Books & More for Opera Lovers and Newbies

Opera was a creation of the Baroque period, “invented” around the year 1600 and developed rapidly into one of the world’s most popular theatrical forms.  The combination of words, music, and drama became immensely popular and spread around the world as opera houses were built and new works created.  Many theater and music elements taken for granted were first developed in opera.  Today, opera is everywhere, from the historic houses of major opera companies to movie theaters and public parks to offbeat performance spaces and our earbuds.  It  remains a popular, expensive, and inspiring theatrical form, and yet there are few artforms that are as daunting for newcomers.

The Livingston Public Library is excited to announce a 3 part series entitled The Story of Opera, presented  by composer, conductor and educator Dr. Robert W. Butts, that will include a combination of a lecture and musical excerpts. 

Dr. Butts is New Jersey’s most wide-ranging conductor, exploring the operatic as well as the orchestral worlds. He has conducted premieres of over a dozen works for large and small ensembles by living composers and is the only American conductor to premiere works by Monsignor Marco Frisina, acclaimed opera, film, and sacred music composer in Rome, Italy.

He has lectured and taught at The Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, Montclair  State University, and The College of Saint Elizabeth as well as for The New Jersey Council for the Humanities and  has presented talks and courses for community programs throughout New Jersey.  As a  conductor, he has led the award-winning Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey for over 25 years and has  conducted The New Jersey Symphony, The Plainfield Symphony, Opera at Florham, New Jersey Concert Opera, Eastern Opera, and Opera Theater of Montclair. In addition, he has conducted orchestra  and opera performances in Russia, Romania, Germany, and Italy. His compositions have been performed in the United States, Europe, and Asia.  

Here are the  3 programs in the series along with the registration links:

May 24, 7pm, The Story of Opera Part 1: Early Opera 1600-1800 

June 21, 7pm,  The Story of Opera Part 2: Romantic Opera 1800-1890

July 19, 7pm,  The Story of Opera Part 3: Verismo and Modern Opera 1890-2000 

Whether you are a  fan of opera and would like to delve deeper into it, a beginner just getting your exposure to the artform or if you are just looking to enjoy some operatic performances, the following opera themed resources are accessible with your Livingston Library card.

The Birth of an Opera : Fifteen Masterpieces From Poppea to Wozzeck by Michael Rose

Through a deft compilation of primary sources–letters, memoirs, and personal accounts from composers, librettists, and performers– 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. 

Bravo! : A Guide to Opera For The Perplexed by Barrymore Laurence Sherer 

 The book is chock full of opera facts, history, and lore. Scherer’s discussions of the various styles of opera (Italian, German, French, Russian, English, and American) are concise yet well connected to the overall picture. Operetta is not excluded, nor is opera etiquette or even famous foods named after opera singers.

Decoding Wagner : An Invitation To His World of Music Drama by Thomas May

This guide aims to unlock the world of Richard Wagner and his works, his monumental achievements, and, ultimately, the great emotional power inherent in his art.

Evenings At The Opera : An Exploration of the Basic Repertoire by Jeffrey Langford

A collection of essays based on Langford’s lectures at the Manhattan School of Music and inspired by his pre-performance talks at the Metropolitan Opera Guild. It presents a unique view of the stylistic development of nearly 200 years of opera history (from Mozart to Britten), with special attention to the question of how the genre’s competing components of action, music, and text combine to make effective music drama. 

Handel in London : A Genius And His Craft by Jane Glover

A rich and evocative account of the life and work of one of the world’s favorite composers.  In 1712, a young German composer followed his princely master to London and would remain there for the rest of his life. That master would become King George II and the composer was George Freidrich Handel. It is a story of music-making and musicianship, but also of courts and cabals of theatrical rivalries and of eighteenth-century society. It is also, of course the story of some of the most remarkable music ever written, music that has been played and sung, and loved, in this country–and throughout the world–for three hundred years. 

How to Listen to and Understand Opera by Robert Greenberg (Audiobook)

Part of The Great Courses, this is a spellbinding series of 32 lectures that will introduce you to the transcendentally beautiful performing art that has enthralled audiences for more than 400 years. Beginning with opera’s origins in the early 17th century and continuing into the 20th, you’ll trace the art’s evolution and its ability to convey every shade of human emotion, whether sorrow or joy, drama or buffoonery.

The Life and Operas of Verdi DVD

Giuseppe Verdi is still the most popular composer in the 400-year history of opera. What were the sources of his unbridled creativity? And why have his operas left such a lasting impression on the history of classical music? This fascinating 36-lecture course taught by award-winning composer and Professor Robert Greenberg, tours Verdi’s life and music, and traces his artistic development from a more conventional composer to a master of dramatic innovation. 

A Mad Love An Introduction to Opera by Vivien Schweitzer

A lively introduction to opera, from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century.

It offers a spirited and indispensable tour of opera’s eclectic past and present, beginning with Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in 1607, generally considered the first successful opera, through classics like Carmen and La Boheme, and spanning to Brokeback Mountain and The Death of Klinghoffer in recent years. Musician and critic Schweitzer acquaints readers with the genre’s most important composers and some of its most influential performers, recounts its long-standing debates, and explains its essential terminology.

Maria by Callas (DVD) 

The definitive portrait of one of history’s most extraordinarily talented women. Go beyond Callas, the original diva, and meet Maria, the woman who longed for a normal life. Told through private letters, unpublished memoirs, performances and TV interviews, the film is the first to tell the life story of the legendary Greek-American opera singer completely in her own words with never-before-seen footage.

Opera 101 : A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera by Fred Plotkin

A clear, friendly, and truly complete handbook to learning how to listen to opera, whether on the radio, on recordings, or live at the opera house. Includes A brief, entertaining history of opera and an explanation of key operatic concepts, from vocal types to musical conventions.  Also gives

hints on the best way to approach the first opera you attend and how to best understand what is happening both offstage and on.  Plus lists of recommended books and recordings, and the most complete traveler’s guide to opera houses around the world.

The Operas of Mozart DVD

Mozart pushed the genre of opera to the point of comprehensive reinvention in his brief life, continually excelling in its composition and continually delighting audiences. Perhaps no composer has ever loved opera with more passion. Teaching Company favorite Professor Robert Greenberg examines Mozart’s life, influences, and major operas.

Passionate Spirit : The Life of Alma Mahler by Cate Haste

History has long vilified Alma Mahler. Critics accused her of distracting Gustav Mahler from his work, and her passionate love affairs shocked her peers. Drawing on Alma’s vivid, sensual, and overlooked diaries, biographer Haste recounts the untold and far more sympathetic story of this ambitious and talented woman. Though she dreamed of being the first woman to compose a famous opera, Alma was stifled by traditional social values. Eventually, she put her own dreams aside and wielded power and influence the only way she could, by supporting the art of more famous men. She worked alongside them and gained credit as their muse, commanding their love and demanding their respect.

Sing For Your Life : A Story of Race, Music, and Family by Daniel Bergner

The touching, triumphant story of a young black man’s journey from violence and despair to one of the world’s most elite artistic institutions.  In 2011, at the age of twenty-four, Ryan won a nationwide competition hosted by New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Today, he is a rising star performing major roles at the Met and Europe’s most prestigious opera houses.

The Library carries several DVDs of operatic performances in its collections and you can stream several opera videos on Kanopy too.

Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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