Wallstein Verlag

Hanjo Kesting

Awaiting the King’s Horseback Messenger

On Opera and Literature

415 pages, 14,0 x 22,2
ISBN: 978-3-8353-3126-6 (2017)


German Version

An exploration of the history of the opera and the interplay between text and music – both entertaining and inspiring.

In the history of the opera, happy partnerships between composers and their lyricists are rare. The names of as many as fourteen librettists appear on Verdi’s 27 opera scores. The rivalry between the precedence of sound and language pervades the entire history of the opera. In the 18th century, Pietro Metastasio took on a supreme role as a librettist – Kesting describes him as »the most influential opera lyricist in history«. His librettos were set to music around one thousand times, even by Mozart, who was actually of the opinion that, in the opera, poetry should be »the obedient daughter of music«, naming Lorenzo Da Ponte as his sole librettist. The 19th century produced lyricists such as Eugène Scribe, Felice Romani and Arrigo Boito, and not least the special case of Richard Wagner, who was his own librettist. In the 20th century, important authors such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Stefan Zweig, Jean Cocteau and W.H.Auden placed themselves at the service of composers. Bertolt Brecht, who was also a prolific writer of texts for musical theatre, had the king’s horseback messenger appear at the end of the Threepenny Opera: »So that, at least at the opera, you can witness a case where justice is tempered with mercy.«

Hanjo Kesting, born in 1943, was the head of the main editorial office Kulturelles Wort at NDR from 1973 to 2006. In 1982 he received the Critics’ Prize at the Salzburg Festival, in 2005 the Kurt Morawietz Literary Prize from the City of Hanover, followed by a honorary doctorate from the University of Hamburg in 2007.
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