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Brecht at the Opera

Joy H. Calico (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN: 9780520254824
August 2008
$85.00, £66.00
Brecht at the Opera looks at the German playwright's lifelong ambivalent engagement with opera. An ardent opera lover in his youth, Brecht later denounced the genre as decadent and irrelevant to modern society even as he continued to work on opera projects throughout his career. He completed three operas and attempted two dozen more with composers such as Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith, Hanns Eisler, and Paul Dessau. Joy H. Calico argues that Brecht's simultaneous work on opera and Lehrstück in the 1920s generated the new concept of audience experience that would come to define epic theater, and that his revisions to the theory of Gestus in the mid-1930s are reminiscent of nineteenth-century opera performance practices of mimesis.
List of Illustrations

1. Lehrstück, Opera, and the New Audience Contract of the Epic Theater
2. The Operatic Roots of Gestus in The Mother and Round Heads and Pointed Heads
3. Fragments of Opera in American Exile
4. Lucullus: Opera and National Identity
5. Brecht's Legacy for Opera: Estrangement and the Canon

Joy H. Calico is Associate Professor of Musicology in the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.
“A noteworthy, compelling, and occasionally provocative addition to the vast body of literature about Brecht that even literary scholars would not want to miss perusing."—Eve M. Duffy H-German
“An impressive book: impeccably researched, with two essential and pioneering chapters and three more which have much of interest to offer.”—Michael Ewans Comparative Drama
“Excellent. . . . Recommended.”—John Harrison, University of Northern Colorado Opera Journal
“Demonstrates an astonishing breadth of familiarity with the critical literature, and is able to apply insights from it to her own investigations with uncommon lucidity. She has also done some excellent archival sleuthing.”—Stephen Luttmann Notes
“A potentially illuminating way to reconsider opera in the post-Brecht era.”—Michael Quinn Opera
"Brecht at the Opera is a remarkably compelling and exciting book. It not only explains why Brecht's relationship to opera is so vexed, it complicates the formulaic terms by which we have come to understand that vexation—extending, deepening, and refining our sense of the place of music in Brecht's projects as well as Brecht's place in the history of opera. It is amazingly thorough, very well written, and exceedingly provocative."—David J. Levin, author of Unsettling Opera

"Calico strikes a subtle balance between attentive elucidation of Brecht's theories and a less obedient exploration of the ways his achievements were grounded in an operatic tradition that he (and most later commentators) have preferred to dismiss as antiquated and irrelevant. The author offers the clearest account I have read of the concept of Gestus and—in a move that might have pleased Brecht himself quite a bit—takes on the promiscuous use of the label 'Brechtian' in recent criticism. The book's final chapter, a lively and personal meditation on what kinds of staging might really produce an effect of estrangement, is likely to become an energizing point of reference for those of us who write about opera in performance."—Mary Ann Smart, author of Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera

"In this first systematic, English-language study on Brecht and the opera, Joy Calico provides a carefully documented reconstruction of his lifelong engagement with the genre. The book provides a compelling argument that Brecht's modernist theater practices can be traced back to his early resistance to the emotionalized experience engendered by musical theater."—Marc Silberman, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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