A History of Opera

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A bold, engaging exploration of opera’s fundamental nature and enduring appeal, from the sixteenth century to the present. A History of Opera, the first new, full-length, single-volume history of opera for more than a generation, provokes in-depth discussions of many works by the greatest opera composers, from Monteverdi, Handel, and Mozart to Verdi and Wagner, to Strauss, Puccini, Berg, and Britten. There are lively discussions of opera’s social, political, and literary backgrounds, its economic cicumstances, and the almost continual polemics that have accompanied its development through the centuries. Central to the book is an exploration of the tensions—between words and music, character and singer—that have always sustained and enlivened opera. In a polemical final chapter, Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker examine the problems that opera has faced in the last half century, when new works—once opera’s lifeblood—have shrunk to a tiny minority and have largely failed to find a permanent place in the repertoire.
Yet the book’s message is one of celebration. Even if the majority of opera’s most popular and enduring works were written in what is now a remote European past and in circumstances very different from our own, and even if the viability of contemporary opera is ever more in question, opera as an art form remains extraordinarily buoyant and challenging. It continues to transform people physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and to articulate human experience in ways no other art form can match. 24 pages of illustrations, including four-color

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (November 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393057218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393057218
  • ASIN: 0393057216
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds

Customer Reviews

a treasure for every opera lover

One person found this helpful.
 on May 20, 2016
By Francis Maes
The authors are great specialists, who nevertheless know how to write for a large readership. This is a brilliant example of great scholarly expertise turned into a readable text.

Be careful

One person found this helpful.
 on December 8, 2015
By Dr. Audio
There is no hardcover version of the 2015 update.

Very informative!

One person found this helpful.
 on April 1, 2013
By Suzs
This book helped me fill in many gaps in my opera education, and enhanced my understanding of opera.Great book!!!

A History of Opera

3 people found this helpful.
 on April 17, 2014
By Barbara T. Taxman
This is a beautiful with wonderful pictures of opera scenes from the history of the opera. I have several very old history of the Opera books, but none as up to date as this and complete as this.

Great Book

2 people found this helpful.
 on April 24, 2013
By M
Exceptional detail is taken to provide an accurate history of opera from the Florentine Camerata to the present day. Wonderful reference!


2 people found this helpful.
 on March 1, 2013
By james ward. lee
This history of opera tells me all the things that I have wondered about for years. It makes opera history make sense for me

History of Opera

 on December 28, 2013
By Hazmatwillie
Book was purchased as birthday gift for opera-loving friend. I didn’t read it, but he thoroughly enjoyed it and found it full of interesting information that he was heretofore unaware.

A singular and rewarding history of opera

41 people found this helpful.
 on January 20, 2013
An important question to ask when selecting a history of opera to be purchased is, “How am I intending to read it?” (a sub-question may be, “Will I ever really read it?”). That is, will it primarily sit on a shelf and be consulted before some performances (i.e., used as a reference book), or will it be consumed as a single text, with an eye to a broader narrative, including the underlying themes and fundamentals of opera, a complex art-form that rewards thoughtful study?


10 people found this helpful.
 on April 21, 2013
By Anne Mills
An impressive and worthwhile overview, studded with precise insights and new perspectives. I was particularly struck with the authors’ use of the movie “Diva”. It includes a memorable aria from “La Wally”: the authors use this to illustrate the power of song even divorced from any context. I also appreciated the fact that there are no musical quotes in the text (though a more musically sophisticated reader might be troubled by this), but that the operas are described well in words. Their treatment of Wagner is quite wonderful. My only complaint is the authors seemed to get tired at the end and dismissed many of the modern operas I have come to enjoy. This may be related to one of their key insights — despite the spectacular growth of opera and opera houses and performances in recent years, most of what we hear is from the standard repertory and most new works are failures. Most, true, but as the authors grudgingly report, not all, especially not Britten or Adams or Ades. They dismiss “Einstein on the Beach”: I thought this was one of the best new(ish) works I have seen. They generally ignore or dismiss the minimalists, but that’s certainly not peculiar to these authors. And the book’s overall value far outweighs any individual quibbles.

heavy going

One person found this helpful.
 on January 29, 2013
By jim ferguson
Is Opera really going down the drain? Perhaps. But Parker

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