Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera - A New Podcast!

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Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera
Episode 5

Fidelio and Napoleon: Opera as #Resistance

Beethoven's politically charged "Fidelio" is an opera for today, with messages of resistance, defiance, #MeToo and prisoner awareness. It premiered during the Napoleonic Wars that brought revolutionary tumult all over Europe, and Ludwig van Beethoven was deeply involved in progressive revolutionary politics. We talk about the French Revolution, Tolstoy's "War and Peace", David Lang's "Prisoner of the State", Schroeder's toy piano and much more. The final episode of Season 1 of "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera"!

Music: various early recordings of Beethoven's "Fidelio" found on Archive.org, a great resource for free music.

Episode 4

Wotan and Brunnhilde: Two Software Guys from New York Went to the Entire Ring Cycle at the Met and Lived To Tell

Marc Eliot Stein and Bud Parr, two software developers and literary bloggers from New York City, sat through all 18.5 hours of Richard Wagner's "Ring des Nibuleng" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera this year, and lived to tell the tale. Actually, we were both very impressed. In our latest exploration of opera's often misunderstood literary side, we focus on the dramatic and mythical aspects of Wagner's masterpiece, and also talk about feral children, Fellini movies, #MeToo (Wagner has problems here), Johnny Cash, anti-semitism, the wonderful soprano Christine Goerke who kills it as Brunnhilde, red Mustangs and much more. Please enjoy this lively recap of four intense German operas with me and Bud. Litblog Coop represent!

Music: various early recordings of Wagner's Ring cycle found on Archive.org, a great resource for free music.

Episode 3

Orpheus and Eurydice: From the Theater of Dionysus to the Renaissance to Gluck and Offenbach

Lisa Geraghty and Marc Eliot Stein talk about the invention of opera by Florentine scholars trying to recreate ancient Greek drama, and then go deep into Gluck's "Orfeo et Euridice", touching also upon the Charlie Daniels Band, Arcade Fire, Jacques Offenbach's "Orphee aux Enfers" and Rilke's poetry.

Music: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice by Munich Festival Orchestra conducted by Friedrich Haider featuring Vessalina Casarova. Offenbach's Orphee aux Enfers by Koninklijk Filharmonisch Orkest van Vlaanderen.

Episode 2

Osmosis: How I Got Over My Lifelong Inability To Love And Understand Opera

How I holed up in an apartment and listened to nothing but opera for months until I started to love it. Featuring an interview with soprano Nicola Mills about her own unique journey to opera.

Music: Cosi Fan Tutte, La Traviata, Barbieri di Siviglia, Die Zauberflote featuring Guiseppe de Luca, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavoratti, Rita Streich, Nicola Mills.

Episode 1

Otello: Is Verdi's Shakespeare Better Than Shakespeare's?

Introducing the new podcast! We begin with a look at how Verdi transformed and illuminated Shakespeare's Othello, talk about the interplay between opera and literature from past centuries today, and enjoy Virginia Woolf's description of a visit to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

Music: Otello by Giuseppe Verdi and Arrigo Boito, featuring Placido Domingo, Maria Callas, Kiri Te Kanawa, Piero Cappuccilli and Mirella Freni.

Please support Litkicks and "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" on Patreon! Your support will really make a difference, and you will also receive access to a special hour-long "Literary Opera Secret House Mix" - lots of music, just a little bit of talking at the beginning - that will feature several of my personal favorite musical opera moments.

Shout-outs to other cool opera podcasts that inspired me to create this one. Opera podcasts are "a thing" and I'm glad to be part of it:

Sex Drugs and Opera
Backstage at Lyric (Chicago)
Opera For Everyone
The Indie Opera Podcast
Unnatural Acts of Opera
The Met Opera Guild Podcast
The Met's Aria Code
The Art of Opera
Opera Box Score
Opera After Dark

Are there others? Let me know! So much good stuff out there.

The Story Behind This Podcast ...

Timing is everything. An article declaring that indie book blogs are dead made the social media rounds just yesterday, as I was about to announce something new on Litkicks: my first podcast. Well, it's true that a lot of book blogs are dead, but Literary Kicks never followed any trends — except the ones we want to follow, like podcasting. It's more fun trying something new than dying, right?

Yeah, my friends, I am into podcasting now. It's a technology that seems to fit the moment all over the world in 2019, for reasons that may be hard to express. Why are podcasts such a hot trend right now? Perhaps it's the intimacy of the human voice, or the down-to-earth spontaneity that the conversational format requires.

I can't exactly explain podcasting's appeal, but I can tell you that my primary method of consuming books for the last 6 or 7 years has been in my ears via Audible. Lately I've subscribed to so many fascinating, original and unique podcasts about such a wide variety of topics that I haven't even been had time for Audible books. I walk a lot, and I also drive a lot and do mindless chores a lot, all with stimulating ideas and stories streaming into my head. I was listening to a podcast one day last November when it suddenly hit me that I wanted to create one.

