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THROUGH AN OPERAGLASS, WITH TIME TRAVEL, PART 1

CHARLES ANNESLEY was the author of a popular guide to the world’s operas. Or at least as these operas were perceived back in 1910.

I judge his book’s popularity by noting that there are scads of them available secondhand and even in The Standard Operaglass Detailed Plots of One Hundred and Fifty-one Celebrated Operas Kindle and modern print-on-demand editions. All in all, high praise indeed for an opera guide originally published more than a century ago.

The Standard Operaglass Containing the Detailed Plots of One Hundred and Fifty One Celebrated Operas with Critical and Biographical Remarks, Dates & c. & c., by Charles Annesley, Thirty First to Thirty Third Thousand Revised and Enlarged Edition, A. Tittmann, 1910.

My copy of The Standard Operaglass, 1910, is particularly bright for a book of this age and intended use. (Guidebooks of pocket size often lead hard lives.) My appreciation for this secondhand find is two-fold: Mr. Annesley’s views on opera are a wonderful reflection of his times and occasionally bring forth a real hoot. Also, my copy contains several yellowed newspaper cuttings describing operas attended by the book’s original owner back in 1911 (of which more tomorrow in Part 2).

Annesley’s 151 celebrated operas include many of today’s favorites, but with a time-capsule twist. Among “Newly added” operas are Puccini’s Tosca, La Bohême, and Madame Butterfly, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Smetana’s Sold Bride.

We know this last one today as The Bartered Bride, just as Annesley’s Don Juan may be more familiar as Don Giovanni.

Here are some Annesley views on familiar operas:

Don Juan is Mozart’s most beautiful opera; we may even say that it is the greatest work of this kind which was ever written by a German musician.”

Mozart’s Don Giovanni, 1787. Image of Los Angeles Opera 2012 production.

Annesley also has Carmen nailed: “This opera is essentially Spanish.”

Bizet’s Carmen, 1875. Poster for New York City Opera, by Rafal Olbinski.

Of Verdi’s Rigoletto Annesley writes, “No opera has become popular in so short a time as Rigoletto in Italy. In Germany it has not met with the same favor…. The subject is … rather disgusting. Excepting Gilda, we do not meet with one noble character.”

Annesley’s opinions of Puccini’s “new” operas are mixed: “In Tosca especially, he has shown the ennobling influence of music over an otherwise repulsive theme.”

Tosca, Act II, Metropolitan Opera production, 1914.

What? He’s objecting to lust, torture, attempted rape, murder, faked reprieve, assassination, and suicide? Geez, it’s opera, after all.

On La Bohème: “This opera was composed in 1896, and the music is of a far higher order than that of ‘La Tosca,’ especially in the love scenes.—”

On Madame Butterfly: “Though Puccini has not reached the musical heights of ‘Bohème’ and ‘Tosca’ in this opera, it has nevertheless a certain value for its true local colouring….”

Poster for Madame Butterfly.

Annesley garbles the names a bit: His Cho-Cho-San agrees with the sweet young thing in John Luther King’s short story and David Belasco’s play, whereas Puccini Italianizes it to Cio-Cio-san. However, everyone but Annesley agrees that the U.S. Navy Lieutenant who does Butterfly wrong is B.F. (as in Benjamin Franklin) Pinkerton. Annesley calls him Linkerton.

We’ll continue tomorrow with Liszt/Wagner goings-on, what people wore to the Metropolitan Opera in 1911, and who supped with Mr. and Mrs. Lehr in Paris. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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