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The Birth of an Opera

Fifteen Masterpieces from Poppea to Wozzeck

Michael Rose (Author)

Overview | Inside the Book

The Birth of an Opera offers illuminating insight into how operas are written and the personalities, incidents, and musical circumstances that have shaped their composition.

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

Rather than retreading familiar ground with pages of historical and musical analysis, Rose places each opera firmly in the context of the composer’s life and provides an engaging text in which the varied and colorful personalities involved are seen to discuss, comment, and contribute in one way or another to the progress of its composition. The reader will find Mozart with a new and flamboyant librettist tackling the risky enterprise of Le Nozze di Figaro; Wagner confessing his hidden love for the woman who inspires him as he creates the passionate drama of Tristan und Isolde; Verdi deep in Shakespearian discussion with Boito as they remodel the tragedy of Otello; and Debussy coming almost literally to blows with Maeterlinck over the soprano to take the leading role in Pelléas et Mélisande.

Throughout, Rose offers his readers the most direct possible link to events that have often become twisted or obscured by operatic myth, and in so doing he captures the bizarre interactions of chance, genius, practical necessity, and dogged determination that accompanied the making of some of opera’s most enduring masterpieces.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • March 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06043-0
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 464 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Here are chapters of delight, elegantly and evocatively written by Rose, conjuring up the process of creation so as to make one eagerly turn or return to the music—and do so with heightened admiration and enjoyment.” — John Warrack, University of Oxford

“In the world of opera the voices of librettists and composers, critics and witnesses, have never been so vividly or so ably assembled as in Michael Rose’s The Birth of an Opera, which takes the reader into the heart of the process by which great operas are made. These essays bring the composers’ partners, friends, enemies, and deepest thoughts to life. It is hard to imagine opera goers who would not be absorbed by the origins and background of their favorite operas, faithfully and lovingly set out as they are here.” — Hugh Macdonald, professor emeritus of music, Washington University in St. Louis

“This is a delightful book! Michael Rose writes with grace and charm, his prose light as a feather and entirely accessible to someone approaching this art form for the first time. And yet what passion, what thought and experience lie behind his words, his astonishing quotations, and the subtle but always loyal judgments he delivers. Each of his fifteen chapters reads like a short story, sometimes funny, sometimes filled with twists and turns. But the cumulative effect is to place composers where they should be—at the very centre. For Rose, the musician is the dramatist.” — Gerard McBurney, creative director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's "Beyond the Score" series

“Rose's entertaining book reveals new aspects of favorite operas for opera buffs and provides a nice introduction to opera for new listeners.” — Publisher's Weekly

“Rather than retreading familiar ground with historical analysis and musical commentary, Rose produces an engaging script in which the individuals most closely concerned with each opera are seen to comment, debate and compromise. In this way Rose offers his readers a direct link to events that are otherwise beyond their reach, and he captures the often bizarre interactions of chance, genius, practical necessity and dogged determination that heralded the creation of opera’s most enduring and compelling masterpieces.” — Alexa B. Antopol, Opera America

“An appealing invitation to lovers of opera to discover—or learn anew—how 15 imperishable works of genius came into being.” — John Check, The Wall Street Journal

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