Below you will find:
1. a clip concerning the NATS meeting at which I will be presenting “Operatic Italian”.
2. several recent reviews of “Operatic Italian”.
This section contains (a) extracts from five reviews; (b) the complete text of two of these reviews; (c) various comments from people who have read “Operatic Italian”.
1. “Operatic Italian is well organized and direct, introducing each libretto example with its corresponding musical score, IPA translation, English word-for-word translation, and marked accents for atypical words. Topics of particular interest to the music student include pronunciation and developing an Italian accent, understanding what is lost in translation from Italian to English, what to appreciate in libretti, and Dante’s influence on Italian literature (opera libretti included). Operatic Italian would make a fantastic textbook for a conservatory or university. It would also serve as an excellent source for seasoned musicians or opera-lovers to deepen their understanding of the language from a literary standpoint, and bridge the gap from their rudimentary knowledge of Italian to a fuller understanding of the richness and depth found in classic Italian literature.” Sarah Luebke, Opera Today, Jan. 19, 2010
2. “Reading about opera’s connection to Dante was particularly inspiring. (…) This text provides students not only with the motivation to learn more about opera but also to take on the additional challenge of Italian grammar. Dante began his journey in a dark forest with no road to follow, much like students of Italian; however, they will find in Operatic Italian a road map leading them through the “infernal” nuances of Italian grammar to finally emerge and once again see the stars.” January 2011 issue of the on-line journal of the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages: NECTFL
3. “What is so intriguing about this book is its personal touch. The writing style is laid back, witty and often full of Thomson’s insights. (…) As Thomson states, his overall purpose is “to present the main grammatical points of operatic Italian in jargon-free language and progressively complex steps” (…); another purpose is to help the reader to think in Italian. (…) There are musical examples broken down to a minutiae level. There are also numerous black-and-white photos throughout. (…) The end of the book contains a few appendices (e.g., on Neapolitan), an index, a bibliography and a discography. Overall, this type of book is rare in musical literature: a book that is based on a lifetime of personal teaching experience and love of the language. (…) Thomson has written an indispensable guide for anyone wishing to understand this theatrical tongue. (…) Any performing-arts voice student needs to read this book (…)” Bradford Lee Eden, Music Reference Services Quarterly, Available online May 16, 2011.
4. “Robert Thomson brings clarity to the Italian language as used in librettos by using a variety of teaching techniques and visual aids, including hundreds of memorable extracts from operas; accurate word-for-word translations; phonetics and stress patterns; detailed exercises; commentary about historical background; operatic themes, composers’ lives; nuances contained in the original Italian which do not translate well, if at all, into English; and links to specific audio-visual examples on Web sites.” Alexa B. Antopol , Opera America, summer 2009
5. “Thomson wrote an earlier book, Italian for the Opera (1992) dealing with the same topic. Operatic Italian, however, is nearly three times as long, and encompasses topics and resources that were not included in the previous volume. (…) He probes the literary roots of operatic plots, and weaves a backdrop for the language with the threads of social mores, psychological insights, and character study. (…) Thomson is more than a (…) Operatic Italian has a rightful place next to the Italian dictionary (…).” – Debra Greschner, NATS Journal of Singing, Sept. 2009.
The following review of “Operatic Italian” by Robert Stuart Thomson appeared in the Nats Journal of Singing (Sept./Oct. 2009) Review by Debra Greschner
“Anyone who has ever tried to translate operatic Italian can attest to a world of difference between standard modern usage and the language found in libretti. Robert Stuart Thomson, who has both a terminal degree in Romance Languages and a passion for opera, has written an indispensable guide for anyone wishing to understand this theatrical tongue. Thomson strives to clarify the grammatical structure of opera libretti to make an often confusing, convoluted, and outdated usage of the language conprehensible.
The author begins with a description of the sounds of Italian, complete with a chart of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols and guidelines for pronunciation. Italian opera libretti employ language that is atypical of the vernacular: specifically the use of obsolete and truncated words, unnatural syntax, concision, and the addition and deletion of words to fit the musical line. Thomson’s approach is based upon the premise that learning to recognize the parts of speech is a short cut to learning the structure of the language. Accordingly, the salient aspects of grammar are presented in a systematic manner, beginning with a discussion of nouns, and wending through prepositions, ad- jectives, adverbs, pronouns, and verbs. Verbs are the most important part of speech, and Thomson devotes six chapters to different tenses. He maintains that traditional grammatical labels are off- putting and inaccurate, and he adopts his own terms—such as “compound past” in lieu of “present perfect” –for clarity.
