Monday, December 22, 2008

Opera Based On Literature

Scene from "Lucia di Lammermoor," at Her Majesty's Theatre: "Lucia," Mdlle. Piccolomini, "Edgardo," M. Giuglini, in The Illustrated London News (5/23/1857), from the Art, Music & Recreation Center's Picture File (Operas folder)

The San Francisco Opera recently premiered The Bonesetter’s Daughter, an opera by Stewart Wallace based on the Amy Tan novel. There is a long history of creating operas from existing literary works from all times. Here is a listing of operas based upon famous literature.

Operas have been adapted from Greek and Roman classics–-L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi is based upon Ovid, and Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens is based Virgil’s Aenid. Other opera composers have found inspiration in Shakespeare’s works. Giuseppe Verdi alone wrote operas based upon Othello, MacBeth and Falstaff. Charles Gounod composed Roméo et Juliet and more recently Benjamin Britten wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Plays by Pierre Beaumarchais have provided the basis for two operatic masterworks—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (based upon La Folle journée) and Gioacchino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. Victor Hugo has also been the source for great operas—both Verdi’s Rigoletto (based upon Le roi s’amuse) and Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia.

Abbé Prevost’s novel Manon Lescaut has been adapted to the operatic stage by both Jules Massenet and Giacomo Puccini. Walter Scott’s Bride of Lammermoor became Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti. Modest Mussorgsky employed an Aleksander Pushkin short story as the basis for his opera Boris Godunov. Dubose Heyward’s novel Porgy became the basis for George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

During the past few decades the San Francisco has commissioned several operas based upon great literature. Wallace Stegner’s novel Angle of Repose was the basis for an opera by Bay Area composer Andrew Imbrie in 1976. Pierre Choderlos de Laclos Les Liasons dangereuses became San Francisco Conservatory faculty member Conrad Susa’s 1994 opera The Dangerous Liasons. Tennessee William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire was composed as for the San Francisco Opera in 1998 by André Previn.

To learn more about opera you can visit the Oxford Music Online website through the Library’s Articles and Databases page which includes the full content of the New Grove Dictionary of Opera.

Additional reading:

Bringing Opera to Life: Operatic Acting and Stage Direction. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968. (Appendix C - Operas and background texts - details operas based on literary works).

Fate! Luck! Chance!: Amy Tan, Stewart Wallace, and The Making of The Bonesetter's Daughter Opera by Ken Smith. (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008).

Literature as Opera by Gary Schmidgall (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

Opera as Drama by Joseph Kerman. New and revised edition. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

Shakespeare and Opera by Gary Schmidgall. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

The Walter Scott Operas: An Analysis of Operas Based on The Works of Sir Walter Scott by Jerome Mitchell. (University: University of Alabama Press, 1977).

This entry originally appeared in At The Library 39 /12 (December 2008), p. 4.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

American And English Popular Entertainment

Punch and Judy, drawn by F. Barnard, from the "Puppets" folder of the Art, Music & Recreation Center picture file

Nowadays information seekers have become accustomed to a world where they can enter a few words into a search engine and be greeted with, and perhaps overwhelmed by, waves of information. In addition to the content created for the web, full texts of magazines and books are also available to search and read online.

In the days prior to the internet and online databases students, scholars and librarians relied upon bibliographies to locate information on a topic. Bibliography was a valued pursuit because it could make information available about obscure but valuable areas of study and research. Bibliographies were often annotated, i.e., provided a summary of the works reviewed and their value.

This blog will occasionally introduce bibliographies that remain valuable because they open up information that cannot yet be located online, or because they provide an avenue of access that is more careful and systematic than online sources. One such source is American and English Popular Entertainment: A Guide to Information Sources by Don B. Wilmeth (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1980)--volume 7 of Gale’s Performing Arts Information Guide series.

Popular entertainment in this volume comprises activities like circuses, fairs, carnivals, variety and minstrel shows, puppetry, panoramas and dioramas. This annotated bibliography includes books and articles, both scholarly and popular. Circus here comprises various animal acts and performance specialists including clowns. Works on carnivals include P.T. Barnum’s shows, various sorts of side and freak shows, dime arcades, and wax museums. Another section lists books and articles about amusement parks, roller coasters, merry-go-rounds. Other forms of entertainment covered in this bibliography include medicine shows, vaudeville, and magic shows.

The book also includes a helpful index that can lead to information about individual performers, places, and theaters. There are also references to more general topics like censorship, farce, impersonation, melodrama, and quackery. Fascinating sources indexed in this volume include articles detailing the relationship between the art of the Hudson River School and panorama painters, the “Yankee” as a character type on the stage, and the classification of circus techniques.

