The following is a guest post from 2011 Junior Fellow Dana Barron.
The familiar titles were there: Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Puccini’s Tosca, Wagner’s Parsifal. Others were slightly less well known: Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies and Castor et Pollux by Jean-Philippe Rameau. And some were downright obscure: La morte di Oloferne, the sole surviving opera of one Nicola Cartoni, or Elephants in Congress, an operatic comedy by Walter Damrosch. All are part of the Library’s extensive and diverse holdings of full-score operas (M1500s), a collection with which I spent my summer.
A musicology student from Indiana University, I was one of this year’s Junior Fellows in the Music Division. My project involved developing a comprehensive inventory of the opera scores held by the Library, noting for each whether it had been catalogued and recording basic bibliographic information. In addition, I singled out those scores that were manuscripts dating from ca. 1600-1800 in order to update the Library’s holdings in RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales), an international project that tracks what musical sources exist and where they are housed.
The Library’s opera manuscripts run the gamut, from meticulously decorated presentation copies to hastily written performance scores that bear the marks of overzealous conductors, from plain cardboard covers to gilded leather bindings. There are also numerous transcripts of European manuscripts, commissioned for the Library during the early twentieth century, some of which are now the only record of sources lost during the World Wars. I had the pleasure of examining hundreds of manuscripts, so here are two samples:
One of my favorite manuscripts was a presentation copy created ca. 1694 of Tomaso Albinoni’s first opera, Zenobia Regina de Palmireni. The only surviving manuscript of this opera, the Library’s copy is replete with illuminations in red, blue, and gold. The highlight of my summer’s project was the discovery and research of a manuscript that had gone unnoticed: Gaetano Donizetti’s La Parisina. This score, which had no library markings or call number, can now be considered along with the one other known manuscript of this work (owned by a library in Belgium).
I learned a great deal about studying manuscripts—including how to read almost indecipherable handwriting—and the interconnected world of eighteenth-century opera. And it is my hope that my summer’s work will allow others to know more about the Library’s entire opera collection, from Albini to Zumsteeg!