Harvard Examines Opening Night

np35The Harvard musicologist Thomas Kelly teaches a popular course, First Nights, where students study the first nights of five different pieces of music – their history, cultural context, composition, libretto, rehearsals and how the audience reacted.

“My students are people who want to work for Goldman Sachs,” says Professor Kelly. “They begin by saying, ‘I can’t do any of this.” They don’t know anything about classical music.”

They learn that the exclusive Bayreuth Wagner festivals was originally supposed to be open to anyone, at minimal prices – and that it was a financial disaster. They They learn about Verdi’s note-by-note coaching of singers, and how boxes at La Scala used to be owned outright by patrons – “kind of like the luxury boxes in baseball stadiums today.”

Kelly has published two books on the subject, most recently “First Nights at the opera.” When colleagues ask why he spends so much time on a music appreciation course, he points out that he’s teaching America’s future elite. “I want to make the world safe for the kind of music that I believe in,” he says.

November 25, 2009
Source: NY Times,

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