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A new book about Monteverdi's musical dramas
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Monteverdi's dramatic works are central to the development of music theatre in Western Europe. But the works themselves are far removed, in both time and style, from the works of Mozart and Beethoven and do not always fit easily into modern day opera houses.

For a start, Monteverdi's surviving dramatic works were written for quite small spaces. Orfeo was first performed in a room in the Duke of Mantua's palace and his other two surviving operas were written for small commercial theatres in Venice. So hearing them in a large-scale opera house can often need an element of faith on the part of the audience. Even on disc it can be difficult for a newcomer to get to grips with the works and discover why they are so influential and so important in the operatic canon. Monteverdi's style can often seem a long way from Mozart and even further from Puccini. To come to appreciate the music we must understand what lies behind the operatic conventions of the day.

This is the sort of issue which is addressed by Mark Ringer's new book Opera's First Master -- The Musical Dramas of Claudio Monteverdi. It is intended to enable 'opera lovers to experience Monteverdi's masterpieces in a new way, while providing fresh insights into how Monteverdian opera "works" as theater' and is issued in the series, Unlocking the Masters.

Unlocking the Masters: Opera's First Master - The Musical Dramas of Claudio Monteverdi. Mark Ringer. © 2006 Amadeus Press

The book is written chronologically and takes a straightforward course through Monteverdi's life. The first chapter summarises Monteverdi's early years and how he came to opera. From then on the individual works are examined, with due weight given to the missing operas as well as to the other theatrical works. Integrated into the narrative are descriptions of the operas themselves, written in relatively direct language intended to appeal to the newcomer to the genre. The trick, of course, with this type of book is to manage to include sufficient new and interesting material so that you hold the interest of old hands whilst not alienating newcomers. After all, what is the use of a book that you read once and then put down?

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Copyright © 21 September 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK


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