cover image Temple of the Scapegoat

Temple of the Scapegoat

Alexander Kluge, trans. from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole, Donna Stonecipher, and Martin Chalmers. New Directions, $18.95 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2748-3

The real and imagined history of opera, the landscape of emotions, and the “blast furnaces of the soul,” guide Kluge’s captivating collection. Over 100 short stories compose a vision of opera as a durable and protean art form. It is both capable of saving lives—as when the destructive Turkish occupants of Smyrna visit in the early 20th century and venerate that city’s opera house—and of deforming them—as in “The Great Welaschka,” a story about a talented soprano who is “unable to improve on her initial standing” and overshadowed by her lover and his friend. The more historical stories imagine a lost work by John Cage, an East German production called Freedom Opera, and the 1941 Leningrad premiere of Lohengrin, scheduled for what turns out to be the day of the surprise German invasion. Other pieces deconstruct the plots of Norma and Cavalleria Rusticana, given a narrator’s conviction that in all operas “the elements operate among themselves... under the skin of events.” Kluge imagines his parents sitting a few rows away from Walter Benjamin in 1931 and arguing about Madame Butterfly after the performance. A filmmaker, philosopher, and lifelong devotee of the art of opera, Kluge is a maestro with impressive range; readers will commit to “following the voice where it wishes to go.” (Jan.)