The Birth of an Opera: Fifteen Masterpieces from Poppea to Wozzeck

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W. W. Norton & Company, Mar 18, 2013 - Music - 441 pages
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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, 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.


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THE BIRTH OF AN OPERA: Fifteen Masterpieces from Poppea to Wozzeck

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Full-scale portrait of an art form compiled from thumbnail sketches across four centuries.This close-up approach turns out to be an excellent way to spotlight key moments in the history of opera ... Read full review


Le Nozze oli Figaro
Les Troyens
Tristan and Isolde
Eugene Onegin
Pelleas et Melisanole
Ariadne auf Naxos

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About the author (2013)

Michael Rose is a musician and writer living in London. He is the author of Berlioz Remembered and the coauthor of Words about Music with John Amis. He wrote the commentary for Erich Auerbach’s Images of Music, has been a contributor to numerous publications including The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, and was for sixteen years the joint author with the late Hanns Hammelmann of the BBC radio series The Birth of an Opera.

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