This book is in effect a great "do it yourself" course on opera. The first chapter is a history of opera. The second discusses the mechanics of opera - the various types of singers and concepts involved in opera. Next is a chapter on the mechanics of attending an opera, buying tickets, what to beware, etc. The real heart of the book, though, is the eleven chapters covering eleven different operas. As you progress through them, you learn about new concepts such as the use of music to evoke emotion, french opera, grand opera, etc. By carefully choosing the sequence, Plotkin is careful to reveal opera's mystery in a way that will bring listeners in rather than turning them off. Plotkin also suggests a particular recording for each opera as a way of introducing different singers and conductors as well. In contrast to others, Plotkin uses the entire opera - not merely highlights. As a companion, I'd suggest Denis Foreman's A Night at the Opera, which is a...
*Opera 101* should be the perfect book for you if you know you want to learn more about opera but are having trouble "getting" it. The book is written by an opera expert in a light but intelligent style, and it assumes that the reader comes to it with nothing more than a genuine desire to learn and some money to spend on recordings. After a short intro chapter, Fred Plotkin begins with a 90-page history of opera that even seasoned opera-goers (of which I am one, I suppose) should find instructive. Plotkin then provides an excellent chapter on opera singers and the nuts-and-bolts of attending an opera. Almost all of the rest of the book is taken up with in-depth "lessons" on eleven key operas, each chosen to expand the reader's understanding in a certain direction. Although each of these lessons is designed for you to use while studying a particular recording of each opera, they are highly instructive if you have a recording other than the one Plotkin...
Having read about a dozen books that tout themselves as introductions to opera, I found "Opera 101" to be perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch. In an ever-so-slight way, it is at times a bit preachy and a bit overobvious. You will feel occasionally like you are in a high-school music appreciation class, or reading an operating manual. On the other hand, Plotkin leaves absolutely nothing out, and no stone unturned, and for that he is to be commended. Every possible question is answered, and answered thoroughly. In addition, the appendices are chock full o' valuable information (a list of all the major and mid-major opera houses all over the world; books for further reading; recommended CD recordings and DVD filmings; etc.). And you have the feeling at all times that Ploktin knows what he's talking about. This is the PERFECT book for any adult who knows absolutely zilch about opera but who wants to learn it all, and learn it all out of a single source.
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