Larry Wolff is the Silver Professor of History at NYU, the Executive Director of the Remarque Institute at NYU, the Codirector of NYU Florence, and the author of The Singing Turk: Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon. (September 2020)


What China Sounded Like

Fragments of a silk painting from the Astana Tombs, Xinjiang, China, circa 200–800

Listening to China: Sound and the Sino-Western Encounter, 1770–1839

by Thomas Irvine
On September 14, 1793, a British envoy, George Macartney, appeared for the first time before the Qianlong Emperor, who ruled China from 1735 to 1796. The audience took place in a ceremonial yurt at the mountain summer palace of the Qing emperors at Chengde (or Jehol), close to their Manchu …

I Feel Pretty

Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, 1960; photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson


by Leonard Bernstein, performed by the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, conducted by Louis Langrée, Lincoln Center, New York City, July 17–18, 2018

Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein

by Jamie Bernstein
In 1897 Gustav Mahler, born Jewish, converted to Roman Catholicism to take up the position of music director of the Vienna Court Opera. While Mahler’s conversion is often viewed as a matter of professional convenience and conformity, it is also true that Christian texts and Christian feeling were powerfully important …

End Notes

The Mozart family; painting by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, circa 1780–1781

Mozart in Vienna: The Final Decade

by Simon P. Keefe
In 1778, when Mozart was twenty-two, he went to Paris for six months, accompanied by his mother, leaving his father and sister in Salzburg. It turned into a difficult time for him: his mother became ill and died, which he hesitated to reveal to his father, staging the news gradually …

All the World’s a Stage

A scene from the Handspring Puppet Company’s production of Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses, directed by William Kentridge

The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart

by Mitchell Cohen
Machiavelli’s The Prince was presented to the Medici family in 1513 with a dedication that turned out to be much more than a flattering formality since, for the next five centuries, it remained attached to the most influential treatise of modern political theory. Machiavelli began by observing that “those who …


A Resonant Centenary for Strauss at the Vienna State Opera

Evelyn Herlitzius as the Nurse and Camilla Nylund as the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Wiener Staatsoper, Austria, 2019

In Die Frau ohne Schatten, the conductor Thielemann finds a work fundamentally consonant with his conservative values—both in the late Romantic tonalities of Strauss’s music and in librettist Hofmannsthal’s sacral vision of marriage and child-rearing as the answer for social ills. One of the opera’s most haunting moments, at the conclusion of the first act, is when a trio of nightwatchmen is heard enjoining in ceremonious unison husbands and wives to love each other, entrusting them with the seed of new life. This tentative rite of renewal and regeneration is what the opera offered to the postwar world in 1919. Today, it has a somewhat different resonance for an Austrian republic shaken by scheming politicians involved in shady deals.

A Longed-For Tristan

Camilla Nylund and Jonas Kaufmann performing Tristan and Isolde, with conductor Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York City, April 12, 2018

Tristan und Isolde is an opera about longing, but the longing in Carnegie Hall was focused on tenor Jonas Kaufmann, after several cancellations of performances in New York, notably at the Metropolitan Opera. He is easily the most celebrated tenor in the world today, sings to great acclaim in a variety of styles, from Wagner to Puccini. At the end of this performance, he was collecting so many bouquets that it began to seem a little insulting to the marvelous Finnish soprano singing Isolde, Camilla Nylund.

‘Così’ in Coney

Ben Bliss as Ferrando, Amanda Majeski as Fiordiligi, Serena Malfi as Dorabella, and Adam Plachetka as Guglielmo in Mozart's Così fan tutte, 2018

There are few operatic works so cheerfully indifferent to morals as Così fan tutte, and it was largely deplored and rarely performed through most of the nineteenth century. Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, Jewish by birth, became a Catholic priest and then caused scandal by his libertine love affairs before leaving the priesthood; he was having an affair with the soprano who created the role of Fiordiligi. As for Mozart, he was the man who knew all about the serial courtship of sisters, since he first fell in love with Aloysia Weber and then married her younger sister Constanze.

Wagner on Trial

In Barrie Kosky’s new production of Die Meistersinger, which opened the 2017 Bayreuth Festival, the musical cobbler Hans Sachs has been restyled as his creator Richard Wagner, isolated in the witness box at the Nuremberg Trials, and we the audience have now become the tribunal, passing judgment on him. Sachs, singing of German art, seems to be desperately pleading for absolution after the vicious ways in which German high culture—and especially Wagner’s music—was harnessed to the ideology of Nazism.