The path to a good libretto is piled with literary bodies who thought that they “could” and then rapidly discovered that they really shouldn’t have. Even W. H. Auden, who peaked with The Rake’s Progress for Stravinsky, couldn’t flog his wordy Christmas Oratorio.
So where did it all go wrong? Some blame it on loquacious Wagner, while Meredith Oakes, librettist for Thomas Adès on The Tempest (a rare contemporary success story), blames it on a 20th-century obsession with “a Beckettian sense of futility”. Everyone else blames Sophie’s Choice , the well-meaning but dramatically disastrous 2002 Royal Opera House adaptation of William Styron’s Auschwitz novel.
“What was Nicholas Maw thinking of, writing his own libretto?” asks Philip Hensher, novelist and librettist of Adès’s first opera, Powder Her Face . “And how could the opera house let him? All we seem to get now is tiresome intervention from opera houses who want more input than they deserve.”
Friday, April 20, 2007
In The Times, Sarah Urwin Jones investigates what it takes to write a good libretto.