Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera
by Philip Gossett
This title of this book tells the reader exactly what to expect. It is part musicological discussion—opera research, scholarship, and performing editions—and part current backstage…well, I won’t say gossip, but…backstage insider information.
One thing I take away from this book is a better understanding of why it’s so difficult to establish definitive, “authentic” versions of 19th century Italian opera (and others). Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi revised their operas pretty much every time they were associated with a performance. Music was adapted to the language and tastes of the audience (all of them did French and Italian operas), including the types of spectacle the audience expected (ballet in France) and the current trend in vocal ornamentation. Sometimes music was rewritten to accommodate a diva or divo. Sometimes, especially in Rossini, entire arias, choruses, or duets were given a new text, and subsequently, new orchestrations to reflect that text. All of these variants render the expression, “what the composer intended” moot at best. At the very least, the lesson learned here is that a lot more qualification may be needed before the “composers intent” can be stated with authority (if at all).