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Thread: A "Contemporary's" Impression of Opera

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    Moderator Huilunsoittaja's Avatar
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    Default A "Contemporary's" Impression of Opera

    Please see the link below. A chapter from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, consisting of a description of a night at the Opera in 1812 Russia.

    http://www.online-literature.com/tol...and_peace/154/

    How do you opera fans feel about it? What is your impression? When I first read it, I thought it very intriguing. This was a man who really lived in the time of opera, who knew how others around were understanding it and feeling it. It's almost as if Tolstoy was... well, you read it yourself.

    And by the way, can anyone guess what opera is being performed by the scarce details of plot, setting, etc.?
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    Senior Member Air's Avatar
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    I believe that the opera referred to in Book Eight, Chapter IX of Tolstoy's War and Peace actually reflects a conglomerate of operatic experiences that Tolstoy drew from rather than a single work. According to Joel Hewett, Verdi, Meyebeer, and Gounod were primary influences as was as Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment and probably a couple of Rossini and Bellini operas as well.
    Last edited by Air; Jun-19-2011 at 03:53.
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Opera also comes up repeatedly in The Count of Monte Cristo where it seems it was more "the place to be seen", and to meet up with friends / gossip, then as a cultural or artistic experience.
    -Ian

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    It must be War and Peace, isnt the whole book about that opera?

    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Rousseau

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    There are a lot of such opera scenes in XIXth century prose. The most recent I did read was in Father Goriot by Balzac. Like rgz wrote, it often has more to do with meeting people and seeing them than with the music. Btw, I don't like Natasha from War and Peace, what a annoying character. Almost as annoying as the book itself HO HO HO

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    Tolstoy doesn't bash opera nearly as much in that passage from "War and Peace" as he does in his late essay "What is Art?", where he devotes an entire chapter ridiculing Wagner and his Ring. He notoriously also calls Shakespeare, Beethoven and himself as bad/lowly artists.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    Btw, I don't like Natasha from War and Peace, what a annoying character.
    There's no character in War and Peace who's not annoying. Come to think of it, there's almost no character in any Tolstoy story or novel who's not annoying. Even he himself comes across as pretty annoying in his autobiographical works.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lipatti View Post
    There's no character in War and Peace who's not annoying. Come to think of it, there's almost no character in any Tolstoy story or novel who's not annoying. Even he himself comes across as pretty annoying in his autobiographical works.
    Levin in Anna Karenina isn't really annoying imo, nor is Kitty. In fact, I find Levin particularly interesting as something of an early stab at a Ayn Rand style character (though with more depth than the typical Rand uber-mensch).

    That said, Tolstoy is no Dostoevsky.
    -Ian

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    Quote Originally Posted by rgz View Post
    Levin in Anna Karenina isn't really annoying imo, nor is Kitty. In fact, I find Levin particularly interesting as something of an early stab at a Ayn Rand style character (though with more depth than the typical Rand uber-mensch).

    That said, Tolstoy is no Dostoevsky.
    Well thank goodness for that.
    Natalie

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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post
    Well thank goodness for that.
    You don't like Dostoevsky? "The Idiot" is really really great and if you haven't read it, I strenuously urge you to before coming to a judgement on his body of work.
    I think I made a comment in another thread that it would be particularly well suited for an operatic adaptation

    Ah yes, here:

    I just finished Dostoevsky's "The Idiot" and holy cow it would be great as an opera (obviously with extreme abridgement to plot and characters). The Prince would be a tenor, Nastasia would be a coloratura, Aglaya a lyric soprano, Rogozhin as a baritone. I can damn near picture the whole staging in my head, with the climactic quartet being the show stopper. Nastasia's madness would be such a plum role for a certain French soprano.

    Ah, I see on the wikipedia page that it almost became an opera
    The Russian composer Nikolai Myaskovsky planned an opera on The Idiot during World War I, but did not complete it.

    I know this is the opera forum and not the literature forum, but I highly recommend this book. Best of all, it's available for free on Project Gutenberg for those of you with e-readers.
    Last edited by rgz; Jun-19-2011 at 22:35.
    -Ian

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rgz View Post
    You don't like Dostoevsky? "The Idiot" is really really great and if you haven't read it, I strenuously urge you to before coming to a judgement on his body of work.
    I think I made a comment in another thread that it would be particularly well suited for an operatic adaptation

    Ah yes, here:
    I don't mind Dostoyevsky but I LOVE Tolstoy. I'm just glad they are different.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member StlukesguildOhio's Avatar
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    Unfortunately, Tolstoy held far too dearly to the belief in the notion of the artist (himself) as prophet. Opera would surely fall alongside Beethoven and Shakespeare as something less than visionary. I'll stick with Oscar Wilde, Flaubert, and Proust.

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    Well, it seemed to me that Tolstoy was making fun of opera, because Natasha was a good singer, but she was confused by the standards of Society. Her final sentence in that chapter proves her to be won over. I thought it was funny that the music wasn't at all described, just the motions and visuals, as if that's all opera is.

    Of what I've heard, Dostoevsky is much harder to read because his language is more formal. Tolstoy has been really easy for me to read, the stories are just really long. War and Peace is over 1400 pages long.
    "Music is an art, and art is forever. Music should not succumb to fashion, which is passing and forgotten."
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    Senior Member crmoorhead's Avatar
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    Does anyone ever go to an opera in an opera as part of the plot? Just wondering..... :P

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    Senior Member Air's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by crmoorhead View Post
    Does anyone ever go to an opera in an opera as part of the plot? Just wondering..... :P
    Nixon in China.
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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