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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2008

T C 357 • Thrice Told Tales: Opera, Film, Literature & Dance

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43905 TTh
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
RAS 213

Course Description

A good story can always be retold and gives even more pleasure a second time. And so mankind retells its favorite tales over and over in various media with variations and emphases. In our course we shall listen, see, study and interpret some of the most wonderful tales as they are transformed and metamorphosed from medium to medium becoming more wonderful and enjoyable in their various dress. We shall observe how each medium functions and transmits through its unique structure the tale to its best advantage. We shall follow a narrative from literature, whether in verse or prose, as poem, epic, drama, short story or novel, etc. leading through libretto to opera and on to film. Each medium presents unique challenges and forces the viewer or recipient to adapt to the new interpretation. Each new version of the tale reveals another angle and underscores how rich and complex a narrative can really be: a symbolic concentrate of human experience. Passion, hate, history, generational conflict, the grotesque and the comic, murder, sex and exaltation all find their home in these works of art. The greatest themes appear and are exploited to pull the audience into the work through the tensions and conflicts that emerge creating fear, desire, longing and at times sheer amusement while also concluding with resolutions and catharsis. Masterplots are entwined in words and music and turned into images on film and stage. These works provide too some of the most celebrated characters and personalities in all Western esthetic endeavors.

In our course we shall use the greatest operasall on filmas the focus of our attention and appreciate how the opera is usually the second or third retelling of a powerful tale but not always. We shall therefore watch the opera, study the original inspiring textand interpret how and why it passed through libretto and scenario into opera and film., dance. The transformations are significant and we must understand their implications. The pleasures of the text, the opera, the film and dance will confirm how potent these key narratives really are and why they constitute some of the greatest artistic and cultural events in human creativity .

Grading Policy

Midterm 30%
Class Presentation+ written final version 30%
Final Exam 30%
Class Participation 10%


We shall study these key operas: their libretti, their literary, cinematic and terpsichorean narratives from the following selection.

1. Monteverdi, Orfeo e Eurydice, Ovid, Metamorphoses, films: Orfeu Negro; Cocteau, Orphée, Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice[play, 2005!; Gluck ,Orphée et Eurydice
2. Rossini, The Barber of Seville; Beaumarchais, The Barber of Seville
3. Mozart, Marriage of Figaro; Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro
4. Verdi, Otello; Shakespeare, Othello. Paula Vogel, Desdemona's Handkerchief; Othello, ballet
5. Wagner, Tristan und Isolde; Béroul, Romance of Tristan
6. Bizet, Carmen; Mérimée, Carmen, film: Carmen Jones, Carmen, ballets
7. Janacek, The House of the Dead
8. Puccini, Manon Lescaut; Massenet, Manon; Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut ,ballets
9. Henze, Boulevard Solitude

At Coop or obtain via Amazon, etc.

Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut. Oxford UP
Melville, Billy Budd, Oxford UP
Beaumarchais, Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro
Merimée, Carmen, Penguin
Béroul, Romance of Tristan, Penguin
Vogel, Desdemona's Handkerchief, Dramatists Play Service
Optional: Gallo, Denise, Opera: The Basics, Routledge, pap.

About the Professor

Professor Seth Wolitz received his Ph.D. from Yale and currently holds the Marie and Edwin Gale Chair of Judaic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He teaches for the Department of French and Italian as well as the Department of American Studies. His research interests include Yiddish modernism, Jewish-Slavic literary and folkloric relations, 19th and 20th century Modernism, Belle Epoque, as well as several languages including French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German.


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