Puccini’s La fanciulla del West and American Musical Identity: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Puccini’s La fanciulla del West and American Musical Identity

1st Edition

By Kathryn M. Fenton


264 pages

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Hardback: 9781138102897
pub: 2019-06-17
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On 10 December 1910, Giacomo Puccini’s seventh opera, La fanciulla del West, had its premiere before a sold-out audience at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House. The performance was the Metropolitan Opera Company’s first world premiere by any composer. By all accounts, the premiere was an unambiguous success and the event itself recognized as a major moment in New York cultural history. The initial public opinion matched Puccini’s own evaluation of his opera. He called it "the best he had ever written" and expected it to become as popular as La Bohème.

Yet the music reviews tell a different story. Marked by ambivalence, the reviews expose the New York City critics’ struggle to reconcile the opera they expected to see with the one they actually saw, and the opera itself became embroiled in controversy over the essence of musical Americanness and the nativist perception that a uniquely American national opera tradition continued to elude both American- and foreign-born opera composers.

This book seeks to account for the differences between Puccini’s own assessments of the opera and those of its first audience. Offering transcriptions of the central reviews and of letters unavailable elsewhere, the book provides a historically informed understanding of La fanciulla del West and the reception of this European work as it intersected with both opera production and consumption in the United States and with the process of American musical identity formation during the very period that Americans actively sought to eradicate European cultural influences. As such, it offers a window into the development of nativism and "cosmopolitan nationalism" in New York City’s musical life during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Arrivals 3. Puccini and the Frontier Melodrama 4. Music "Of the Soil," or, How to Sound American 5. Departures 6. Conclusions

About the Author

Kathryn M. Fenton is Assistant Professor of Musicology at Middle Tennessee State University and specializes in research on music and culture of the Long Nineteenth Century. Her current projects focus on the intersection of Italian and American music and culture during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

About the Series

Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera

Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera
The Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera series provides a centralized and prominent forum for the presentation of cutting-edge scholarship that draws on numerous disciplinary approaches to a wide range of subjects associated with the creation, performance, and reception of opera (and related genres) in various historical and social contexts. There is great need for a broader approach to scholarship about opera. In recent years, the course of study has developed significantly, going beyond traditional musicological approaches to reflect new perspectives from literary criticism and comparative literature, cultural history, philosophy, art history, theatre history, gender studies, film studies, political science, philology, psycho-analysis, and medicine. The new brands of scholarship have allowed a more comprehensive interrogation of the complex nexus of means of artistic expression operative in opera, one that has meaningfully challenged prevalent historicist and formalist musical approaches. The Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera series continues to move this important trend forward by including essay collections and monographs that reflect the ever-increasing interest in opera in non-musical contexts. Books in the series are linked by their emphasis on the study of a single genre - opera - yet are distinguished by their individualized and novel approaches by scholars from various disciplines/fields of inquiry. The remit of the series welcomes studies of seventeenth century to contemporary opera from all geographical locations, including non-Western topics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / Genres & Styles / Opera