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The Book of 101 Opera Librettos: Complete Original Language Texts with English Translations Hardcover – January 10, 1996

3.7 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

You're never going to haul this book to the opera house, it is true, but, on the other hand, you'll probably never again have to fret over where to find a libretto for most standard repertory operas. This massive, 1,474-page (plus endpapers) volume, which could readily double as a doorstop or a booster seat at the theater, contains all the words, in their original languages (for the most part) and in English, of 101 out-of-copyright operas. The selections run the gamut from Ludwig van Beethoven's Fidelio through Carl Maria von Weber's Euryanthe, with scores of stories in between. In addition to the word-for-word libretti, a brief précis of each plot is also provided.

There are some puzzling omissions--Mozart's Così fan tutte and Abduction from the Seraglio--and puzzling inclusions as well: Paderewski's Manru and Horatio Parker's Mona are not considered standard operas by any authority that readily springs to mind. Borodin's Prince Igor is, incomprehensibly, given in Italian and English (the Russian people improbably sing, "Ad Igor, signor nostro, vittoria"), as are Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Tchaikovsky's Evgeny Onegin. There are also some annoying little errors that could have been avoided with more careful proofreading ("Madam Butterfly"?), and the paper used is disappointingly cheap. Still, with these caveats in mind, The Book of 101 Opera Librettos is a very useful book for the money, a one-stop shop for many of the operas you're likely to encounter. Just be sure to read the libretto before you leave for the opera house.

Language Notes

Text: English, French, German, Italian

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1474 pages
  • Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers; annotated edition edition (January 10, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1884822797
  • ISBN-13: 978-1884822797
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 2.7 x 11.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a voice teacher,a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, and a professional musician. I received this book as a gift. It looks expensive, (and unfortunately is) but cheaply printed on flimsy and cheap paper. Don't try to do any quick researching, or you'll rip it to shreds. And these are NOT word for word translations! They are the transcriptions for the English versions of the opera written to somewhat suit the music which was written for the original language. They would not be what is up on the supertitles at a live opera performance. And some operas have omissions, like some missing dialogue and lyrics from the original language and hence from the English. Take heed of the editorial review, because it does have strange inclusions, glaring exclusions, and goof ups like incorrect original languages. Only get this book if you are a student, and can't get or do your own better translations. If you want a really useful book, and you are an opera lover, but not as knowledgeable as you'd like to be, get the latest edition of the New Grove Book of Operas. Or even Kobbes. Or 101 opera stories. Skip this one. Save your money.
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Format: Hardcover
The pros and cons of this book are both the natural result of what it really is: a collection of reprinted, out-of-copyright libretti from the 1900s and 1910s. These are the libretti you would have seen for sale if you'd attended the Met a hundred years or so ago, newly typeset but otherwise unchanged.

This is good in that it lets us get 100 libretti cheap; there's no way the publishers would have been able to afford new translations of everything.

On the other hand, this means that the selection is a bit odd. In general, only librettos from 1921 and before are going to be out of copyright, which explains why operas (like "Turandot") composed after that date can't be included. This also explains why operas such as "Cosi fan tutte", which was rarely if ever performed in most American opera houses, are absent--Cosi didn't really enter the American repertory until the 1950s Met production.

In addition, the book can only present the versions of the operas as they were performed at American houses at that time. This means that the book omits materially traditionally cut by whatever house they got the libretto from (most likely the Met). If that house performed a Russian opera in Italian translation, you'll get an Italian and English libretto in this book as well. And the English translations themselves are generally fairly archaic and flowery, as was the style in American opera houses at the time.

So if your needs are the same as an early 20th century opera attendee--getting a general idea of the story or a more-or-less accurate copy of the original-language libretto--then this is a good value. I find it a very useful resource just because it is so comprehensive. But if you're looking for a deep understanding of an individual libretto, or a quality modern English translation, you'll need to look elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover
Opera is a unique and splendid art form. It combines glorious singing by soloists and ensembles, dramatic or comic acting, spectacular scenes on indoor and outdoor stages, light effects and vibrant music. All these effects depend on the lyrics contained in librettos as a paramount foundation stone. Popular and great composers paid a lot of attention to the libretto or "parola scenica" (scenic word) as Verdi defined it. Puccini struggled in search of suitable subjects for opera. Once he found them, he had stormy relationships with his librettists on lyrics, for him to get inspired and compose immortal melodies. Verdi had problems with librettists apart from censors, in his quest at compressing the action on stage for maximum dramatic effect. When he found a poetic genius (Arrigo Boito) to write for him, he dished out "Otello", a masterpiece of condensed poetry and music, which would have made Shakespeare proud of the opera based on his play. Wisely, Wagner went a stage further and wrote his own lyrics. This book under review is an innovative, monster compilation of famous and popular opera librettos, which will delight and inform operagoers. What is also very handy in the book is a faithful description (in the original language and English) of what goes on the stage. Of course, the book is heavy and thank goodness that it is a single volume, although the pages are thin paper. Otherwise, with more robust paper, there would have been the need of several volumes!
That said, reflecting on the importance of a libretto as foundation stone, I went about checking the accurate spelling of the Italian librettos (my mother-tongue) and how faithful the corresponding English translations were.
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By A Customer on June 28, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book claims to offer complete original language texts. Unless Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky wrote their operas for Italian librettists, and Smetana for a German one, this is quite untrue. Where I have been able to check the translations against others, or can follow the original language myself, the translations offered are wooden and pretty inadequate. There appear to be extensive cuts in the libretti given, so that the book can hardly be described as complete. The choice of operas is somewhat strange. Only three by Mozart (not Cosi or Entfuhrung), but all ten of Wagners!). I purchased this book because I find nowadays that the print on the libretti given with CDs is becoming harder to read. While this book is rather clearer, the defects that I have outlined above make it in my view a very poor buy.
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