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Throughout the history of opera, works of literature have provided inspiration for opera composers. John Harbison's 1999 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby is a particularly significant and interesting example. Not only is the novel highly esteemed by scholars and familiar to much of the general public, it is strongly associated with America's Jazz Age and therefore expressive of both the heady era of the 1920's and a distinctive musical genre. The novel provides the composer/librettist with complex, larger-than-life characters for operatic treatment, a mythic story of love and death, and a distinctive musical era from which to draw inspiration. Harbison has in turn created an independent work of art that remains true to the spirit of Fitzgerald's novel. Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby and Harbison's corresponding opera provide fertile ground for the exploration of the transition that occurs when a composer adapts a literary work for the operatic stage. This study focuses on this transition by juxtaposing the opera and its literary source. The first section of the study explores the genesis of Harbison's opera and the evolution of the libretto from the early drafts through the final form. Particular attention is paid to elements borrowed directly from the novel and the alterations Harbison made in crafting the libretto. There follows a comparison of the literary source with the libretto focusing on the treatment of structure, conveyance of the thematic elements of the novel, the psychology of the characters, and the overall tone of the narrative.
Literature as Opera, Phenomenal music, Noumenal music, Murray Horowitz
Date of Defense
October 29, 2004.
A Treatise Submitted to the School of Music in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Florida State University
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