In some sections, Operatic Italian contains two tracks. The first one is for the reader who is seeking an overview of language usage in libretti; the second is for those who wish to delve more deeply into operatic Italian. The book includes numerous musical examples, as well as translations and transcriptions into the IPA, complete with indication of stressed syllables. Fourteen quizzes are interspersed throughout the book, and an answer key allows students to monitor their progress. None of the chapters is long, and Thomson writes in a style that is conversational and engaging.
Thomson wrote an earlier book, Italian for the Opera (Vancouver, Godwin Books, 1992) dealing with the same topic. Operatic Italian, however, is nearly three times as long, and encompasses topics and resources that were not included in the previous volume. For instance, the bibliography is greatly expanded, both in the number of titles of books, recordings, and videos, and in the inclusion of Internet resources. Operatic Italian also contains a discussion of the operatic aspects of canzoni (such as Scarlatti’s ‘Sento nel core’) and the influence of Dante on poetry and the language of libretti. Throughout the text, Thomson offers much more than translations and transliterations. He probes the literary roots of operatic plots, and weaves a backdrop for the language with the threads of social mores, psychological insights, and character study.
The essential component of a successful teacher is a deep knowledge of a subject. A great pedagogue, however, is one who combines this expertise with a love for the material so palpable that it inspires students. Thomson is such a teacher. Aficionados of Italian opera, as especially singers and their teachers, should own this book. Operatic Italian has a rightful place next to the Italian dictionary and handbook of Italian diction on the shelf of every serious student of opera. – Debra Greschner
Thomson, Robert Stuart. Operatic Italian. Victoria, Canada: Goodwin Books, 2008.
ISBN: 0-9696774-7-2. (The following review appeared in the January 2011 issue of the journal published on-line by the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages: NECTFL)
Operatic Italian represents an invaluable resource for scholars of Italian, opera, etymology, or classics, in addition to being a solid reference for introductory learners as well as native speakers of Italian. The text is divided into 21 chapters covering all aspects of grammar, idioms, libretti, operatic aspects of canzoni, and the influence of Dante on opera. In addition, there is an extensive bibliography and discography; insight into history, composers, and themes; photos; links to Internet sites containing arias and translations; and quizzes accompanied by answer sheets.
Whenever possible, the author provides word-for-word translations, a classic interlinear method. Extensive use of the International Phonetic Alphabet is found throughout, allowing students to remember correct sounds as well as pronunciation. The musicality of the Italian language is emphasized often, as the text shows the musical score above the lyrics. Particular attention is given to the accents, which often get lost or misused when the singer or student is not a native speaker of Italian. A native speaker of Italian listening to opera usually pays particular attention to the singer’s pronunciation, and mispronounced words lead to distraction and less appreciation of the overall performance.
One of the central objectives of Operatic Italian is to assist the learner in thinking in Italian rather than just going through the motions of translating. Another important aspect of the program is the review of the various lyrics in a historical and cultural context. Not only must singers be able to sing the lyrics, they must also be able to convey the meaning of what is being said; however, this dimension often is lost in opera performances as well as in the classroom.
This is a visionary program that incorporates the classical culture that is such an integral part of the Italian language but is often forgotten in the classroom. It is our opinion that a thorough understanding of the Italian language cannot be achieved without an appreciation of classic literature, which helped shape Italian as we know it today.
Reading about opera’s connection to Dante was particularly inspiring. What resonated most was that the musicality of opera comes to life in Dante’s poetry as if Dante wrote the Divine Comedy as a blueprint for opera, whose music would glorify it. This text provides students not only with the motivation to learn more about opera but also to take on the additional challenge of Italian grammar. Dante began his journey in a dark forest with no road to follow, much like students of Italian; however, they will find in Operatic Italian a road map leading them through the “infernal” nuances of Italian grammar to finally emerge and once again see the stars.
