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Listening as a Letter of Uriah: A note on Berio's Un re in ascolto (1984) on the occasion of the opera's first performance in London (9 February 1989)

  • Matthias Theodor Vogt

Imagine what would have happened if Prospero had come out in front of the curtain at the end of the first performance of Shakespeare's Tempest on 1 November 1611 and if, at his words

Now, 'tis true,

I must be here confin'd by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands.

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please […],

the audience had not applauded. In accordance with Jacobean theatrical practice, the sound of applause breaks the theatrical illusion.

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1 Herbort, H. J., ‘Töne mit Kehrseite’, Die Zeit, 17 08 1984.

2 Carpenter, Humphrey, W. H. Auden: A Biography (London, 1981), 325. The text of The Sea and the Mirror is taken from Auden, W. H., Collected Longer Poems (London, 1968), 199252.

3 Barthes, Roland and Havas, Roland, ‘Ascolto’, Enciclopedia Einaudi (Turin, 1976), I, 982–91. The original French was published in Barthes, Roland, L'Obvie et l'obtus (Paris, 1982), 217–30 and was translated into English by Howard, Richard as ‘Listening’ in The Responsibility of Forms (New York, 1985), 245–60.

4 Calvino, Italo, ‘Un re in ascolto: Racconti dell'estate’, La Repubblica, 13 08 1984.

5 Simon, Dietrich, Afterword to Italo Calvino, Die unsichtbaren Städte (Munich, 1977), 195–6 (German translation of Le città invisibili).

6 Stoianova, Ivanka, ‘Luciano Berio: Chemins en musique’, La Revue musicale, 375–7 (1985), 368.

7 Luciano Berio, ‘Dialog zwischen dir und mir’, 1984 Salzburg Festival Programme Book for Un re in ascolto; translated into English by Francesca Franchi and reprinted in the 1989 Covent Garden Programme Book.

8 Deetjen, Werner, ‘Der Sturm als Opernlibretto’, Shakespeare Jahrbuch, ed. Keller, W., 64 (1928), 7789.

9 Gotter's and Einsiedel's libretto was set to music by Friedrich Fleischmann (1766–1798) and first performed in Weimar, at Schiller's instigation, on 19 May 1798, produced by no less a figure than Goethe. The text was first published in 1797 under the title ‘Singspiel in drey Acten aus Gotters nachlaß’ in vols. 8 and 9 of Schiller's Die Horen. It is quoted here from Gotter, Friedrich Wilhelm, Gedichte III (Weimar, 1802). Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf was originally intended as the composer: the choice of possible composers also included Schwenke, Grétry, Mozart, Wranitzky, Joseph Haydn, Schulz and Himmel. Fleischmann's 1798 setting was followed by versions by Johann Friedrich Reichardt and Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg, both also dating from 1798. The libretto was reprinted in 1889, which suggests its continuing appeal.

10 Quoted in Deetjen (see n. 8), 88. From Schlegel, Caroline, Briefe aus der Frühromantik, ed. Schmidt, Erich (Leipzig, 1913), I, 436.

11 Jonke, Gert, ‘Gradus ad parnassum’, Schule der Geläufigkeit (Reinbek, 1980), 166.

12 Berio, Luciano, Entretien avec Rossana Dalmonte (Rome 1981), ed. and trans. Kaltenecker, M. (Paris, 1983), 21.

Translation by Stewart Spencer

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Cambridge Opera Journal
  • ISSN: 0954-5867
  • EISSN: 1474-0621
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-opera-journal
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