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Thread: My reading project: Books and plays adapted into operas

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Default My reading project: Books and plays adapted into operas

    Having just finished Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-morte, the source material for Die Tote stadt, and currently enjoying, Dumas fils’s La Dame aux Camélias, I’ve decided to embark on a reading project of source material for operas. Some I’ve read before and will be re-reading, some will be new to me. This is my list so far, with the proviso that I’m going to give all the all the Walter Scott novels a miss. I enjoyed Ivanhoe in the day, but I’ve never managed to get anywhere with the others.

    Beaumarchais: Le barbier de Séville ou la précaution inutile; La Folle Journée ou le Mariage de Figaro; L'autre Tartuffe, ou La mère coupable (The latter to see for myself what happens with the countess and Cherubino)

    Belasco: the Girl of the golden west (La Fanciulla del west)

    Crabbe: Peter Grimes from “the Borough”

    Dostoyevsky: The gambler

    Goethe: Faust, The sorrows of the young Werther

    Gozzi: Turandot, L'amore delle tre melarance (e-book?)

    Gutiérrez: El trovador, Simón Bocanegra (if I can find the e-books in English, or even at all)

    Hugo: Le Roil s’amuse (Rigoletto); Hernani (Ernani)

    James: The Turn of the Screw

    Mann: Death in Venice

    Melville: Billy Budd

    Mérimée: Carmen

    Schiller: Don Carlos; Die Jungfrau von Orleans/The Maid of Orleans (Giovanna D’Arco); Die Rauber/The robbers (I Masnadieri); Mary Stuart (Maria Stuarda); Wilhelm Tell (Guglielmo Tell), Turandot

    Shakespeare: Othello; The Merry wives of Windsor (Falstaff); Hamlet; A Midsummer Night’s dream; the Tempest; Macbeth; Much Ado About Nothing (Béatrice et Bénédict)

    Prévost: Manon Lescaut

    Pushkin: The queen of spades; Eugene Onegin; Boris Godunov

    Tolstoy: War and Peace

    Virgil: The Aeneid (Les Troyens)

    Please feel free to add to the list, make recommendations (links are always welcome), share your reading history and so on.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    I have García Gutiérrez's El Trovador, but in the original Spanish (it's a verse play). You could kill two or three birds with a stone by reading Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, as several of the librettos that Handel set to music are cribbed from that long poem.
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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    Maybe some Maeterlinck would also be a nice reading.

    Of course Pelléas and Mélisande is his more famous play in the world of opera, due to Debussy's adaptation (both Gabriel Fauré and Jean Sibelius composed also incidental music for the play, and Arnold Schoenberg wrote a tone poem). But there is Ariane et Barbe-bleue, too, adapted by Paul Dukas. Other, more obscure works, are Monna Vanna or L'oiseau bleu.

    However, the more poignant story is that of La princesse Maleine. French composers like Debussy himself, Vincent d'Indy, Erik Satie and the ill-fated Lili Boulanger were working on its adaptation. Boulanger spent most of the last years of her life trying to complete the opera, before her death at 24 years old. This is a beautiful and sad story. Anyone interested can read the article published by Annegret Fauser in 1997: "Lili Boulanger's La Princesse Maleine: A Composer and her Heroine as Literary Icons".

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    I think you should re-consider with Sir Walter Scott and The Bride of Lammermoor. I found it a brisk and entertaining read, at least in the translation I tried (which is whatever the free version is from the Kindle store)

    Gottfried von Strassburg - Tristan
    And of course there's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nibelungenlied
    -Ian

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    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    Also Oscar Wilde's Salomé. He wrote it in French for the first production in 1891 and then translated it into English himself.
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    Remaining on the Richard Strauss wavelength, you might want to consult Greek Tragedy for Elektra and Ariadne Auf Naxos (Euripides?). I'm not sure which if any version Strauss's librettist consulted for Elektra: Sophocles' or Euripides'? Or maybe even Aeschylus' Choephorae (The Libation Bearers)? I read all of them in my wasted youth.

