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As regards the selection of operas, it is always easy to pick holes in anyone's list of essential and significant operas. Mozart's Mitridate, Lucio Silla and Il Re Pastore are included but Handel's Ariodante is not. Gluck's Alceste is omitted. Weber's Oberon is included but the music-historically more important Euryanthe is not. Massenet gets only two operas (no Don Quichotte), Strauss's Intermezzo is omitted. Rather oddly, Debussy's Le Martyr de Saint Sebastian is included.

Giordano's Andrea Chenier is included, Ponchielli gets only a one line mention (in the Puccini biography), so no La Gioconda and Cilea is not even mentioned. Carl Orff's Die Kluge is in, but there is no plot summary for Britten's Rape of Lucretia.

Operettas by Strauss, Lehar and Offenbach are included but nothing by Chabrier or Gilbert and Sullivan, and no mention of Zarzuela.

Modern opera moves right into the modern age. I'm not sure whether Bernstein's Candide is really significant enough for inclusion, but Zimmerman, Henze, Ligeti, Berio, Stockhausen, Glass, Adams, Tan Dun and Adès all have works included. Though they include Adès' The Tempest, they omit his much travelled first opera, Powder her Face, and neither of Turnage's operas are included. More worryingly, Birtwistle's important operatic contribution is passed over as well.

The plot summaries are generally concise and admirable. But where an opera's textual history is complex, the printed text tends to be over simple. The traditionally cut 'Wolf's Crag' scene from Lucia di Lamermoor is omitted, there is no mention of the different endings to Turandot (traditional, uncut Alfano, Berio), the epilogue to Tales of Hoffman omits the Muse's reappearance and apotheosis. There are no details of the original version of Boris Goudonov.

In many ways this is an admirable book. Attractively designed and well produced, it would make the ideal gift for someone interested in opera and wishing to deepen their knowledge. But the countless little quibbles that I have with the text prevent me from recommending it wholeheartedly.

Copyright © 12 April 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


Eyewitness Companions - Opera

Alan Riding and Leslie Dunton-Downer

Dorling Kindersley, 2006

ISBN13 978-1-40531-279-3
ISBN10 1-40531-279-3
432 pages, paperback

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