AN ADMIRABLE BOOK
Alan Riding and Leslie Dunton-Downer's
companion to opera,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL
The Opera volume in Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness Companions series has the same attractive layout and high production values as the other volumes in the series. The book was written by Alan Riding (formerly the European Arts Correspondent of The New York Times) and Leslie Dunton-Downer (author and librettist). Its intention is to provide an attractive and informative introduction to opera for those new to it, but also to act as a reference work by promising the stories for some one hundred and sixty operas.
The book begins with a series of introductory chapters. The ones entitled 'Introducing Opera' and 'What is Opera?' seem to be aimed mainly at the newcomer. But 'Librettos and Librettists', 'Staging Opera', 'Opera Houses and Festivals' and 'Idols of Opera' provide historical summaries which most people will find useful. It helps that these are copiously illustrated with pictures, both modern and historical.
Following these, the operas themselves are grouped into usefully colour-coded chapters. 'From Monteverdi to Mozart', 'Italian Opera', 'Germanic Opera', 'French Opera', 'Russian Opera', 'Czech Opera', and 'Modern Opera'.
Each chapter starts with an historical overview then each composer is dealt with in turn, with a biography, time-line of major works, then the operas themselves. Each opera has one or two pages devoted to it. Dates of composition, duration, first performance dates and location, librettist, principal roles are given along with a paragraph about the opera and plot summary, annotated with symbols indicating significant arias and ensembles.
There are generous illustrations of operatic productions, many of them of pretty recent origin -- Handel's Giulio Cesare includes an image of Sarah Connolly from the Glyndebourne production and another from the colourful 2005 production at the Staatsoper in Hamburg.
Copyright © 12 April 2007
Robert Hugill, London UK