I have a little secret. I have a supplier . . . of nifty opera guides. My fellow writer Ginger travels 200+ days a year for her job and frequents secondhand shops. Whenever she finds a book about opera, no matter where she is in the country, she packs it up and ships it to me.
Without further adieu, let me introduce the Ginger Trietto, coming to opera lovers at Christmastime as a trunk show:The first book in the triad is The Standard Opera and Concert Guide, by Upton and Borowski. This old chestnut was last published in 1930. This is a wonderful guide for learning all about classic opera, organized by composer. Sometimes the book offers brief biographical information about the composer. Sometimes it jumps directly into an analysis of their seminal work. I love the voice of the book almost as much as the information it provides. The authors sound like perfect gentlemen–they never shred any work, they always find some redeeming quality or they haven’t included it in the volume. I used this book to write many posts for Operatoonity, including a post about Englebert Humperdinck, another about a Ravel opera, and a post about a classic premiere in May–The Marriage of Figaro, my favorite. This is a full-bodied reference book that goes well with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Next up, we have the always delightful, Fifty Favorite Operas by Paul England, no relation to the Queen of England. I used this lovely text–organized by work, not by composer–to write a post called “Fifty Favorite Operas,” a truly fruitful post because of the comments it evoked. Several commenters left a top-ten list of their favorites, which led me to investigate and write posts about Pelléas et Mélisande (which happens to be one of my favorite posts if you haven’t read it) by Debussy as well as a wistful post about Der Freischütz by Weber. I absolutely adored Pelléas et Mélisande, the story, yes, but especially the music–soaring and transcendent, which I might never have been introduced to without Ginger sending me this book. As a result, I’m seeing the show at the Met on December 17, and reviewing it for Bachtrack. The most recent tome is the comprehensive Penguin Opera Guide edited by Amanda Holden. This beefy paperback (530 pages) is organized alphabetically by composer. This text is the most modern of all three and offers generous bios of each composer. It’s broader in scope because it includes modern opera composers like Adams (Nixon in China) and Britten (Turn of the Screw). I remember feeling like I hit the jackpot with this text. Every time I encounter a new work, I check it out in this book. It’s also great for fact-checking. And coincidentally, like the Cabernet with which it’s paired, it is likewise full-bodied and intriguing.
To sum it up, I have three wonderful texts to use to create meaty and accurate posts for this blog. And I have one wonderful friend to thank for them.