Opera & Interdisciplinary II (UTQ Volume 74, Number 2, Spring 2005)

Opera & Interdisciplinary II (UTQ Volume 74, Number 2, Spring 2005)

ISSN: 0042–0247
E-ISSN: 1712-5278
This Journal is online at: UTQ Online and Project MUSE
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Opera & Interdisciplinary II (UTQ Volume 74, Number 2, Spring 2005)

This second instalment of ‘Opera and Interdisciplinarity’ grew out of a series of symposia we organized this past year called the Opera Exchange, in conjunction with the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto and the Canadian Opera Company (COC). At the request of conference audience members and journal readers, we have brought together expanded versions of some of these presentations on three seemingly very different operas performed by the COC in the 2003–4 season: Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes (1945), Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre (first performed in 1870), and Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff (1893).

While Verdi and Wagner were (exact) contemporaries, their nineteenth century Italian and German operatic worlds seem far removed from that of Britten’s mid-twentieth-century English palette – especially memorable in the orchestral interludes evoking the sea. Yet the three operas discussed here bear more resemblances than their creators’ collective probing or shared concerns about (grand) opera might suggest. Much to our surprise, we found that these presentations made us think twice about national and historical categories. All three works are focused around a socially isolated, indeed excluded, figure: the misanthropistic fisher Grimes, the abandoned son turned outlaw Siegmund, and the foolish, greedy and roundly ridiculed Falstaff. But only for the latter is reintegration into society possible, for only Falstaff is (generically

speaking) a comedy. As Northrop Frye observed in Anatomy of Criticism, ‘The theme of the comic is the integration of society, which usually takes the form of incorporating a central character into it’ (43) – often a character who has been rejected and ejected earlier on. In the opera version, the mocked and reviled fool is welcomed back into the fold, as everyone goes off to dinner together, in accepted Italian fashion. Verdi’s only comedy – in a career as the composer of tragic operas in Italian – Falstaff ‘Italianizes’ Shakespeare’s popular character, giving him new life within a potpourri of musical styles common to the church, opera house, and concert hall. Wagner, working from old German and Icelandic myths and legends, brings to the stage more than one tragic tale in Die Walküre, but Siegmund’s life – and death – both start the opera and drive the actions of all the other characters... (From Back by Request: Editors’ Introduction by Caryl Clark, Linda Hutcheon)

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