    Greek tragedy is a trove: Oedipus (Stravinsky) and a lot of opera seria, particularly Gluck.
    Last edited by Revenant; Oct-19-2013 at 22:18. Reason: Addition
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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    Do get the Schiller plays, all of them. Verdi doesn't give you a glimpse of what's really there, so it won't be like "ah yes, I remember this from opera!" all through. His plays are great literature, Verdi's librettos based on them range from low-brow mess (I Masnadieri) to something still far from original's quality (Don Carlo). Donizetti's Maria isn't that much of profanation, but still differs greatly. You can find out that Leicester is combination of two characters from the play, one of which (Mortimer) was way more interesting dramatic persona than this conventional hybride from libretto. You shouldn't forget the Luisa Miller play, don't remember English title - it's Kabale und Liebe in German.

    Expand your Dostoyevsky list? From the House of the Dead, made into opera by Janacek?

    Regarding Walter Scott, you refuse to read the novels - remember that La Donna del Lago is based on his poem, not novel. So you might want to consider reading it.

    Have some Byron? There's Il Corsaro. Major omission on the list is Giovanni Verga's short story that served as source for Mascagni's hit opera. Or Torquato Tasso. You like baroque, so why isn't he on the list? And it's not only baroque, there's Tancredi too, for example.

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    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    And everyone seems to have forgotten another major one: Murger, for both Puccini's and Leoncavallo's Boheme(s).
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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    Senior Member Bellinilover's Avatar
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    In college I studied Bernard Pomerance's play The Elephant Man, which was one of the sources for the fairly recent French opera of the same name. Actually, anything about Joseph Merrick, "the Elephant Man," might be considered source material for the opera -- including the 1981 movie, which has always been a favorite of mine, even though many people find it too disturbing or upsetting to watch.

    Also, A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller was made into an opera. It's a great, great play; in my opinion, the opera, though good, doesn't come up to its level on the whole.
    Last edited by Bellinilover; Oct-19-2013 at 22:50.

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    Senior Member guythegreg's Avatar
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    I'd say give Eugene Onegin a miss, go for Pushkin's the Captain's Daughter instead. Maybe it was the translation I had, but I thought EO was just a mess. The Captain's Daughter just sparkled.

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    Senior Member Notung's Avatar
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    Tell us how the source material compares with the operas! Some of those books an plays (Beaumarchais, and, of course, Tolstoy) have reputations for being stand-alone classics in their own right. Very interested to find out if this is true.
    "Blessed be your suffering"-Wagner, Parsifal

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    Mozart's Mitridate is based on Racine's play of the same name, Gounod's Mireille on Mistral's eponymous poem. Aside from Ariodante, Alcina and Orlando, it's also Haydn's Orlando Paladino, Mayr's Ginevra di Scozia and Vivaldi's, duh, Orlando furioso that are based on Orlando furioso (there's more but I'll stop - it's a good book, I recommend it - the bit with Alcina is rather racy and there are many feats of arms by both men and women knights), Rinaldo - on Tasso's Jerusalem delivered. Rossini's Tancredi is based on Voltaire's play of the same name.
    Last edited by deggial; Oct-19-2013 at 23:17.

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    Maybe you could read (some of) the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann! they must be fun to read.

    and what about "The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest" ("El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra") by Tirso de Molina? it's one of the earliest versions of the Don Juan story but i'm not sure if it was a source for Da Ponte... it's probably a very interesting play even if it wasn't!

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    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    Massenet's Le Cid was based on Corneille's play from the same name (which is basically an adaptation and translation from the Spanish of Guillén de Castro's Las Mocedades del Cid).

    Bellinilover, another opera based on a classic American play is, of course, A Streetcar Named Desire. I think there's also an opera based on Wilder's Our Town.
    Last edited by Revenant; Oct-19-2013 at 23:55.
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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    btw, off your list I read the Beaumarchais plays (not the third one, seems to be hard to come by), which were both funny and the libretti are pretty close to the original, Werther (a good book, if you're a romantic at heart otherwise it will annoy you to no end), Faust (eh), Schiller's plays (eh, I really don't like the ethos; more over the top-ness; you have to read them in your Che Guevara phase, otherwise they lose the appeal; but Mary Stuart ain't bad), Le Roi s'amuse (good but I read it when I was a kid, so maybe I missed a lot), War and Peace (I struggled with it, started it 3 times, finished it by way of audio book - good but a bit much and the characters are a bunch of idiots aside from the Bolkonskys who are cool).

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