From the Globe Theatre to the World Wide Web
Edited By Stefani Brusberg-Kiermeier and Jörg Helbig
Christoph Clausen (Berlin): Shakespeare in opera -89
CHRISTOPH CLAUSEN Shakespeare in Opera 1. Where's the bard? We'll want to forget Shakespeare […] We'll have only vague reminiscences, pale traces of texts will remain: for instance, we'll know – but where from? – that the embroidered handkerchief Otello gave belonged to his mother; and wasn't she a magician? We'll believe to have known that Emilia has slept, perhaps, with the moor and that this is the reason of Iago's fury. We won't remember very well. Forgetting the play's text will nourish the music. […] We'll have read; we will belong to that cultural complex which turns the tragedy of Othello into a myth, where images, words, songs, and melodies blend. (Clément 1976, 79, my translation). Catherine Clément is writing about Verdi's Otello, and her insight is vital: Forgetting Shakespeare in Shakespearean opera is both a necessity and an impossibility. An audience's reluctance to break free from Shakespeare is a sure recipe for spending an evening in outraged agony. A composer's unwillingness to break free from Shakespeare is an equally sure recipe for dramaturgical disaster, the opera crushed by the sheer fame of the play. This was the fate of Lawrence Collingwood's Macbeth (1934): "Instead of taking Shakespeare by the neck, Collingwood treats him with such respect that we are tempted to concentrate on the words and wish the music would not keep interfering" (Winton Dean, quoted in Porter 1980, 753). It should not really need saying, but in view of the moralistic streak which still lingers on in commentaries on...
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