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4.6 out of 5 stars14
4.6 out of 5 stars
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Although this is a very readable work pleasantly en-scripted by two renowned experts, it falls far short of being a reliable reference work for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the illustrations give all the appearance of having been thrown in as an afterthought and included just to add a smattering of colour to the text. Then again, the work is really about the history of around a dozen or so operatic composers with the rest either being mentioned in passing or left out altogether.

I've counted up to 19 operatic composers who are not even mentioned and a further thirteen who are mentioned only in passing and my lists are not exhaustive by any means. Here are some examples: Harrison Birtwhistle, George Gershwin and Francesco Cilea are not mentioned at all and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Michael Tippett and Henry Purcell are mentioned more or less as being in the nature of afterthoughts, and there are many others who fall into these two categories.

Unlike some other leading books about opera, this work does not include a glossary. A ramble through picturesque countryside can be be a most enjoyable experience, but even ramblers are careful to equip themselves with map and compass, both of which are sadly missing from this work. Whereas La Scala, Milan and the New York Metropolitan opera houses are mentioned frequently, many venues, including Glyndebourne, are not mentioned at all. Many great opera singers, past and present, are either mentioned in passing or left out altogether. However, these omissions are in some way compensated for by the inclusion of a colourful picture of Mickey Mouse conducting an orchestra.

Those looking for a good read through the subject may very well be more than happy with this book. However, those requiring an inclusive reference work will be disappointed. Personally, I find I can learn more about composers, their operas and the singers from such works as The Grove Book of Operas, which doesn't even set out to be a history of opera, but it does have a superb glossary. Perhaps I don't fully appreciate these matters and some learned person will be kind enough to explain what I haven't fathomed. All I know is that, when I buy a reference work I don't expect it to be composed after the style of a novel, any more than, when I buy a novel, I expect it to be composed after the fashion of a reference work.

To be fair, and in all kindness, my assessment is that, we have here a well written and readable text that has sadly fallen between two stools. In other words: it's a missed opportunity. It's five stars for the quality of writing style and readability and one star for its worth as a reference work. Hence, 5 + 1 = 6/2 = 3 stars.
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on 2 September 2013
In this narrative the opera history is seen as a cultural continuum rather than a string of "periods" like Barouque, Classical, Early Romantic, etc.. . That kind of analysis certainly has given me new understanding of an art form which has fascinated me the last 65 years.
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on 22 November 2013
I was keen to learn more about opera, feeling I'd been to a few but had never really learned about opera.
This book provides a great sweep of the past 400 years. Interesting overview of the evolution of opera and interesting discussion of major titles. I actually downloaded a number to listen to whilst I was reading the book which made it really enjoyable.
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on 18 January 2013
It is rare for a book by two people to be so very well written, and even rarer when they are both academics. Totally free of jargon; consistently stimuating making me long to see operas I have missed or avoided, and to see again old favourites.
Asne it is wondderfully witty. A great treat with which to to start the new year.
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on 28 October 2015
As the first complete look at the history of opera I found this very informative and easy to read and has a good bibliography for further reading and has made me want to listen to operas that I didn't think I would be interested in. I read the Kindle edition so it was easy to highlight in order to go back and read important bits again and refer to further reading. Most enjoyable...thoroughly recommend.
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on 5 October 2014
This is a highly readable overview of the development of opera for anybody who has been to and enjoyed an opera or many operas. Gives a vital chronology, combined with social context and an in depth analysis of key operas, without requiring specialised technical knowledge.

Would highly recommend.
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"Sing praises to God, sing praises!" -- Psalm 47:6 (NKJV)

Having lived far from a major opera house for all of my life, I had a weird view of what opera was like based on the sorts of operas that can be staged in small venues with tiny budgets. I've seen Lulu so many times that I could recite the lyrics.

About ten years ago, I began making the effort to travel to the major houses where I could hear the standard repertory that opera buffs know and love, especially the Met in New York. The experience was transforming. I fell in love with opera, and I can't get enough.

Yet, hearing so many wonderful operas for the first time raised all kinds of questions in my mind about why the composers made the choices they did. I felt certain things were right ... and others didn't work very well ... but I didn't know how to describe my feelings. A History of Opera gave me a framework for my reactions.

Like many good books on a subject about which I would like to know more, this one raised more questions in my mind that it answered. I liked that. It will enrich my thinking for some time to come.

I feel very grateful for the book.

Its main shortcoming for me is that it doesn't say enough about the roles of the most effective modern performers and conductors, influences that strike me as worthy of more attention than I found here.

If you already know a lot about opera, I suspect the book will seem simplistic to you. If you are trying to learn, I think you'll like the book quite a bit.

As to the main thesis about opera being only about museum pieces, reasonable people can differ about that. I think the discussion could have been enriched by considering the somewhat parallel challenges that classical music has faced in this regard.
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on 24 August 2015
Interesting if not wholly comprehensive account, with some original perspectives.
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on 26 November 2015
A really interesting book on the subject
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on 1 February 2016
beautiful book
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