The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera Hardcover – Nov 1994
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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.
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 HooperSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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
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!
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