A Night at the Opera: An Irreverent Guide to The Plots, The Singers, The Composers, The Recordings (Modern Library Paperbacks)

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With an encyclopedic knowledge of opera and a delightful dash of irreverence, Sir Denis Forman throws open the world of opera–its structure, composers, conductors, and artists–in this hugely informative guide. A Night at the Opera dissects the eighty-three most popular operas recorded on compact disc, from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur to Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. For each opera, Sir Denis details the plot and cast of characters, awarding stars to parts that are "worth looking out for," "really good," or, occasionally, "stunning." He goes on to tell the history of each opera and its early reception. Finally, each work is graded from alpha to gamma (although the Ring cycle gets an "X"), and Sir Denis has no qualms about voicing his opinion: the first act of Fidelio is "a bit of a mess," while the last scene of Don Giovanni "towers above the comic finales of Figaro and Così and whether or not [it] is Mozart's greatest opera, it is certainly his most powerful finale."
The guide also presents brief biographies of the great composers, conductors, and singers. A glossary of musical terms is included, as well as Operatica, or the essential elements of opera, from the proper place and style of the audience's applause (and boos) to the use of surtitles.
A Night at the Opera is for connoisseurs and neophytes alike. It will entertain and inform, delight and (perhaps) infuriate, providing a subject for lively debate and ready reference for years to come.

Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Rev Sub edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375751769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375751769
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds

Customer Reviews

His aim is to present the great and most popular works of opera in a humorous …

2 people found this helpful.
 on September 28, 2015
By Chad Helms
Sir Denis Forman’s overview of the masterpieces of world opera is a lively and witty book. His aim is to present the great and most popular works of opera in a humorous and entertaining way and I believe he succeeds brilliantly in this effort. He gives a brief synopsis of each opera, followed by what- in his opinion- are the most significant and important arias in each act of the opera, finishing with his personal opinion and a rating of the importance of each opera. While some may object that his style is overly irreverent and heavy-laden with British slang that may be difficult for some non-Brits to comprehend, all in all I think this is a wonderful introduction to opera for the novice from an expert in the field who knows his stuff.

I have a soft spot for Czech opera, this …

 on November 14, 2017
By Amazon Customer
I have a soft spot for Czech opera, this guy doesn’t however. There’s a few very popular operas that need inclusion here. The biggest names in Czech music were all deeply involved in opera and it would only take about 3 more entries to do them justice.

A "Must" Book for Anyone Who Wants to Learn More About Opera

One person found this helpful.
 on August 20, 2013
By chowda
At my retirement at the end of 2012, I polled a few of my colleagues to find if any in my Retired Mens Association of about 200 men, would like to learn more about grand opera. We limited the group to the first dozen men, to accommodate the DVD viewing rooms in the homes of our host members. So far we’ve viewed with great pleasure Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore”, Bizet’s “Carmen”, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, Puccini’s “La Boheme”, and Verdi’s “Il Travatore”. Next month it will be Puccini’s “Turandot”.. The volunteer host of the month gets to select he opera from a list of operas I’ve e-mailed that are at our local library. All have English subtitles, so are easily understood. Your book has enabled me in advance to publish a synopsis of each upcoming opera, plus some important facts about its composition, its premiere performance and the audience’s reception of it. We e-mail this to each member in advance of the showing, and they bring them with them to enhance our viewings.

A Great Buy

2 people found this helpful.
 on June 18, 2012
By Tom
I really like this book. I have a hard copy for home and an Kindle version on my smart phone and have bought several copies for family and friends. A great book for learning about operas with a unpretentious and funny viewpoint. Describes the characters, plot, and give reviews of each song in the score. Lots of additional info on the composers. How can you not like a book about an art form with great melodies, words you can not understand (unless you are Italian, French, or German for the most part), and where they can sing for 5 minutes and the translation equates to ‘I’m happy’ or ‘I’m dying’. Read and then listen.

Everything you need to know about opera and way more.

 on May 11, 2016
By K. Lewis
If you love opera or just being introduced to the art forms, this book is delightfully entertaining. You will giggle, laugh out loud and learn juicy bits of behind the scenes opera gossip.

An Alpha Plus

6 people found this helpful.
 on February 21, 2004
By bunburina
What can we expect form the man who was responsible for giving us tv series like “The Jewel in the Crown”? Nothing less than an Alpha plus of a book on opera. An alpha plus book it is. Bravo Sir Denis.

Very enjoyable irreverent Opera book.

2 people found this helpful.
 on September 4, 2013
By John
Very enjoyable irreverent Opera book. It could have had a few others listed, but it covers all the most produced. They way it does it is intuitive and descriptive, especially the brief synopsis of each opera. Knowing the operas helps to understand the humor.

Very complete guide to all the major operas ever composed …

 on February 4, 2016
By Doris Duzyj
Very complete guide to all the major operas ever composed. The author uses ‘layman’ terms and reviews the operas’ characters, plots and music with a tongue in cheek humor. A must read for opera enthusiasts.

Nutty, profound, and extremely enjoyable

58 people found this helpful.
 on July 9, 2002
By ealovitt
Suppose you had an eccentric, British uncle who was absolutely nuts about opera. You’re a tyro yourself, so whenever you go CD shopping or attend a live performance, he entertains you with a humorous summary of the libretto (not too hard to do with an opera if it’s not “Wozzeck”), tells you which bits to really listen for, and provides a critique of singers. He’s an expert—after all he was the deputy chairman of one of England’s great opera houses—but he’s not a snob. Listen to what he has to say about death in the mystic land of Oprania:

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