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The Story of Opera Hardcover – September 30, 1998
Opera neophytes and experienced music theater fanatics alike should enjoy The Story of Opera, by Richard Somerset-Ward. This big, beautiful book is well written and lavishly illustrated with color and black-and-white photos and drawings that vividly evoke the visual elements of opera. Somerset-Ward's highly readable history of opera is incisive and remarkably complete. His detailed knowledge of the origins and evolution of the art form should answer the curiosity of some readers while whetting that of others--for the latter group, there's a suggested list for further reading at the back of the book.
The illustrations are varied; the design for the entrance of the first "Queen of the Night" is here, along with portraits of composers and a host of production photos, some of them more than a century old. There's a revealing photo of the Three Tenors and a selection of Caruso's self-caricatures. Somerset-Ward does not exclude an opera from consideration simply because it was an atrocity, so there are pictures here from both classic productions and not a few, well, flops. The book's chronological arrangement, from the debut of "Il Dramma per Musica" in the late 16th century to late-20th-century productions (including a chapter on popular musical theater), exposes readers to opera's development over its 400-year history.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's foreword to the book is an added treat for her fans. In it, she sums up the experience of The Story of Opera: "Turning the pages of this book, you will read about many remarkable people, and many weird and wonderful happenings, but you will also discover, I think, why opera is, and always has been, such an exciting phenomenon. Its story is, in its own right, a wonderful and enthralling drama."
From Publishers Weekly
In the late 16th century, a group of Florentine poets, intellectuals and musicians formed an academy dedicated to developing a new musical style in imitation of ancient Greek drama. Their creation, il dramma per musica (drama expressed through music), was soon transformed into a popular art form known as opera. In his admirable history of this "multimedia entertainment," Somerset-Ward, formerly BBC Television's head of music and arts programming, shows how opera quickly gained favor in the Renaissance courts of northern Italy as well as in Naples, France, England and central Europe. He then follows it through the Age of Enlightenment; the Romantic Movement; the 19th century in Italy and Paris; numerous nationalist trends; the verismo movement in Italy; the varieties of popular musical theater; and into the 20th century. He gives his story a lively focus by concentrating on the extraordinary personalities who have shaped opera during its 400-year historyAcomposers, librettists, singers, conductors, patrons, impresarios, set designers, stage directors, even audiences. With the rise of the stage director, Somerset-Ward contends, drama has become as important as music, thereby moving opera closer to genuine theater and making ours the "first truly great age of opera." Innovative staging, he notes, also breathes new life into old warhorses and is often what makes avant-garde opera palatable to audiences not attuned to atonality and dissonance. If Somerset-Ward's writing rarely transcends the workmanlike, this introduction is still accessible, informative and, with 237 illustrations, 118 in color, eye-catching. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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