendix by Alicia Levin provides an overview of music theaters in Paris.  The thoroughness and attention to detail in the Appendix is reflective of the scholarship found throughout the essays.  Of particular significance are those by Olivier Bara, Mark Everist and Annegret Fauser, which not only open up the lines of inquiry concerning the reciprocal relationship of institution and culture, but also deftly establish that institutions are culture.  This volume serves as an invaluable resource and provides an essential contribution to research on nineteenth-century French lyric theater and culture.