Oxford University knows nothing about opera

Oxford University knows nothing about opera


norman lebrecht

October 22, 2015

The OUP has published a timeline of opera history full of the most elementary howlers.

The premiere of Tristan, for instance, is dated to 1845. Mahler’s Klagende Lied is not a opera. Nothing happened in opera between 1878 and 1900. An ‘electronic libretto system’ is supposed to have ‘revolutionised’ opera in 1983.

Oxford University Press calls itself ‘a leading music publisher’. On this evidence it knows nothing about opera.


paris opera garnier

h/t: Mark Berry


  • Ian Pace says:

    Oxford University Press do not represent the university as a whole – would it not be better to put ‘Press’ in the title of this post?

    • Jaxon says:

      Why would you imagine Norman wants accurate information to appear in his blog?

      This is as much of a howler as anything in the post.

  • Tom Maxwell says:

    Of course, but that wouldn’t make such a dramatic headline, would it?

  • M. says:

    This is very odd.

    The first thing that I thought of between 1878 and 1900 was the premiere of “Parsifal”. It misses indeed… but the work’s first conception appears, in 1857.

    Also with Wagner, the “Ring” is mentioned in 1869, for the Munich anticipated premiere of “Das Rheingold”, but nothing in 1876 for the inaugural Bayreuth Festival and the premiere of the entire “Ring”, which was arguably a much bigger deal on the scale of opera history.

    As for “Carmen”, the publication of Mérimée’s short story appears in 1845, but not the premiere of Bizet’s opéra comique in 1875.

    The stage debut of Caroline Unger in 1821 and the birth of Marc Blitzstein in 1902 are, we are told, “pivotal moments in opera history”.

    “January 1900: Emergence of ragtime music.” Now that is sudden!

    Nothing happened either between 1928 and 1983. Too bad the New Bayreuth or Maria Callas didn’t make the cut.

    All in all, this seems more sloppy and ill-designed than brutally ignorant.

    • Ppellay says:

      And Marc Blitzstein was born in 1905, not 1902! Never mind proof-reading and fact-checking, they should just take the whole thing down and start again!

  • Sir Kitt says:

    ‘elementary howlers’ have not prevented a number of things being published.

  • Federico says:

    Many omissions and errors (example Teatro Colón was open en 1908, not 1857). Some irrelevant data… A very bad and disposable timeline.

  • Paul says:

    must be the rough draft start of a work in progress:

    no mention of Carl Maria Weber, Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek, Mussorgsky, Britten, Berg, Shostakovich, … (too many names to list) … Cav & Pag is not there, Puccini is no longer referenced after 1896, Verdi is no longer mentioned after La traviata, they only list 2 of Mozart’s operas, and yet they include the 10,000th performance of Phantom of the Opera !?!?

    A previous reader commented here that they did not include the premiere of Carmen in 1875, but I see it has been added. Hopefully this means that they are taking our suggestions, and slowly this will be updated, corrected, and expanded.

  • Emil says:

    Facts are optional, of course. Knowing that Oxford:
    – is composed of multiple academics with their own, individual views
    – that the Press is not the University.
    – that, based on this, you are not in a position to judge anyone on factual accuracy.

  • MWnyc says:

    I Googled the two women whose bylines are on that timeline, and they both appear to be marketing executives in their twenties. Neither appears to have much background in music.

    Here are their LinkedIn pages:

    [redacted: privacy request]

    I know there are OUP staffers in New York who work in the classical sheet music division and actually do know classical music – and who, if they’ve seen it, are probably mortified by this.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      But where are the university directors of the Press? Who instructed these young women to market inanity? Marketing is meant to advance the brand, not destroy it.

      • Nicholas Riddle says:

        OUP really is one of the leading music publishers in the world, with an outstanding and enviable reputation. The effect they have had on the English-speaking world’s Christmas music alone is massive, and they go well beyond that in the role they play in the serious music world. Books *about* music come almost entirely from a different department of the Press, and there are also differences between the way the Press operates in its NY and Oxford manifestations. It would be most unfair to attribute any of the errors identified to the music publishing team, which is a very knowledgeable and outstanding group of people.

        • Anon says:

          But you can’t expect the average punter to know the difference, that’s totally unreasonable. It’s like expecting that when someone buys a CD they would somehow realise the difference between a Sony (Germany) local artist, a Sony (International) release which is a one-off tape licence, and a Sony (International) release with an exclusively-signed roster artist they are intent on developing. No consumer knows, or cares, and for the industry to pretend you can differentiate in this way is ridiculous.

          If it says OUP, then a consumer is entitled to believe it is OUP and comes with that level of knowledge and expertise; not something turned out over lunch by a couple of junior staffers.

  • norman lebrecht says:

    We’ve received a response from an editor at OUP:
    Dear Norman,

    Thank you for covering our recent timeline on Slipped Disc. The work published was not up to our usual standards and we are working to improve it. We are currently editing it to add information based on feedback from you and various commenters in order to make it more comprehensive (as well as fix a few typos that staffers made).