Philip Gossett

Philip Gossett (born New York, 27 September 1941) is an American musicologist and historian, and recently officially retired from the post of Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor of Music at the University of Chicago. His lifelong interest in 19th-century Italian opera, which began with listening to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts in his youth, most recently led to the publication of a major book on the subject, Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera, which won the Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society as the best book on music of 2006.

Philip Gossett's contributions to opera scholarship and how they can influence operatic performance may best be summed up by Newsday's comment that "some encomiasts claim that soprano Maria Callas did as much for Italian opera as Arturo Toscanini or Verdi. Musicologist Philip Gossett arguably has done as much for Italian opera as any of those geniuses."[1]

Gossett's career

At the time he began graduate musical studies in the mid-1960s, the Italian composers such as Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi had been given little serious academic study. As he noted: "If you were going to be a serious musicologist, you had to study Beethoven or Bach or Gregorian chants, but Rossini -- that was a pretty funny idea" [2] However, he persisted and notes that "I went to Princeton University for graduate work in musicology (and) I fell more in love with the music and wrote my doctoral dissertation on the music of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. Then I went to Paris on a Fulbright and studied Rossini's operas.".[3]

Throughout his career, Gossett's work has frequently taken him to Italy, where he has advised on the presentations of productions at the Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini's hometown of Pesaro, and he has worked directly with the Istituto Nazionale di Studi Verdiani (Institute of Verdi Studies) in Parma which was founded in 1960. Also, for the 2001 centenary of Verdi's death, he worked with the Teatro Regio di Parma on their programming.

The critical editions of Verdi and Rossini operas

Given that Gossett's musical interests focus on 19th-century Italian opera (especially the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi), most of his career has been devoted to being General Editor of two important projects while at the University of Chicago: the research for the preparation of critical editions of all the operas of both Rossini (some 70) and Verdi (some 33, in their various forms). These are being prepared and gradually published as The Works of Giuseppe Verdi (by the University of Chicago Press in collaboration with the Italian publishing house Casa Ricordi of Milan) and of The Works of Gioachino Rossini (by Bärenreiter Verlag, Kassel).

In an interview, Gossett explained what he means by the term "critical edition":

By critical edition of an opera I have always meant an edition that bases itself wherever possible on the very finest and most accurate sources for an opera. That means that it must study the entire performance history of a work. In some cases of course we have an autograph manuscript, and that helps us, but it is also where many of the problems start, because composers are known to have made mistakes in their autograph manuscripts. And therefore we are required – we feel it is necessary – to intervene and to correct errors that sometimes have been perpetrated on these works by printed editions from the beginning, so they are just mistakes in the old editions, simple mistakes.[4]

Elsewhere, he explained the overall aim of the production of critical editions of the operas by using the example of Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims:

We used sources in Rome, Paris, Vienna, and New York. The scores reprinted cheaply today simply reproduce all the errors, all the faults of these 19th-century scores—most of which were produced very quickly and, in Verdi's own words, "are filled with errors." ... The new critical editions have tried, for the first time, to return to authentic sources and they allow performers to have access to the various versions sanctioned by the composers.[3]

As he has explained, Gossett does not believe that singers need to base their interpretations entirely on everything contained in a critical edition. His aim is "that performers should base their work on the finest editions possible, and that’s what we try to produce".[4]

As of 2004, it was noted that "Gossett's team (had) completed 12 of 33 projected volumes of Verdi's work and more than 30 volumes of an expected 70 for Rossini. 'I'll never get through the Rossini,' Gossett said. 'But the Verdi – I'm hoping.'"[2] However, in July 2013, the University of Chicago's "Verdi Critical Edition - Available Titles" page shows 17 opera titles by Verdi [5] and 9 Rossini opera titles currently available or planned for publication by Bärenreiter Verlag.[6] However, this is in addition to the 26 Rossini operas for which critical editions have been prepared by the Rossini Foundation under Gossett's general direction.

