Italian Scholar Publishes Vietnamese Book on Opera History

Professor Gianni Kriscak, the primary author of the book "History of Italian Opera," aims to enhance the comprehension of the early period of this art form among Vietnamese artists and the general public.

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Aiming to introduce opera history to Vietnamese audiences and artists, Italian music professor Gianni Kriscak, along with lecturers/artists Nguyen Thi Hien (Hien Nguyen Soprano) and Trinh Thi Oanh, has presented the research book History of Italian Opera in Vietnamese.

Professor Gianni Kriscak studied violin and piano at the G. Tartini Conservatory in Trieste, Italy. He continued his studies in piano and conducting in Hamburg and Lübeck. In 1999, he became a professor and taught at the University and the Japan Opera Association. Currently, he teaches at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria.

During his visit to Vietnam for the book launch, he spoke to The Hanoi Times about his desire for a broader understanding of opera as an art form.

 Autographs for readers by Italian music professor Gianni Kriscak. Photo: The Hanoi Times

Exploring the Origins of Opera

Why did you choose Vietnam as the location to publish this book series, and what motivated you to start working on it?

Based on my experience, many singers, conductors, and musical theater directors do not have a clear understanding of the origins of opera. In particular, there are very few monographs on opera in Vietnam.

In 2016, I had the opportunity to teach in Vietnam and met Hien Nguyen Soprano at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. I noticed her deep interest in European culture, particularly opera and Italian culture. We could communicate in both English and Italian.

Two years ago, Hien shared with me her idea of writing a book about opera, focusing on its early stages. Opera was born in Italy, not Germany, France, or Russia. I firmly believe that this art form has its own historical and social context. Hien and I share the same desire to spread this knowledge to everyone, especially in places where information is scarce. That’s why we decided to create this book in Vietnam. Hien Nguyen invited music teacher Trinh Thi Oanh to join the project, and she is responsible for translating my parts into Vietnamese.

 The cover of the book is inspired by the classic opera “Orpheus and Eurydice”Photo: Ngo Minh/The Hanoi Times

How did you approach storytelling in order to make this academic art form accessible to readers?

With the first volume consisting of 194 pages, we aimed to discuss opera in a way that is engaging and not overwhelming.

I tried to provide concise but informative explanations about the social and political contexts of opera in Italy. I didn’t want to overwhelm Vietnamese readers, or even Italians, with excessive details or names. My goal was to highlight the most significant and intriguing moments from the early stages of opera, when it was primarily a “liturgical drama” used to convey religious ideas. At that time, women were not allowed on stage, so female roles were performed by men. Readers will also learn about the different forms of opera and the vocal qualities of opera singers.

We planned to divide the book into two volumes. The first volume covers the history of opera from its inception (16th century) to around the mid-18th century, which is a lesser-known period, not just in Vietnam but worldwide. The second volume will cover the subsequent period until opera’s decline.

 Italian music professor Gianni Kriscak performs with soprano Hien Nguyen and bass-baritone Quoc Dat in Hanoi. Photo: The Hanoi Times

A Deep Appreciation for Vietnamese Opera

As a performer, conductor, and music professor with extensive global experience, what is your opinion of Vietnamese opera today?

Through our years of research, we have witnessed the dedication and enthusiasm of Vietnamese music critics and artists in studying opera. However, they need a comprehensive understanding of opera’s history. With our book, we hope to bring Italian spirit closer to Vietnamese musicians and opera enthusiasts.

It’s a fact that many young Vietnamese are currently indifferent towards opera and other classical arts. This phenomenon is not unique to Vietnam; we have also witnessed it in Italy.

We hope that this book, with its basic knowledge, will be widely embraced in society and educational institutions, bringing opera closer to the Vietnamese audience.

During your visit to Vietnam, what are your plans to learn more about Vietnamese opera and music?

During my visit, I had a book launch where I shared information with artists, journalists, and opera enthusiasts. I also had a mini concert at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. I performed on the piano alongside soprano Hien Nguyen and bass-baritone Quoc Dat. Our repertoire included classical and semi-classical pieces from Vietnam and around the world, such as Dang Huu Phuc’s Winter Lullaby and Cao Viet Bach’s Spring Arcade. Collaborating with these talented artists has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of Vietnamese music.

However, this business trip was too short. I plan to return soon to further explore Vietnamese opera. I also look forward to receiving feedback from readers and finding inspiration for the next volumes in the book series.

Thank you for your time.