The Opera Theatre of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

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This work is the first full-length analysis of the major productions of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1932-1988), who has been hailed internationally as one of the most important opera directors/ designers of the last century. In a career spanning four decades he was in demand at the leading opera houses of the world where he regularly collaborated with world-class conductors and singer-actors producing an enormous range of operas representing every period, genre and style from Monteverdi and Rossini to Wagner and Strauss. He was instrumental in reinstating the seria operas of Mozart into the active repertoire and was a formidable champion for new works. These credentials require an investigation into the reasons why he was so critically and popularly successful and the influence that he has had on opera production.

Kristina Bendikas has crafted a uniquely scholarly investigation into Ponnelle’s most important and influential productions at the San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and the Houston Grand Opera, as well as those he premiered throughout Europe. In meticulously documented chapters the author draws from substantial primary source material including reviews, interviews, and production notes in order to document and analyze the choices of the director/ designer in operas ranging from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito to Rossini’s La Cenerentola to modern operas such as Reimann’s Lear. Ponnelle’s views on the relationship between the music of opera and theatre of opera – still central to debates about the future of opera production – construct the critical juncture “opera theatre” which lies at the heart of the book. This book illuminates the work of a formidable artist and more importantly, leads to a deeper understanding of the concerns and controversies that shaped opera production in the late twentieth century.


“I am particularly pleased to recommend ….[this] first book-length study in English of this supremely important figure. Dr. Bendikas’ investigation of the opera productions and methods of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle is well-documented and solidly based on primary research. Dr. Bendikas’ book will introduce readers interested in the history and development of modernist theatre, whether it be operatic or dramatic, to a director’s director, an extraordinary artist of the theatre whose prolific career brought a new sense of excitement, new audiences, and even a new repertory to the opera experience, both in living theatre and on film.” – Dr. Lise-Lone Marker, Professor Emeritus of Theatrical History, University of Toronto

“Bendikas’ research work is particularly praiseworthy, given the difficulty of recreating the ephemeral experience of any staged production. Her examples are specific, grounded in impeccable scholarship, and employed to make important forays into matters of twentieth-century stage practice and theory as well as suggesting important questions about aesthetics and artistry in general. For theatre practitioners, the implications of Ponnelle’s work for performance are immensely valuable.” – Langdon Brown, University at Albany

"Bendikas's study redresses this imbalance with the first substantive, English-language treatment of Ponnelle's style, influences, and importance. ... Bendikas has provided a good first look into Ponelle's career and laid the groundwork for further inquiry." -- Prof. Gregory Straughn, Abilene Christian University

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Foreword, Preface, Acknowledgements
1. Methodology: Finding Theatre in Music
2. Irresistible Rossini: La Cenerentola
3. Meaning and Style: Le nozze di Figaro and Così dan tutte
4. Expanding the Canon: La Clemenza di Tito and Idomeneo
5. Opera on Film: Madama Butterfly
6. Testing the Limits: ‘The Dutchman’ Demythologized
7. Breaking New Ground: Lear

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