However, he is on record as denying that the Claudio Scimone edition of Maometto II is a critical edition in the true sense of the word, but is more a performing edition by Scimone as conductor.[7]

Rossini's Tancredi, Ermione and Semiramide are three of critical editions which he has personally edited, while his most recent work is Verdi's La forza del destino which, while yet to be formally published, was performed at the San Francisco Opera in November 2005 in its 1869 version. The 1862 version was presented in the Stadttheater, Bern in April 2006.

Work with US opera companies

In the US, he has consulted with the Houston Grand Opera (in 1979 for the first production of the critical edition of Tancredi, with its then newly discovered tragic ending, starring Marilyn Horne);[8] with the Metropolitan Opera for its November 1990 production of Semiramide;[9] with The Santa Fe Opera in 2000 for Rossini's Ermione;[10] and with the Chicago Lyric Opera for the first presentations of Rossini's long-lost Il viaggio a Reims in 2003.[11] Gossett again acted as consultant to The Santa Fe Opera during rehearsals for its 2012 season production of the new critical edition of Rossini's original Maometto II of 1820 and he returned in the same capacity during rehearsals of the company's new production of Rossini's La donna del lago during the 2013 season.[12]

For the 2010 presentations of Verdi's Attila for the Met, Gossett also worked with conductor Riccardo Muti on revisions to the score based on new research. This has become a new critical edition of the opera.[13]

Muti has acknowledged Gossett's role in clarifying ambiguities (in this case in Rigoletto) which had crept into many texts.[14]

Awards and honors

Gossett was awarded the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's "Distinguished Achievement Award" in 2004, which gained him a prize of $1.5 million to facilitate his research. Also, in 1998, the Italian government gave him the "Cavaliere di Gran Croce", the highest honor that can be awarded to a civilian. Academically, he has been President of the American Musicological Society and of the Society for Textual Scholarship, as well as Dean of the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago. In 2008 Gossett was appointed foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.


Critical editions

See also

Musicologist Roger Parker, General Editor of The Critical Edition of the Operas of Gaetano Donizetti (Casa Ricordi, Milan)



  1. Marion Lignara Rosenberg, "Restoring the erotic to a Verdi classic", , Newsday, 2 April 2004 online at
  2. 1 2 Art Golab, "U. of C. musicologist gets 'surprise' $1.5 mil. award", Chicago Sun-Times, December 19, 2004, on
  3. 1 2 Judith Clurman, "Meet Philip Gossett", The Juilliard Journal Online on, March 2004. Interview with Philip Gossett
  4. 1 2 Gazzola, Interview with Philip Gossett on 17 June 2012
  5. List of Verdi operas in critical editions
  6. Rossini operas prepared by Bärenreiter Verlag
  7. Gazzola, Interview with Philip Gossett on
  8. Gossett, Divas and Scholars pp 148-152
  9. Gossett, Divas and Scholars, pp 175-199
  10. Gossett, Divas and Scholars, pp 8-11
  11. Gossett, Divas and Scholars, pp. 152-158
  12. Performance details at The Santa Fe Opera
  13. The Atilla critical edition, edited by Helen Greenwald, is currently available as a rental in The Works of Giuseppe Verdi series.
  14. F. Paul Driscoll, "Grandissimo Maestro", Opera News, February 2010, p.20. Interview with Riccardo Muti: "Even the critics did not realize that some words they were used to hearing didn't make any sense. For example, the critical edition with Gossett revealed many important things, such as when the Duke goes in the taverna...and asks for "Una stanza e del vino" ("a room and some wine") [....] but nobody realized that these are not the words that Verdi wrote. Verdi wrote, "Tua sorella e del vino" - "I want your sister and some wine". Muti continues to explain that Rigoletto's comment to Gilda (in which he says "that's just like him", meaning that the request is typical of his behaviour) which follows the Duke's remark, makes no sense without the word "sister" being included."
  15.'s section on Rossini works under Philip Gossett's direction Retrieved 23 February 2013
  16. Gossett, Divas and Scholars, p. 565, note 32.

Cited sources

External links

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