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The Birth of an Opera: Fifteen Masterpieces from Poppea to Wozzeck
Synopses & Reviews
Through a deft compilation of primary sources—letters, memoirs, and personal accounts from composers, librettists, and performers—Michael Rose re-creates for his readers the circumstances that gave rise to fifteen operatic milestones. From Monteverdi and Mozart to Puccini and Berg, each chapter focuses on a well-known opera and tells the story that lies behind its creation.
Rather than retreading familiar ground with pages of historical and musical analysis, Rose places each opera firmly in the context of the composer’s life and provides an engaging text in which the varied and colorful personalities involved are seen to discuss, comment, and contribute in one way or another to the progress of its composition. The reader will find Mozart with a new and flamboyant librettist tackling the risky enterprise of Le Nozze di Figaro; Wagner confessing his hidden love for the woman who inspires him as he creates the passionate drama of Tristan und Isolde; Verdi deep in Shakespearian discussion with Boito as they remodel the tragedy of Otello; and Debussy coming almost literally to blows with Maeterlinck over the soprano to take the leading role in Pelléas et Mélisande.
Throughout, Rose offers his readers the most direct possible link to events that have often become twisted or obscured by operatic myth, and in so doing he captures the bizarre interactions of chance, genius, practical necessity, and dogged determination that accompanied the making of some of opera’s most enduring masterpieces.
"Drawing on letters, memoirs, and personal accounts by composers, librettists, performers, and producers, music historian Rose (Berlioz Remembered) allows these primary sources to chronicle the contexts, controversies, failures, and triumphs of 15 popular operas. Far from a staid history of opera, Rose's reflections — which originated over 50 years ago as a series of radio programs on the BBC — illustrate the human forces, including the contention between composers and librettists and the contention between audience and actors, that comprise the backgrounds of these operas. For example, in Monteverdi's 17th century L'incoronazione di Poppea, the librettist Busenello, recognizing opera as entertainment for the middle-classes rather than simply a spectacle performed solely for the king and his court, 'wove into the historical core of his drama the popular elements that Venetian audiences demanded.' Rose observes that Monteverdi's opera is the first opera in which composer and librettist 'create a musical drama in which human ambition, human instincts, and human frailty are allowed to run their natural course to an end that accepts, for good or ill, the overwhelming power of Love.' Bizet's Carmen was a disaster, Rose says, for hostile audiences found the music completely void of melody. Rose's entertaining book reveals new aspects of favorite operas for opera buffs and provides a nice introduction to opera for new listeners. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
offers illuminating insight into how operas are written and the personalities, incidents, and musical circumstances that have shaped their composition.
The Birth of an Opera offers illuminating insight into how operas are written and the personalities, incidents, and musical circumstances that have shaped their composition.
Through a deft compilation of primary sources--letters, memoirs, and personal accounts from composers, performers, and librettists--Michael Rose re-creates for his readers the circumstances that gave rise to fifteen operatic masterpieces. From Monteverdi and Mozart to Puccini and Berg, each chapter makes one opera its focus and tells the story of how it was written. What emerges is a tightly woven narrative that takes the reader vividly to the inception of these works. Rather than retreading familiar ground with historical analysis and musical commentary, Rose produces an engaging script in which the individuals most closely concerned with each opera are seen to comment, debate, and compromise. In this way Rose offers his readers the most direct link to events that are otherwise beyond their reach, and he captures the often bizarre interactions of chance, genius, practical necessity, and dogged determination that heralded the creation of opera's most enduring and compelling masterpieces.
About the Author
Michael Rose is the author of Berlioz Remembered, the coauthor of Words About Music with John Amis, and a contributor to numerous publications including The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. He lives in London.
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