Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free Music, 1836 edition

I can remember getting magazines with CDs full of free songs, but in the past it was not unusual to see sheet music printed right in the pages of your magazine. Most of the music in this volume of The Lady's Book is dead, you wont see recordings of it anywhere, no matter how popular the publisher said it was. But this particular piece of sheet music is from an opera that is still performed:

Unfortunately, I couldn't tell which piece in the opera matches the sheet music because of something very strange. The opera is Italian, but the sheet music is in English:

Was this to make it more accessible to magazine readers or how it was originally performed? To find out I went digging for information in this book:

Mrs. Wood, formerly Miss Paton, and Lady Lennox, of London, her husband, Joseph Wood, a tenor with a sweet voice...

Joseph Wood must be the "Mr. Wood" mentioned on the sheet music:

This company brought out "Cinderella," "Guy Mannering," and, on February 14th [1835], for the first time, Bellini's delightful opera " La Sonnambula,"Amina, Mrs. Wood ; Bodolpho, Brough ; Almno, Wood ; Alettio, Walton ; Lisa, Mrs. Rowbotham. This opera was a great success. It held the theatre for fifteen nights. The managers were so much impressed with their good fortune that they commissioned Thomas Sully to paint a full- length portrait of Mrs. Wood as Amina. He produced a splendid likeness, and the picture decorated the lobby of the Chestnut Street Theatre for many years.

And this must be the performance. It doesn't tell me if the opera was performed in English or Italian, though. But there is more:

(Talking about another opera)
The translation of the libretto was by J. Reese Fry and William H. Fry, and they gave great attention to the scenery, costumes, and accessories.

"Translation" could mean "interpretation." However, in talking about even other operas:

his first appearance upon the American stage, translated from the Italian libretto, and rendered with the music of Rossini.

...and during her engagement introduced for the first time on the American stage " Cinderella" in English, with the original music by Rossini...

They played the " Marriage of Figaro," and some other pieces, in English.

I still can't say if the opera from the sheet music was performed in English or Italian, but I do know that some operas were translated and performed in English.

There are opera purists who only want to hear vocals performed in the original language. There are also people who think of translations as innovative. But when the translation is almost as old as the opera itself I have to wonder about claims of authenticity and innovation.

I guess I would tend to side with the purists, but I still want my innovations. I wont pretend to be an opera fan, but this was the only version of the opera I found interesting, and if there were more like it I might change my mind.

Now I need to find it on DVD.

UPDATE: Found it! It's not an entire opera, just a collection of arias shot in a music-video style. One reviewer said it was awful because it wasn't "serious and sensible;" sounds perfect to me.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Heard a live recording of one of my fave artists and he was repeating a snippet of an opera he had heard on television in English while in Germany. I believe it was set in a park, near a bench and the words went something like this:

"Is this seat taken?"

"Yes, I'm waiting for my friend."

"But, this is where I always sit."

"Sorry, lady, you'll have to sit over there."

Pretty much sold on operas not in English, now.