Franco Paoletti, Ph.D., East Windsor Regional School District, Hightstown, NJ1ll
Lisa M. Carlucci, M.S., M.A. Language Consultant, Princeton, NJ
“I would like to point out to the “Opera-L List” (an Internet chat-line for opera enthusiasts) the existence of a “must-have” book for every opera aficionado, whether they already know Italian or not. The author of this marvelous book–which is both a serious language study and an extremely funny work–has a Ph.D. in Romance languages from Yale University. All in all the book is highly useful and a very entertaining read. I heartily recommend it.” – Alain Letort
“I wish I had had something like this book when I was starting my operatic career. It would have been extremely helpful and indeed, still is!” – Barbara Livingstone, soprano, Victoria, B.C.
“Your book is very interesting and complements the Cambridge Italian Dictionary and Signora Colorni’s book.” – Tom Wilkinson, tenor, Opera Lyra, Ottawa
“In all honesty, I had not expected such a well thought-out, concise but pithy, as well as informed and informative little book. My sincere compliments!”– Jim Legnani, New York City
“Your book is on a shelf (and often gets pulled from that shelf) next to an Italian/English dictionary and 501 Italian Verbs. My ear for languages is dreadful but your book has been very useful in helping me to understand and enjoy the lyric stage much more than I had before. As you probably know, you have several other fans on OPERA-L” – Ed Waffle, Michigan
“This book is your tool to understanding the Italian opera libretto.”– San Francisco Opera Boutique catalog
“Your book is laid out in such a logical way, giving the basic clues to the language, enabling the student to go forward on his or her own. I particularly like how you laid out the verbs, arranging the tenses in a little spreadsheet. This is precisely how my mind works. Your book is also a lot of fun to read.” – Anita Witt, Toledo, Ohio
“This is an excellent book! I wish I’d had it when I taught Operatic Italian at the Yale Music School years ago. Every student of Italian opera singing, every conservatory and university music department ought to have this book.”– Steve Tanner, Vermont
“Thomson has produced a real gem. His presentation of Italian grammar is well-organized, intelligent, and useful. He has also provided a first-class introduction to the Opera. What a great teacher! Somebody should give the guy a prize.”– A college music teacher
“Interesting. Illuminating. An excellent source for both the professional singer and the opera lover.”– French Tickner, professor emeritus, Opera Studies, U. of British Columbia
“A marvellously useful book! I wish I’d had this guide when the opera bug first bit me years ago…”– Walter Lippincott Jr., Director, Princeton U. Press
“I don’t speak Italian and I know nothing about opera but Thomson is changing all that. What a great teacher!”– An engineer in New York City.
“Thomson has produced a real gem. His presentation of Italian grammar is well organized, intelligent and useful. He has also provided a first class introduction to opera. Somebody should give the guy a prize.”– Guy Robertson, B.C. Books
“Singers and teachers of singing (…) cannot afford to be without this excellent text. Much is contained in these relatively few pages, and much is of such importance that the reader will return to it again and again.”– Richard Sjoerdsma, Editor of The NATS Journal
“I would like to tell 1300 List members (OPERA-L@LISTSERV.CUNY.EDU) of the existence of a ‘must-have’ book for every opera aficionado, whether they know Italian or not. The author of this marvelous book–which is both a serious language study and an extremely amusing work–has a Ph. D. in Romance languages from Yale University. All in all the book is highly useful and a very entertaining read. I heartily recommend it.”– Alain Letort, Rio de Janeiro
“Your book is laid out in such a logical way, giving the basic clues to the language, enabling the student to go forward on his/her own. I particularly like the way you laid out the verbs, arranging the tenses in a little spreadsheet. This is precisely how my mind works. (…)”– Mrs. A. Witt, Toledo
“In all honesty, I had not expected such a well thought-out, concise but pithy, as well as informed and informative little book. My sincere compliments!”– Mr. Jim Legnani, opera connoisseur, New York City
“Interesting. Illuminating. An excellent source for both the professional singer and the opera lover.”– Prof. French Tickner, Opera Studies, U. of Brit. Columbia
“This book is your tool to understanding the Italian opera libretto.”– San Francisco Opera Boutique catalog