Opera and the Novel

The Case of Henry James


Opera and the Novel: The Case of Henry James offers the first full-length study of the theory and practice of the adaptation of fiction into opera: the transference of a work from one medium to another – metaphrasis – is its point of departure. Starting with a survey of the current thinking regarding the nexus between words and music with specific reference to operatic adaptation of existing literary works, it traces the four-hundred-year history of opera, demonstrating that the novel has become increasingly attractive to librettists and composers as an operatic source. As the resources of modern music theatre have increased in sophistication, so too have the possibilities for an expanded engagement with complex fictional works. The intricate relationship between fictional and musical narrative is examined: the proposition that the orchestra assumes much of the function of the narrator in fiction is explored. The second section is a detailed examination of eight operatic works based on Henry James’s fiction. It is opera’s unique capability to present the intense emotional and psychological situations central to James’s fiction as well as the ability to engage with his synthesis of melodrama and psychological ambiguity which makes James’s work peculiarly amenable to operatic adaptation. Composers who have used James as a source include Douglas Moore, Benjamin Britten, Thomas Pasatieri, Donald Hollier, Thea Musgrave, Philip Hagemann and Dominick Argento. The operas discussed represent a contemporary critical and often self-conscious engagement with the art form itself as well as illustrating current adaptive strategies, and suggest ways in which new operatic paths may be forged. This volume is of relevance to students and scholars of English literature and opera as well as readers who take an interest in intermedial research and the question of adaptation in general.

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Introduction: Prima la musica e poi le parole – Wort oder Ton ?
1. The Novel and Operatic Adaptation
2. Operatic and Fictional Discourse
3. James, Opera and Melodrama
4. James – Structure – ‘Scene’ and ‘Picture’
5. “The Turn of the Screw”
6. The Wings of the Dove
7. “Owen Wingrave”
8. “The Last of the Valerii”
9. Washington Square
10. “The Aspern Papers”
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