Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera

Roger Parker writes:

Gossett’s extended narrative is consistently gentle on scholars (hard-working, patient, unassuming truth-seekers), but peppered with extravagant images of aberrant singers. Although a few of them (Marilyn Horne above all) are praised with piercing cries, many more are lampooned or worse. Maria Malibran was ‘the very model of a capricious prima donna’; modern singers often cause difficulties because their ‘egos need constant stroking’; worst of all was 19th-century Italian opera, ‘where tempers are hotter and prima donnas more imperious’. This is emphatically a scholar’s tale, and mostly it’s one of conquest: of the way in which, over the last forty or so years, the repertory of 19th-century Italian opera has been enriched and expanded (not always the same thing) by new editions of well-known titles, and by exhumations of works that had languished in the densest of dense obscurity. For all but the very earliest of those forty years, Gossett has been the leading figure in this movement, which means that he has been personally responsible for spreading quite significant amounts of musical pleasure around the globe.

(LRB 13 December 2007)

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