I was concerned at that time that I hadn't felt motivated to write many Litkicks blog posts in the past year. I guess after running this website since 1994 — the 25th birthday will be in July — I was bored with typing paragraphs in HTML. The idea of speaking a blog post to you all out there feels somehow magical and delightful to me. That's why, after promising to write a long blog post about literary opera last year, I nearly got finished writing it, and then realized I wanted to podcast it instead. So I bought a mic, downloaded audacity, and got busy.


i don't even know how to podcast, on instagram


"Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" is the first podcast series from Literary Kicks. It's completely free, and the first episode is now available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Stitcher. If you have a different podcast app you like to use, please post a comment to let me know. I want to spread this as widely as I can.


lost music on itunes


lost music on spotify


Recording and editing turned out to be harder than I expected. After years of developing my blogging "voice" (my written voice, that is) here on Litkicks, I suddenly found myself staring down a microphone through a pop filter, struggling to turn my natural speaking voice into an instrument that can carry my thoughts to untold strangers. This is especially not easy for me, since I've never liked my voice. I seem to always sound tentative and enervated. I talk too fast, then too slow, and certain vowels always kick my ass. I happen to have a Brooklyn/Queens/Long Island accent like the worst hack comedian's bad imitation of a bad Brooklyn/Queens/Long Island accent. (Yeah, that's me.) So, podcasting is not a natural fit for this longtime blogger.

But I learned something interesting after talking to some podcasting friends about this. It turns out none of us like our voices. That came to me as a surprise, especially since I think these friends have excellent speaking voices.

I have a track record of trying to develop my public voice. I like to push myself: doing spoken word poetry, singing in front of strangers, and more recently speaking at political rallies and protests. (A good protest, and we've had a few here in New York City the last couple of years, can really present a refreshing workout for the vocal cords).

Given the deeply conflicted feelings I have about my own voice, it's ironic yet fitting that I chose opera as the topic for my first podcast series. Opera, of course, is very much about the human voice — though my podcast also makes the case that opera is about much more than singing or even music. Opera is an intense literary experience.

And that's what "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" is about. As for exactly why I am lately so obsessed with this topic, and what I mean about "lost music" and "exploring literary opera". consider it a mystery. You'll have to listen to episode one for the answer, and I hope you will.

Editing also turned out to be difficult, and I'll be the first to admit that after much grueling work I ended up releasing a pretty raggedy mix for my first episode. When you hear all the technical errors and sloppy splices, you'll probably have trouble believing that this is like 20 hours of work, all crammed into 37 minutes and 2 seconds.

I'll get better at all of this for episode 2, and I'm not apologizing to anybody for mistakes in the mix. Hey, this is still punk rock over here.

Welcome back to Literary Kicks, as we head towards our 25th birthday, and I hope you'll check out and enjoy "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera". Please give this podcast a good rating on whatever platform you use, and please tell your friends about it and support us at Patreon!

5 Responses to "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera - A New Podcast!"

by wjwiippa on

i have 19 more minutes to listen to on spotify & all i have to say is well done!
i have 2 questions: 1.were the remarks at the very beginning intentional?
2. How do you enjoy opera in foreign languages you don't speak? e.g., saw Chungking Express the first time with Korean subtitles and didn't like it because I couldn't get the story & 2nd time did not enjoy it so much because I don't speak Cantonese, viz., I felt a disconnect. philistine that I am used to listen to opera on public radio for white noise but never listened to one in English but I will listen to the rest of the podcast.

by Marc Eliot Stein on

Hi wjwiippa - thanks for listening! Responses to your 2 questions:

1. I'm a little confused (and concerned) what remarks you are referring to at the very beginning? The first words are the title - "Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera" - in a sort of treated voice because I'm having fun with audio filters. Then there's a bit of Verdi music and then I start talking. What part of this seems to you that it should not have been intentional? Maybe you are hearing something I didn't know was there.

2. Good question. It takes a lot of effort to get into an opera in Italian or French or German (these are by far the most common languages for the kinds of opera I'll be talking about in the podcast). Before I go to the opera, I listen to one or more recordings repeatedly until the melodies and rhythms are fully absorbed in my head. I also read the libretto (usually online) in a two column format, with the original language on one side and English on the other. I also read up on the story, the context, the composers, the original source. This is what I call "preparing for an opera". When I tell some people that I do this, they think it sounds like hard work. For me, it's all fun. I also like it that I'm picking up some foreign languages along the way!

by wjwiippa on

i listened to the beginning again and kept wanting to get past the intro, viz., I was in a hurry to get to the show.
I listened to the rest and didn't know, as you said, that opera was carrying the culture before film and records came along.
I liked your "45s to MP3s" personal history.

by Sondra on

I really enjoyed the first episode! I subscribed via Podcast Addict. One of the things I didn't realize growing up as a sheltered Midwestern kid was that A: Opera is accessible and B: That I would enjoy it once accessed! Now in my late 20's I'm learning classical singing, and I've worked on several arias without much context. As my interest and skill develops, I'm hoping to add more context and.... drumroll.... actually experience an opera. Can't wait to hear more about your learning journey as well.

by Marc Eliot Stein on

Love to hear that, Sondra, thanks! I hope your first opera experience turns out to be a good one ...

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