University Press awards Gossett’s Divas and ScholarsBy Josh Schonwald
At the University Press’ annual award ceremony on Thursday, April 24, President Zimmer presented the 2008 Gordon J. Laing Prize to Philip Gossett for his 2006 book, Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera. Gossett’s book has been widely lauded for its dazzling account of how opera comes to the stage.
The Gordon J. Laing Prize has been awarded annually since 1963 to a University author, editor or translator of a book published during the preceding three years that adds the greatest distinction to the University Press. It is named for Laing, who served as the Press’ general editor for more than 30 years and established its reputation as the premier academic publisher in the United States.
Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor in Music and the College, is the world’s leading authority on 19th-century Italian opera—specifically the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. In Divas and Scholars, he weaves his own personal experiences of triumphant—and even failed—performances, and his perspectives as a fan, musician and scholar. The book brings colorfully to life the problems and the occasional scandals that attend the production of some of the world’s best-known operas.
In announcing the award, Zimmer recounted Gossett’s long and distinguished career of scholarship and service at the University, and his decades of work in the presentation of operas at some of the world’s leading theatres.
Divas and Scholars, Zimmer said, distilled experiences from a lifetime of research and performance. “The book is not only a kind of ‘backstage pass’ to the living operatic tradition (as one reviewer called it),” Zimmer said, “but a vivid example of the difference that humanities scholarship can make to the arts with which it is allied.”
In accepting the award, Gossett noted that his book had a long, 20-year gestation. “During my 10 years as Dean of the Division of the Humanities, I sometimes wondered whether it would ever be finished (as did many of my friends), but I never felt under pressure from the University. No research assessment exercise, no annual report, was going to require that this particular task had to be finished by such-and-such a date. Some projects can be done quickly; others need a longer gestation.”
Gossett also praised the University for its support since the beginning of his career. In 1968, the University’s former music librarian, Hans Lenneberg, greeted the young Assistant Professor with a manuscript of ornaments prepared by Rossini himself. That manuscript figures into Divas and Scholars, published in 2006.
Gossett added that the University Press has generously supported his work. He said the idea to publish The Works of Giuseppe Verdi was not his: John Ryden, former Editor of the Press, told Gossett that the institution that could maintain the Assyrian Dictionary project for so many decades also would be supportive of a 40-year project to produce a Verdi edition.
In closing, Gossett said, “What faculty do, what they write as scholars, is what we as a University are. Our publications spread our ideas to the world. The Laing Prize is a tangible way for the University and its Press to acknowledge this, and I am honored and deeply moved that the prize has been awarded this year to Divas and Scholars.”
Divas and Scholars has won several prizes, including the Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicology Society as the finest book about music to be published in 2006.
The author of two books on Donizetti, Gossett serves as general editor of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi (published by The University of Chicago Press and Ricordi-Universal Music of Milan) and the Works of Gioachino Rossini (published by Baerenreiter-Verlag, Kassel). Among the operas he has edited or co-edited are Rossini’s Tancredi, Ermione and Semiramide. In 1998, the Italian government awarded Gossett its highest civilian honor, the Cavaliere di Gran Croce. He also received the 2004 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
He has served as president of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Textual Scholarship, as Dean of the Division of the Humanities, and as a lecturer and consultant at opera houses and festivals in America and Italy.
Once a math and physics major, Gossett received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1970 and has been teaching since 1968 at the University.