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.
About the Author
Carolyn Abbate, professor of music at Harvard University, is the author of Unsung Voices and In Search of Opera. She writes on film, philosophy, and opera and has also worked as a translator and dramaturge. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
Roger Parker, professor of music at King’s College London, writes on opera and music in London. He is the author of Leonora’s Last Act and Remaking the Song and was a founding coeditor of the Cambridge Opera Journal. He lives in Hampshire.
[T]his is the best single volume ever written on the subject, such is its range, authority, and readability. — Times Literary Supplement
Their fantastically clear-sighted and down-to-earth history focuses on what opera is and was rather than what it should be or would like to have been. …Their virtuosic spring-clean of opera’s past reveals an art form quite different to the one that we come across today. — The Telegraph (UK)
There’s reason to applaud a new volume like…A History of Opera, in which vast scholarly authority is put to the service of a narrative both lucid and sweeping.
— Jeremy Eichler - Boston Globe
Unfailingly intelligent …their coverage of every period in opera’s history is scrupulous and provocative. — Kirkus Reviews
[A History of Opera] will surely become essential reading for anyone seeking an engaging and highly informed chronicle of the great composers and their works.
— Daniel Snowman - Opera
Parker and Abbate have written … a highly idiosyncratic and personal history of opera. [It] has a brio, insouciance, and even irreverence that are very much their own. — G.W. Bowersock - The New Republic
[F]resh… brave, challenging and, above all, useful. — Literary Review