Robert Stuart Thompson’s Italian language learning text, Operatic Italian, promises to become an invaluable textbook for aspiring operatic singers, voice teachers, coaches and conductors. Pulling operatic libretti from Mozart to Verdi, Thomson introduces the student to word-for-word translation, grammatical concepts, and the natural pronunciation and cadence of the language, while unfolding this intricate language in a practical and applicable manner.
Thomson’s main premise for using libretti as source material is that the language of the libretto is filled with literary, poetic and old-fashioned vocabulary devices. The current language learning paradigm found in university language courses aims to teach the student vocabulary and grammar to survive and thrive in that particular modern country. Basic themes include food, travel, and paying for a bus ticket. While practical information for the average Italian learner, music students would be hard-pressed to find an opera entitled Dovè la mia valigia? with which to apply this knowledge.
Operatic Italian is well organized and direct, introducing each libretto example with it’s corresponding musical score, IPA translation, English word-for-word translation, and marked accents for atypical words. Thomson’s goals for the student are to 1) recognize parts of speech 2) understand verb tenses and their functions 3) develop an understanding of grammar peculiarities found in literature. Chapter topics of particular interest to the music student include pronunciation and developing an Italian accent, understanding what is lost in translation from Italian to English, what to appreciate in libretti, and Dante’s influence on Italian literature (opera libretti included).
Operatic Italian would make a fantastic textbook for a conservatory or university where opera students are required to develop a working knowledge of this language. This text also would serve as a fantastic source for seasoned musicians or opera-lovers to deepen their understanding of the language from a literary standpoint, and bridge the gap from their rudimentary knowledge of Italian to a fuller understanding of the richness and depth found in classic Italian literature.