March 06, 2019

Pre-Season Summer Reading

Between the beach and the barbecues, you’re thinking about Lyric’s fast-approaching season, right? Here are a few offbeat ways to get you in the mood for eight exciting operas.


There are two fine graphic-novel treatments of the Ring cycle: DC Comics’ version by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane (1997) and Maverick’s by P. Craig Russell (2000). Great for making sense of the sprawling tetralogy, and for engaging new Ring-heads. And of course there’s the perennial favorite, ”What’s Opera, Doc?,” which introduced many an opera lover to Wagner.



Forbidden love with tragic consequences is an evergreen theme in literature and in opera. Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel The Bride of Lammermoor may not be as famous as his Ivanhoe or Rob Roy, but it inspired Donizetti’s 1835 opera, so it must be a good read! (Think Romeo and Juliet, but set in Scotland.)  Perfect for an afternoon in the hammock. 


The inspiration for Berlioz’s magnificent two-part opera was Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid, which spans a dozen books with 9,896 lines of dactylic hexameter, telling the tale of Aeneas (eventual founder of Rome) and the Trojan War (it gets complicated).  Aeneas also appears in Homer’s Iliad, and Cassandra is central in Euripides’ The Trojan Women. Light reading not so much, but compelling, yes.


Read the original novel by Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, originally published in 1605 and available in countless translations. Or for a whole other spin, head out to the Marriott Lincolnshire to see Man of La Mancha, through Aug. 22. You could also watch a classic version of the Don Quixote story from 1933, starring the mighty Feodor Chaliapin, who also created the title role in Massenet's opera. 


P. Craig Russell has created a library of graphic novels based on operas, including The Magic Flute — a fine way to introduce newcomers to the story, and also to review all the twists and turns. For an unusual take on the tale sung in English, see Kenneth Branagh’s 2006 film starring Ryan Opera Center alumnus Joseph Kaiser. There's also a glorious 1975 film version of the opera, sung in Swedish and directed by Ingmar Bergman.


This tale of forbidden love with tragic consequences involves a Druid priestess and the leader of the Roman invasion of ancient Gaul. Their illegitimate children plus his affair with a younger priestess makes for all sorts of awkward complications. The plot resembles that of Euripides’ tragedy Medea, and likely some contemporary TV soap operas.


The 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée predates New Journalism: Mérimée embellished an account of a ruffian who’d killed his mistress and wrote himself into the four-part narrative, which closes with an overview of the Romani/Gypsy people. (Bizet’s famous opera is based on Part III of the novella.)  Worth watching for a different twist: Carmen Jones, the 1954 movie starring Dorothy Dandridge Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, and Diahann Carroll. It was based on the 1943 Broadway musical, which married Bizet’s music with lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II.


There are more than 40 English translations of Alexander Pushkin’s poetic-text novel, including this true-to-the-original by James E. Falen, recorded by Stephen Fry — perfect listening for your summer road trip.