The author concedes that his book is not exhaustive. But since his entries are annotated it is possible to understand the value of each title and the author’s criteria for their selection.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Dewey Decimal System And Musical Scores

-->Today, December 10, 2008, is the 157th anniversary of Melville Dewey’s birth. Libraries and their users of course owe a great deal to Dewey and his Dewey Decimal System that has existed since 1876. (Dewey is also reputed to have invented the vertical file, a method that we continue to use).

The Dewey Decimal System ideally allows library users to browse the shelves and find related material on the same subject. This works particularly well with musical scores. We have created a webpage that enumerates the Dewey Decimal numbers used for the score collection at the San Francisco Public Library.

Using this list allows musicians to scan for scores on the shelves by form or instrumentation. It is also possible to scan the contents of our collection through our online catalog. The library catalog has a query window for searching by call number. Every call number consists of two, or sometimes three parts—the call number proper, the cutter, and sometimes a number for the year or edition of the work.
Here are some common call number searches:

782 – Piano/Vocal scores of operas

782.7 – Piano/Vocal scores of musicals and operetta

784.5 – Piano/Vocal scores of popular songs

786.4 – Piano solos

787.11 – Violin and Piano solos

787.61 – Guitar solos

788.51 – Flute solos

The call number proper is a three digit number, sometimes followed by digits after the decimal point. The cutter starts with a letter, usually followed by some numbers that denote the primary author of the work followed by an additional letter or letters to refer to the exact work. The third line, when there is one, is employed to differentiate editions of a work by their year of publication.

Take the following call number for a piano reduction of the Nutcracker Suite (called Shchelkunchik in the original Russian) by Tchaikovsky.


The Dewey Decimal number 782.9 is used for piano scores of ballet music. “T219” is the cutter for Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. The following “s” refers to the official title (known in library circles as the uniform title) of the work, Shchelkunchik. Finally 1968 at the end distinguishes this Tschaikovsky Foundation published in 1968 from other editions in the same format.

The San Francisco Public Library score collection has some long standing idiosyncrasies in its application of the Dewey Decimal System. Many scores continue to have what is called a “partial cutter”—a now obsolete method of saving time in cataloging where the first two or three letters of an author or composers last name is used instead of the preferred combination of letters and numbers. In our example above, Tchaikovsky would be given “Ts” instead of “T219.”

We also use a number of specialized prefixes to cutters. The letter “M” in front of the cutter for the call number 785 (the number for full scores) is used for miniature or study scores. The letter “O” used on the cutter of the same call number refers to sets of parts for orchestral works. The letter “X” on the cutter of a call number is used for a category of scores in our collection known as “x-class.” This practice that has been used at the San Francisco Public Library for nearly 100 years allows scores in softer bindings to be shelved together. These are often works containing multiple parts. A final cutter prefix to consider is the letter “Z.” This is used to distinguish books about musical forms or instruments from scores. 782.9 without a “Z” is a piano reduction of a ballet score. A “Z” in front of the cutter is used for books about ballet music.

If you are visiting the Library for the first time, the score collection is located in the Art, Music & Recreation Center on the Fourth floor of the Main Library. Circulating scores are shelved separately from the book collection and are located directly behind the Art, Music & Recreation Center reference desk. Please visit or call the reference desk if you have any questions.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Holiday Music For the Beginning Pianist

Every holiday season we transfer a selection of holiday songbooks to the Art, Music & Recreation Center reference desk for your convenience.

In addition to conventional arrangements of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday songs arranged for choruses or vocal soloists, we also have collections of holiday music compiled for beginning pianists. These are suitable for piano instruction, for beginning pianists who are self-learners, or simply playing for enjoyment. In addition to being simplified, this music is often published with larger note-heads and includes fingerings to assist in learning the songs. These books also occasionally include a second duet part for an instructor to play along.

786.3 Sn642 -- Snowfall: 50 Holiday Favorites / easy piano. Milwaukee, WI : Hal Leonard, 2003.

783.6 F5864 -- 5 Finger Christmas Fun: 11 Delightful Melodies / arranged for piano with optional duet accompaniments by Tom Gerou. Van Nuys, CA : Alfred Pub. Co., 2008.

783.6 C464 -- Christmas Favorites: For Piano, For Beginners of All Ages / compiled, arranged, and edited by Wesley Schaum. Milwaukee, Wis.: Schaum Publications, 1961.

786.41 M9904 -- My First Book of Christmas Songs: 20 Favorite Songs in Easy Piano Arrangements / arr. by Bergerac; with illustrations by Marty Noble. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1997.

783.6 L6268 -- A Lighter Shade of Christmas: 15 Christmas Favorites for Early-Intermediate Piano Solo / arranged by Joseph Scianni. New York: Carl Fischer, 2001.

783.6 D6321p -- Disney's Princess Christmas Album / easy piano. Burbank, Calif.: Wonderland Music, 2008.