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From Fiction to Libretto

Irving, Hawthorne, and James as Opera

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Nassim Balestrini

This study introduces the reader to the mostly unknown world of libretto adaptations of nineteenth-century American fiction. The analysis of stage works based on Washington Irving’s «Rip Van Winkle», Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and Henry James’s Washington Square explores a largely unexamined area of the reception history of these authors and narratives. As opera and drama have been interlinked throughout American theater history, the discussion of adaptations will include multiple types of spoken and musical theater. Appendices documenting the existence of over 350 stage works based on nineteenth-century American fiction further illustrate how librettists, composers, and playwrights have participated in the endeavor to understand and contextualize literary texts within cultural history.
Contents: Libretto studies as part of interdisciplinary cultural studies – Opera in American drama, theater, and music historiography – Stage adaptations of literary classics as expressions of national identity – «Rip Van Winkle», The Scarlet Letter, and Washington Square between national and universal mythology, between social affirmation and political satire – The role of stage adaptations in the reception history of literary texts.