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Dotto’s Creativity Shines Both In- and Outside MSU

A new, critically acclaimed exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City tells the dramatic story of how the great Italian operatic masterpieces Otello and Falstaff came to be. The curator of the exhibit? Gabe Dotto, director of the MSU Press.

Portrait photo of Gabe DottoDotto—director of the Press since 2007—has worked in academic and commercial publishing for forty years, launching the musicology and ethnomusicology lists at the University of Chicago Press and serving as director of publishing at Casa Ricordi of Milan where he currently coordinates scholarly initiatives of Ricordi’s Historical Archive.

The great composer Verdi actually retired at the age of 58, and if it weren’t for the urging of his publisher, Ricordi, his finest works may never have been created. Dotto created this exhibit, in part, to emphasize the business of culture, that is to say the significant cultural contributions of a commercial activity dedicated to the arts.

“The topic of Verdi’s last operas struck me as a natural opportunity to reveal a side of the opera business that few scholars – and fewer still among the general public – have seen,” stated Dotto.

The Ricordi Archive, beyond its enormous collections of manuscript music scores, librettos (booklets or text of an opera), and visual artwork spanning some two centuries of the company’s activity, also contains extensive business documentation that bears witness to the actively entrepreneurial side of what music publishing was back in the 19th century. Highlighting the role of the remarkable publisher Giulio Ricordi, the catalyst behind these last two Verdi masterpieces, alongside the creative discussions between the composer and his librettist, offered an opportunity to reveal the Enterprise of Opera as the first version of this exhibit was called.

The original version opened in Berlin in 2013 (the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth). It took roughly two years to develop the concept, conduct the research, select the objects to display, write the texts, and then plan the “theme areas,” design, and production. This included various media components, such as the conversations constructed from a sampling of actual letters of the protagonists, reconfigured as discussions and narrated by professional actors in German, English, and Italian.

After the successful European launch, Dotto and his colleagues evaluated various proposals but identifying the best venue here in the US was a challenge. In 2014, he put the Archive and the Bertelsmann in touch with the Morgan Library, as there was a direct synergy with their own important collection of music documents. In the end it worked out beautifully; Fran Barulich, head of music manuscripts and printed music at the Morgan Library & Museum, contributed precious artifacts from their own collection and other sources. And the different design concept for the exhibit created by the Morgan is both elegant and striking.

Example of early magazine cover promoting Falstaff

Early magazine cover promoting Falstaff

Dotto’s early passions were 19th century symphonic music and diverse avant-gardists in vogue in the 1970s. Few scholars focused on 19th-century opera as an object of analysis in those days. His first encounter with Verdi’s Falstaff was transformative (it’s colloquially known as the “opera for composers” for a reason), and the more he delved into the repertory of Donizetti, Rossini, Verdi, and Puccini the more his admiration grew. As the first managing editor of the Verdi edition in the 1980s, and since then working with so many other 19th-century opera scores, he has had the chance to explore the genesis and development of many of these works in great detail.

According to Dotto, “My own scholarly pursuits—alongside my “day job” directing an academic press—have long been in the fields of historical music research and textual criticism. But this recent foray into curating exhibits that target a large, general audience started quite by accident, and – challenging as it is – I thoroughly enjoy it.”

With so many exhibits going on at any one time you never know what will catch the attention of critics.

“The reviewer for The New York Times clearly understood the exhibit’s essential narrative and that is very satisfying indeed because we’re telling a complicated, in many ways under-explored story,” said Dotto. “It means we were successful in getting the message across.”

Photo of exhibit

The exhibit inside the Morgan Library & Museum.

The exhibit, Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff—Highlights from the Ricordi Archive, runs from September 6, 2019, through January 5, 2020, at the Morgan Library & Museum at 225 Madison Avenue, New York, NY. Dotto will provide a lecture at a reception on October 2, 2019.

Exhibit flyer: https://www.bertelsmann.de/media/news-und-media/downloads/ricordi-austellung-ny-pressetext-en-190827-rz-3.pdf

New York Times review: (subscription required) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/arts/music/verdi-boito-otello-falstaff-morgan-library-ricordi.html

Photos by permission Gabe Dotto and Bertelsmann Press Office.

More about Dotto:
In his scholarly work, Dotto has lectured and published on aspects of 19th– and 20th-century Italian opera, 19th-century publishing, and issues of textual criticism. Critical editions of operas he has prepared have been performed in major European and American theatres and recorded on several labels. He is co-general editor of the Operas of Gaetano Donizetti, the general editor of the Operas of Giacomo Puccini critical editions, and serves on the editorial boards of the scholarly editions of Verdi, Bellini, Meyerbeer, and Mayr. The University of Chicago Press will publish his edition of Verdi’s Falstaff.

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