Music, Reviews

Review: Gossett, Divas and Scholars

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A recent review by virtuoso pianist and music critic Charles Rosen has much to say about Philip Gossett’s latest work, Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera. Rosen writes for the New York Review of Books:
“To my knowledge, there is no other book like it. No one else has treated an important genre of half a century in its social and political setting, its stylistic development, together with a detailed history of its dissemination and performance … Along with occasional indulgence in what the author calls ‘that backstage gossip indigenous to the opera house,’ all this is accomplished in a prose style sensible, often original, provocative, learned, technical but lucid, and always entertaining—and, most remarkably, in only 603 succinct pages.”
The review continues: “The achievement was possible not only because Gossett is our leading authority on nineteenth-century Italian opera and the principle figure in establishing the new editions of Rossini and Verdi, but also because he has been actively engaged for some years as a consultant to productions of operas in Italy and America, advising on the problems created by the multiple versions that exist for most of these operas as they were rewritten for different singers in different cities, and also on the lost art of adding ornamentation to the vocal parts.”
Filled with Philip Gossett’s personal experiences of triumphant—and even failed—performances and suffused with his towering and tonic passion for music, Divas and Scholars is a dazzling and beguiling account of how opera comes to the stage.
Read an excerpt.