978-0-14-027562-9 / 9780140275629

Happy Alchemy: On the Pleasures of Music and the Theatre


Publisher:Penguin Books



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About the book:

The following passage reveals Robertson Davies' great love of the theatre, and shows that these collected pieces, numbering 33, transcend mere criticism: "For as long as I can remember, playgoing has stood first among all pleasures with me, and although to most people it is simply a pastime, I think that I have brought qualities to it which raised it above that.... I sincerely believe that I have been a good playgoer, and that is something better, perhaps, than having been a well-known critic."

One's admiration for this literary master doubles when remembering that drama was Davies' academic field and constituted one of his three successful careers (he acted with the Old Vic in England). By 1962, Davies had begun to craft his playgoing notes into the Theatre Diary--snippets of which appear in this posthumously published collection. Each of these 33 pieces, introduced by the author and followed by a diary entry or two, demonstrates Davies' enormous and diverse erudition. Included are speeches, prologues to plays, articles about the theatre and opera, a discussion of folksong, a children's opera, a story set to music and a preliminary sketch of a film script. Several personal essays shed light on his own ambitions as a playwright.

Many of these pieces were lectures, and they enjoy the immediacy and cadence of the spoken word. A spacious tone ensues; that is, complex ideas are delivered clearly, because they are intended for a listening audience. Surprisingly, this enhances the pleasure of reading them. Happy Alchemy may not appeal to the reader whose interest in theatre and opera is only occasional, but it certainly will to any ardent Robertson Davies fan who delights in the turnings of a learned and sophisticated mind. --Hollis Giammatteo

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