Cover image for Opera : the art of dying
Opera : the art of dying
Hutcheon, Linda, 1947-
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
ix, 239 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
Music and the "murky death" -- The contemplation of death -- Eros and Thanatos : Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde -- "All that is, ends" : living while dying in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen -- Orphic rituals of bereavement -- "'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd" : staging suicide -- The undead.
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ML1700 .H88 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Our modern narratives of science and technology can only go so far in teaching us about the death that we must all finally face. Can an act of the imagination, in the form of opera, take us the rest of the way? Might opera, an art form steeped in death, teach us how to die, as this provocative work suggests? In Opera: The Art of Dying a physician and a literary theorist bring together scientific and humanistic perspectives on the lessons of living and dying that this extravagant and seemingly artificial art imparts. Contrasting the experience of mortality in opera to that in tragedy, the Hutcheons find a more apt analogy in the medieval custom of contemplatio mortis - a dramatized exercise in imagining one's own death that prepared one for the inevitable end and helped one enjoy the life that remained. From the perspective of a contemporary audience, they explore concepts of mortality embodied in both the common and the more obscure operatic repertoire: the terror of death (in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites); the longing for death (in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde); preparation for the good death (in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung); and suicide (in Puccini's Madama Butterfly).

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Choice Review

Hutcheon and Hutcheon (Linda, literature; Michael, medicine--both Univ. of Toronto) postulate that the portrayal of death on the opera stage invites the spectator to participate in the ritual of mortality from a safe distance, thereby giving new meaning to life itself; opera, an art form steeped in death, can teach the observer how to die. By identifying with heroic suffering (however feigned) and witnessing the enactment of death (not death itself) the viewer receives a form of therapeutic reassurance. The authors examine the deaths of the Prioress in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites and Wagner's responses to death in Tristan und Isolde, in the four Ring music dramas, and in Der fliegende Hollander. They view the classical story of Orpheus as a mourning for death; contrast social mores and motives between Puccini's suicidal heroines Suor Angelica and Cio-Cio-Sans; and argue that Wozzeck and Der Kaiser von Atlantis represent "wrestling with life to be able to die." Showing insight into the interior meaning of the literature considered, the book will appeal to those interested in current cultural trends. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Researchers, faculty, professionals, and general readers. R. Miller Oberlin College