The Penguin Concise Guide to Opera


The bewildering world of opera made manageable

Covering the most popular and most performed operas from the earliest classics to the present day, this concise edition of The New Penguin Opera Guide is an ideal reference for anyone who is entranced by opera, whether aficionado or novice.
• Explores the operatic careers of all the great ...

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The bewildering world of opera made manageable

Covering the most popular and most performed operas from the earliest classics to the present day, this concise edition of The New Penguin Opera Guide is an ideal reference for anyone who is entranced by opera, whether aficionado or novice.
• Explores the operatic careers of all the great composers
• Describes their operas in detail
• Notes the best recordings

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141016825
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/29/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 808,955
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Amanda Holden has written more than fifty translations and texts for the opera, theater, and concert hall. She wrote the libretto for Mark Turnage's opera The Silver Tassie for which, with the composer, she received the Olivier Award for "outstanding achievement in opera" in 2001.

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Glossary of Terms

Aria - Italian for "air", and the standard term for a distinct solo song in an opera.

Entr'acte - a musical interlude between acts of a play or opera; a distinct musical work intended for performance in this way.

Falsetto - A method of singing which enables a male singer to reach notes above his usual range.

Grand Opera - the large-scale operatic genre of the early 19th century particularly in France, in which epic historical subjects were staged with enormous forces and great spectacle.

Intermezzo - A musical (usually orchestral) interlude between operatic scenes.

Libretto - the printed or manuscript literary text of an operatic work.

Prima Donna - the principal female singer in an operatic cast.

Vibrato - the rapid fluctuation of pitch (and sometimes loudness) that gives the voice and certain instruments their main expressive quality.

Opera's Bigwigs


Mozart Mozart is the most famous of al infant prodigies, the little boy who charmed kings and princes as his music continues to charm us today. After three operas composed by the time he was 12, Mozart had the extraordinary honour of being commissioned to compose the opera seria Mitridate for the royal ducal theatre of Milan in 1770 when he was 14, with two more operas for 1771 and 1772. His own personality gradually gained the upper hand over the Italian models he has assimilated.


Puccini Puccini is generally regarded as the greatest Italian composer of the post-Verdi generation. All but the first two of his operas remain a firm part of the operatic repertoire, and several (La boheme, Madam Butterfly) are among the most popular ever written. During a period in which the Italian operatic tradition was finally coming to an end, he alone among his contemporaries managed to renew himself creatively, to fashion a convincing series of works, repeatedly forging a successful compromise between his native inheritance and the French and German influences that increasingly gained sway in his country.


Verdi Giuseppe Verdi is one of a tiny group of composers who set the supreme standards by which the art of opera is judged; of his 28 operas—several of which exist in more than one version—about a dozen from the backbone of the standard operatic repertoire. He was the dominant figure in Italian opera for 50 years, and was largely responsible for a radical transformation of its character.


Wagner Wagner is a major figure in the history of opera and one of the most controversial (and written about) figures of the 19th century. No detail of Wagner's life was too sordid to be aired in public in the 19th century (his liking for silk underwear and supposedly homosexual relations with his patron Ludwig II of Bavaria were two favorites). Yet this lurid fascination would have been unthinkable without the two things that will always be most important about him: the power of his music and the ambitious artistic claim he made for opera.

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