OPERA, AN ART FORM THAT COMBINES drama, sung dialogue, and orchestral music, has been around for about half a millennium. It originated during the Italian Renaissance and, by the 1600s, had reached a larger audience with Baroque composers Cavalli and Monteverdi. Since then, opera has flourished all over the world and has developed along different traditions--from Mozart's opera seria Don Giovanni and his comic singspiel Die Zauberfloe (The Magic Flute) to Bellini's bel canto works, Rossini's comic The Barber of Seville, Verdi's dramatic masterpieces Aida and Otello, Wagner's great tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, Puccini's romantic La Boheme, and the modern operas of Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Britten.
The following opera experts--authors, conductors, and critics--offer their recommendations on books about opera, covering different composers, singers, periods, and genres.
AUTHOR AND OPERA EXPERT
Fred Plotkin was the performance manager of the Metropolitan Opera, has directed opera at La Scala, and has collaborated with many opera companies. He is a popular guest on the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast intermission features. He is the author of nine books, including Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera, the best-selling standard text in the United States, and Classical Music 101.
THE INNER VOICE
The Making of a Singer
By Renee Fleming (2004)
Most books by singers recount successes onstage, dish a bit of tired gossip, and offer little insight about the life of an opera singer. Fleming's new book is special because the author explains, candidly and insightfully, the realities of a career of a major star. Readers will discover the process, rather than the glitz, of the opera world. This book is really in Fleming's voice, which makes it singular.
THE NEW GROVE BOOK OF OPERAS
Edited by Stanley Sadie (2003)
The Grove, as opera people call it, is an indispensable reference for background on the operas, from plots to musicology. It is wonderful to dip into its pages and journey through opera history, making connections you might not have seen before. Look, for example, at Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and then read about Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Then try Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and then look at Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. The fascination never ceases.
By Ann Patchett (2001)
This is what happens when a...