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The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera [Hardcover]

Roger Parker


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Book Description

November 1994 Oxford Illustrated Histories
In its lavish amalgam of theatrical and musical resources, its flamboyant charm, its extravagant appeal to the heart and the mind, and its seemingly inexhaustible power to move and astonish us, opera is clearly the most spectacular of all the arts. Now, in this beautifully illustrated, oversized volume--boasting over 250 pictures, 30 in full color--eleven leading authorities chronicle the full sweep of this stunning musical genre, ranging from the earliest known works to such recent experimental efforts as Robert Wilson and Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach.

The contributors--including such noted opera critics as William Ashbrook, Paul Griffiths, and Barry Millington--provide superb coverage of all the major periods. We read of the remarkable success of opera in republican Venice, where by 1650 some fifty operas had been performed, including masterworks by Monteverdi, the giant of the era. We learn of opera seria--which within the world of eighteenth-century Italian opera was the summit of prestige--and opera buffa, most noted today for three major works by Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutti. We explore the peak of opera's popularity in nineteenth-century France, Italy, and Germany, with astute commentary on such major composers as Berlioz, Bizet, Rossini, Donizetti, and especially Wagner and Verdi. And we examine the remarkably diverse works of our own century, from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and Alban Berg's Wozzeck to Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice and John Adams's Nixon in China. Throughout, the contributors illuminate how opera often reflects the cultural concerns of the age, how it is part of the social fabric, and in three fascinating sections on staging, singers, and the social climate, they give us a look behind the scenes as well as a feel for what opera was like in the past. We discover, for instance, that before the late nineteenth century, patrons were not expected to arrive on time, sit still, keep quiet, concentrate on the stage action, or stay to the end (Wagner put an end to this practice by darkening the theatre). Not least important are the numerous illustrations in the book, which highlight the richly visual nature of opera, the manner in which it communicates so vividly through staging and costume. Exhaustively researched and informatively captioned, these striking pictures offer an immediacy with the past that both enriches and complements the narrative.

Nowhere does the rich panoply of opera history unfold more grandly than in this volume. Authoritative, vividly written, and exquisitely designed, it will be treasured by everyone who loves opera.


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From Library Journal

There are few one-volume histories of opera available, and none includes the up-to-date information contained here. Nine leading authorities (all contributors to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., LJ 2/15/93) provide insightful chapters on periods in opera history, from a thorough account of opera in the 17th century through the works of present-day composers such as Philip Glass and John Adams. Because it is intended for the general reader, this work has no musical examples or footnotes and is therefore less useful as a reference source than other works such as Donald J. Grout's A Short History of Opera (Columbia Univ. Pr., 1965. 2d ed.). The chapters are not organized in a strictly chronological format but are built around a series of concepts or arguments, presented with a wealth of supporting information, making the index (not seen) essential to finding answers to specific questions. For both the casual and informed reader, however, the more than 250 illustrations-many rare, and all appearing with detailed captions-will be of particular interest. There is also a notable chapter on staging, and the fascinating opera trivia (from traffic jams and ticket scalpers to a history of lavatories) found in John Rosselli's chapter, "Opera as Social Occasion," will hold readers' attention. Attractively priced, this unique reader is highly recommended for both academic and public libraries.
Kate McCaffrey, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Hardly any excuse is viable for a public library's passing on purchasing this beautiful and edifying oversize book on an art form more popular than ever, considering the number of companies flourishing across the country and the large audiences they draw. This sumptuous book--the adept partnership of text and illustrations is one of its calling cards--has not an A-Z arrangement, but is a collection of essays presenting a chronological account of major and even minor movements and composers and works in the history of opera from its inception in Florence in the mid-1590s. The last three chapters are topical summaries: on the staging of opera, significant opera singers, and opera as a social occasion. The contributors of all the essays are specialists in their fields, though their audience is definitely the general reader; but this is not to be mistaken for a coffee-table book long on looks while short on substance. There's lots of well-presented information here. Brad Hooper

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
FEW genres in the history of music have their origins fixed with such apparent precision as opera: we know when and where the first through-composed music-dramas appeared on the stage-in Florence in the mid-1590s-and the precise political, social, and cultural contexts that gave them birth. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good general history of opera Sept. 29 2005
By Lisa Stidham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This paperback edition of the Oxford Illustrated History of Opera is the same as the hardback edition. It's a very good general history of opera with great pictures. The authors are all experts on the eras they cover. I'm using it for my opera history class, adding readings from other sources that discuss the music in more detail because this one has no musical examples. My only complaint is that it took forever to get!
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A nicely illustrated doorstop July 15 2005
By L. E. Cantrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The perpetrators of this volume make no bones about their belief that the most important word in its title is "illustrated".

I fully acknowledge that some of the illustrations are of considerable interest. There is, for example, a triple portrait of the librettist Metastasio, some doubtless once-famous soprano and the fabulous castrato, Farrinelli, that encapsulates an operatic age in a single image. (I was astonished to find that Farrinelli looked like a perfectly ordinary Joe who might be found lounging in the background of any of a hundred 18th Century paintings.) On the whole, however, I can't overcome the impression that the illustrations are more often picturesque than informative.

As something of a fan of opera, I actually sat down and read the text--not something often done, I imagine, nor a thing that I recommend to anyone who has claim to having a life. What a load of bumf--as we say here in the Frozen North. What a trove of uninteresting data on deservedly forgotten operas and theatrical practices. What dreary prose--a relentlessly bland and colorless splooge of critspeak.

There is distinctly an academic air to this book, whatever the actual professions of its assemblers may be, as amply demonstrated in its determination to expound on the painfully, deservedly, bleeding obscure while all but ignoring operas which actually get performed before paying audiences.

This is the sort of book that should be consulted in a public library, if for no other reason than its bulk and inconvenient heft demand that it be read on a library table. I can't imagine why anyone not in the throes of bibliomania would actually want to own such a book.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Way over-priced & over ornamented Oct. 7 2008
By Priscilla Stilwell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ever get the idea that an author is so enthralled with their own vast knowledge, that they have the uncontrollable urge to share it with everyone, wether it's wanted or not? Unfortunately, this is just such a book. It's designed to give a good, thorough survey of opera history. However, I have several problems with it:

1. The author uses such flowery language that between being nauseated by it, I'm just plain distracted. It's like reading the King James' version of the Bible if you're not used to it. The prose is so sweet that you get caught up in the verbiage, and are unable to gain any useful knowledge from it.

2. The organization of the text is appalling. There's very little rhyme or reason, other than a rough chronological order. Huge pockets of information are either completely skipped, or given such pathetic review, that much information is missed.

There are so many other books out there that will teach better and in an easier way. For professors considering a text for an Opera Lit/History class, please do yourself and your class a favor and pass this one over!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oxford Opera Text Sept. 30 2008
By David C. Mattera - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A very good overview of the development of opera from the beginning with the first opera, Euridice, in around 1600 to near present. I bought it for a class on Italian opera and it has been very informative.
3.0 out of 5 stars A general overview of the genre Jan. 25 2014
By J. R. Spencer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I recently received a copy of this for my birthday. As an opera coach, author and musicologist I'm always looking through texts for interesting tidbits.

The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera is a good overview of the genre, but does not give a detailed account. I believe it is accessible though. This would be a good start for a junior high or high school music student who has to write an essay on opera. For the serious singers, musicologists and opera lovers, I would pass on this one.

The book has a feeling of rushing you through the history. I personally still prefer the old standby.. Milton Cross's Companion.

J. R. is the author of: An Historical Study of Kurt Weill's Der Silbersee: Ein Wintermarchen
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