March 17, 2010
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Thomas Kelly

Harvard’s alumni folks set up a two-part lecture series on Don Giovanni by Thomas Forrest Kelly, whose book on First Nights I really enjoyed (back in 2004: thanks Tinderbox) and whose First Nights At The Opera I had overlooked. He’s a famously fine lecturer and this was an opportunity to see for myself.

Wow. Without being over-prepared, he worked without notes or slide cues and without a pause, never losing the thread never losing his grammar. He was by turns funny and engaging, rigorous and scholarly, relaxed and demanding. He managed not to assume that everyone knew the opera but was open to the expectation that part of the audience had probably performed or produced it. He paid his audience the compliment of expecting them to be able to read Italian while being sure to provide subtle plot hints that would suffice to make sure everyone understood without ever suggesting that you might not know Zerlina from Donna Elvira.

You seldom see this quality of lecture at conferences and symposia, even in the aery, expensive realms of TED or the trendy world of SXSW. It’s good to see what can be done.