The Collegian
Wednesday, October 05, 2022

UR music librarian reviews famous Opera

Collegian Reporter

Football fanatics fantasize about getting their hands on autographed jerseys while archeologists dream of discovering hidden artifacts telling of past cultures. For opera lovers such as Linda Fairtile, head of the University of Richmond Parsons Music Library, the original manuscripts of opera legend Giacomo Puccini were the ultimate finding.

Fairtile not only studied Puccini's 1889 opera "Edgar," but spent five years reviving the original version for its first modern performance in Italy. Originally, her task was to rebuild acts two and four, which were thought to be missing, using only the surviving voice and piano accompaniments from acts one and three. Puccini's pen became her own as she reconstructed the lost acts, entrenched in his compositional style.

"It became part of my life," said Fairtile, who devoted mornings, nights and weekends to recreating the opera, in addition to her year-round work as a librarian.

"If I didn't really have a strong passion for it, I wouldn't have been able to do it," she said.

Fairtile's research took her to Milan for a month, where she studied Puccini's handwritten scores, deciphering the layers of ink to differentiate his original work from revisions.

"When I saw the manuscripts in Milan," Fairtile said, "I saw I was on the right track and thought, 'I can really do this.'"

Six days a week, Fairtile worked in a room with other researchers studying different rare materials.

"It was the perfect project for her," said Gene Anderson, chair of the music department. "She is very systematic and approaches challenges in a logical and detailed way. I know she poured over microfilms."

But once Fairtile finished her work in 2007, Puccini's granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, came forward with the two missing acts. Fairtile was able to compare her version with Puccini's original scores.

"It was wonderful news, but I was disappointed because my work would never be heard," she said.

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After the discovery of the missing manuscripts, Fairtile's task was to resurrect Puccini's original opera, as he had made many revisions after its first performance.

"She got national and international recognition for this, which is highly unusual for a small school like the University of Richmond," Anderson said. "She puts us on the map."

On June 25, Fairtile's hard work was translated to the stage in the Torino, Italy opera house, where she sat in the royal box watching the first modern performance of "Edgar."

"It was incredible," Fairtile said. "Before, it had been my private opera, and suddenly all these people knew it and were performing on stage. It was like writing a speech and having the president read it on television."

Fairtile said the opera -- which is a story about a conflicted man, Edgar, who is desired by two women, one innocent and one promiscuous -- was underappreciated when it originally debuted because its success was measured by the audience's applause, similar to an episode of American Idol.

"Though 'Edgar' was an early opera and is not considered Puccini's best work," Anderson said, "it is important because it is used in comparison to his later work.

"Puccini was the greatest opera composer in the first half of the twentieth century. Everything he wrote is essentially iconic."

Fairtile's interest in Puccini was first unleashed in junior high school when she watched a live telecast from the Met of a Puccini opera. Her dream of becoming a surgeon was squelched by her newfound passion for opera. She went on to receive a Ph.D. in musicology from New York University, where she wrote her dissertation on Puccini's operatic revisions. Here, she associated with people from Ricordi, a publishing company based in Milan, Italy that published Puccini's work and later contacted her to revive "Edgar."

"There was a lot of Linda Fairtile in that performance," said Anderson of the modern debut. "Her baby was born on stage.

"We're lucky to have someone like her at Richmond. She is an example of what we want all of our students to be able to do. She can teach students what first-hand, original research really is."

University Librarian James Rettig agreed. "We have a nationally known researcher to guide our students," he said. "I'm proud of her."

Beyond a deeper understanding of Puccini's compositional style, Fairtile said her work taught her not to be intimidated by a project.

"It was scary at first, but I learned not to think about the enormity of the project or you will be paralyzed," she said. "If you take little bites, you will eventually eat the whole thing."

Contact reporter Jenn Hoffman at jenn.hoffman@richmond.edu

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