Friday, June 16, 2006

Shostakovich on Puccini

Opera producer Colin Graham's account of an exchange between Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten:

Shostakovich: 'What do you think of Puccini?'

Britten: 'I think his operas are dreadful.'

Shostakovich: 'No, Ben, you are wrong. He wrote marvellous operas but dreadful music!'

From The Tongs and the Bones, the Memoirs of Lord Harewood (Weidenfeld & Nicholson ISBN 0297779605)

Image credit - Shostakovich and Britten meeting after a concert of Britten's works in the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow, December 1966 from the Guardian. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included in "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to A direct line to Britten

3 comments:

sfmike said...

Actually, I'm with Britten on this one, and think it's the reverse of what Shostakovich said. Puccini wrote wonderful music but dreadful operas. I'm currently supering in a really good production of "Madama Butterfly" directed by the British Ron Daniels at the San Francisco Opera, and I keep being constantly surprised at how sophisticated and interesting the music is while also being overwhelmed by just how morbid, purple and plain trashy the entire opera is in essence.

Henry Holland said...

I love Britten's operas--A Midsummer Nights Dream was the first opera I went to hear live and the Britten/Pears Peter Grimes is the first opera recording I bought--but he's almost comically wrong about this. I know he loathed gushy emotionalism (he hated R. Strauss for the same reason) but all of Puccini's mature operas (from Manon Lescaut) on are beautifully written and crafted, both musically and dramatically. Puccini's operas simply *work* in the theatre and a well sung and conducted performance of them can be one of the best nights in the theatre you'll ever have. Oh well, Schoenberg loved Brahms, so composers can be wrong too.

SFMike, I disagree completely. I mean, Butterfly's entrance music, the love duet, Un Bel di, the sighting of the ship, the vigil, Cio-Cio San's suicide--stunning moments in a truly great opera. I have no interest in ever going to a performance of it again, but it's a masterpiece, I'm convinced of it. I have no problem with how "purple" it is--I loathe restrained neo-classicism anyways, so that part of it is not a problem. "Trashy"? Well, to each his own. Tragic is more like it from where I'm sitting.

And Shostakovich, of all people, had no business whatsoever chiding people for writing "dreadful" music since he composed acre upon acre of it himself--a man who wrote something as utterly ghastly as The Nose has no business passing judgement on other composers, the hideously overrated third-rate hack.

Anonymous said...

If you want mobidity and trashiness how about Salome and Electra 2 melodramas that are completely over the top(particularly Salome)?
The trouble I have with Puccini is the sentimentality...he can write wonderfully for the human voice , but an opera like La Boheme which is very well composed and has some wonderful arias in it is spoiled for me by a sugary coating on the music that seems to infect lots of Puccini not that Richard Strauss couldn't wallow as well, but those 2 early works of his...great stuff

Incidentally to all this, one of the great Britten recordings has just been released on cd for the first time by Decca Australia...the Serenade and Illuminations with Pears, Brain and conducted by Eugene Goosens..Pears and Brain in the Serenade...as pliable would say...music to die forThis is by some margin the best of the 3 serenades that PP recorded, he was in sublime voice!
It can be ordered through Buywell as part of Decca Eloquence Australia...and its very cheap too!