Friday, 16 September 2011

Peter Suart came in on Friday to sign his etchings for the new Gulliver’s Travels – the final stage of a project which has been in the pipeline for well over a year. Meanwhile I was polishing my letter to members announcing the publication. I came to the phrase ‘many believed that Gulliver’s Travels was a true – if exaggerated account’ and thought – surely not! By serendipity, my lunchtime stroll that day took me past the Royal College of Surgeons, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and I popped in to the Hunterian Museum. Among the fascinating items in that sometimes gruesome collection is the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the famous Irish giant – here it is, together with a contemporary print (I particularly like the small gentleman on the right).

Also on display is a portrait of another small gentleman, the famous ‘Count’ Jozef Boruwlaski who had reached the height of just 28 inches by the age of 22; he lived to the grand old age of 97 and is buried in Durham Cathedral. With such extreme examples to hand, and with explorers returning to British shores with incredible tales of wondrous discoveries around the globe, it is indeed conceivable that some people took Captain Gulliver at his word. (By the way, an unexpected fact about Count Boruwlaski is that he had a brother of six foot four!)

I took the proofs of his Cicero illustrations down to Tom Phillips in Peckham and he was mightily impressed. Lying around his studio were various early ideas for his Rilke project. This one includes the first line of the Duino Elegies, in his own translation. Tom told me on no account to miss looking at the old waiting room in Peckham Rye station – ‘one of the finest rooms in England’. Here’s a photo, showing the shell of what must once have been Venetian grandeur. Thankfully, its restoration is now under way.

Went to a fabulous performance of Puccini’s Il Trittico the other night. I was reminded of a project I have long cherished – to publish properly printed and bound opera libretti in parallel text. Those supplied with CDs are invariably printed in tiny type and the booklets tend to fall apart. Some libretti – such as those by da Ponte for Mozart, and Hofmannsthal for Strauss – are literary works in their own right and should be read as such. One could illustrate them with classic set and costume designs such as Alfred Roller’s for Der Rosenkavalier.

Comments on this – and any other ideas raised in this blog – are more than welcome!



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Comments from others

  • Lir Mac Carthaigh says:

    I’ve been longing for the Folio Society to publish some opera libretti – the opera-themed volumes from the late 40s/early 50s were very handsome. The da Ponte operas would make a great starting place – as would the Ring cycle (there are numerous excellent translations to choose from, and a sequence of illustrations by Rackham).

    • Stewart A. Stehlin says:

      I’m delighted you are thinking about a Folio/libretto volume or 2. I have repeatedly suggested that in letters & e mails to the Society. The G&S 2 vols. of several years ago are constantly referred to by me before I go 1-2x per year to a G&S performance. A volume of bi-lingual text of Wagner’s, Puccini’s, or Verdi’s operas would be ideal selections.

  • Alan Meneghetti says:

    I think that the Folio publication of opera libretti would be absolutely wonderful! One to push for Joe.

  • James Rea says:

    Just a note to say that a Folio edition of Rilke’s Duino Elegies is a fine idea. Has Tom Phillips already translated the poems? I assume that he has done some work because of the words found on the illustration provided in today’s blog. As the owner of a number of translations of the work I have experienced the vital differences which can occur between translations – vital to understanding the poet’s intent and hence to the enjoyment of the poetry. I wish him well in this future project!

  • David Anderson says:

    Dear Joe,
    I can hardly afford to buy a fraction of the wonderful things published by the Folio Society, but I love to read about them just the same. So I will enjoy reading your blog.
    Like you, I love opera, but I don’t think that publishing opera librettos is a good idea. All the best operas are in foreign languages (correct! I don’t like Benjamin Britten!) and therefore their librettos need to be translated into English. The English they end up in is nearly always either flat and colourless or else inadvertently hilarious. I’ve just been looking at the English translation of the libretto for Der Rosenkavalier that came with the CDs of the 1956 von Karajan recording, and even that is flat, colourless and inadvertently hilarious; unworthy of publication by the Folio Society.
    A suggestion: a facsimile edition of the Golden Cockerel edition of Troilus and Criseyde

    • On Behalf of Joe says:

      You will be happy to know a facsimile edition of Troilus and Criseyde is currently in production. I will be posting some updates about it’s progress shortly. Thanks for the thoughts about the librettos, if we do go ahead with this idea we will ensure that they are of the highest standard – or possibly even commission new ones!

      • David Anderson says:

        Thank you. Wonderful news about Troilus and Criseyde. The thing I love about the Golden Cockerell publications is that they were made to be read. You can actually read them with pleasure.

  • Faisel says:

    Dear Joe! Fantastic! Can’t wait for Gulliver’s Travels LE. Any indication on price? I’m really happy I didn’t buy the Easton Press one. I was really happy that you chose to publish The Faerie Queene and now this. I can always count on the FS.

  • Antonio says:

    Many thanks to Folio Society and to you personally for providing this link for the members. Love the project of a coming edition of Gulliver’s Travels. It will probably be a huge success. And, since you mention the idea of publishing librettos, considering them as literature (rightly), how about going one step further and publish one of the many graphic novels that are also literature? A suggestion? Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

  • Indranil Mukherjee says:

    Hello Joe:

    Am a proud owner of the Wind In The Willows LE. I can say that is the most gorgeous book that I have seen. Looking forward to the Gulliver’s Travels LE. Did not receive any mail so far.


    • Thank you for your comment. News about Gulliver’s Travels is just about to be sent out, with collectors of previous limited editions among the first to be notified. The product will also be made live on the site by tomorrow.

  • Rex Harrison says:

    Opera Librettos: Great Idea! Aida,The Ring Cycle, La Boheme, Carmen… There’s no end to it really (well there is, but it’s a lengthy list!) As for artwork, there’s a lot to choose from, old and new. For Wagner, Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor Smith and Arthur Rackham are three obvious choices together with costume designs and set illustrations as well as on-stage photos. They could be rather sumptuous productions. I would love to see Aida or Carmen illustrated by someone like Michael W. Kaluta. Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, oh and let’s no forget the glorious Russian opera Prince Igor by Borodin / Rimsky-Korsakov / Glazunov! Art by Ivan Biliban, perhaps.
    On an unrelated point – what are the chances of reprinting “The Greengage Summer” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” with some decent artwork? The illustrations in both are beyond bad. Greengage could be handled very well by Paul Cox while Mockingbird cries out for E. B. Lewis or Jerry Pinkney.