Happy Alchemy: On the Pleasures of Music and the Theatre

Robertson Davies, Author, Brenda Davies, Editor, Jennifer Surridge, Editor
Robertson Davies, Author, Brenda Davies, Editor, Jennifer Surridge, Editor Viking Books $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-670-88019-5
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-14-027562-9
Hardcover - 400 pages - 978-0-7710-2585-3
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Last year, Davies's widow, Brenda, and their daughter, Jennifer Surridge, worked to compile The Merry Heart, a collection of Davies's speeches and writings on reading, writing and books. Davies had consented to the plans for that book in the last months of his life. This, however, seems to be purely a production of his estate and is, truth to tell, uneven. There are some wonderful pieces: His speech on ""The Noble Greeks"" wanders convincingly from Greek religion and culture to Jim Jones and David Koresh to troubles with translation; while ""Lewis Carroll in the Theatre"" is a fine work on Carroll generally, but one that puts him into the context of 19th-century theater. But for someone who was an actor and playwright married to a former stage manager, many of the theatrical pieces are slight--introductions to his plays; an encomium on the event of Stratford's 40th; a perfectly nice, but not notable book review of Michael Holroyd's third volume on Shaw. Two well-executed pastiches stand in distinction to Davis's libretto for an ""Operetta for Young People"" (""O love, you hang on Fillpail's horns/And swell her splendid udder!/Triumph, O Fillpail, win today,/The alternative makes me shudder!""). Midway, a piece in defense of the emotional immediacy of melodrama leads neatly into several very good works: on how weak or badly bowdlerized literature gives way to great opera; on the operatic juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy; and on the possible uses (exploited and un-) of Celtic folklore in opera. In these pieces Davies warms to themes of myth and archetype and wonder. In these pieces one hears the voice of the old mage. (July)
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