Read Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera by Fred Plotkin Free Online
Book Title: Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera|
The author of the book: Fred Plotkin
Edition: Blackstone Audiobooks
Date of issue: May 1st 2004
ISBN 13: 9780786131815
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 550 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.9
Read full description of the books:
Pretty damn great, with the usual caveats.
To start: Plotkin really knows his stuff. He's deeply passionate about opera but also he's worked in the industry, so it's not that stuffy nonsense you read in "Opera" magazine, a bunch of old-timers who are more interested in trading anecdotes than engaging with an evolving art form. Plotkin's passion and knowledge shines through, and he digs deep into ways of approaching opera (including something as seemingly simple as buying tickets) but also is happy to provide some old-timer advice alongside it. His brief history of opera at the start is refreshingly accessible, but at the same time, he sticks to his guns about issues that many of us younger folk don't necessarily agree with. His thorough discussions of a series of varied operas really will make the difference for someone either new to or somewhat familiar with opera, and the extensive listing at books end of "recommended recordings" of basically every opera ever is... well, just wonderful.
So, what are my caveats? Well, firstly, this book was written in the early '90s, and as a result neglects the internet and cinema angle that has so changed opera and opera bookings. It's a small fact, but it can be distancing twenty years on. Second, as I mentioned, some of Plotkin's views I simply cannot agree with. He largely ignores the fact that opera was previously a very open, talkative environment for an audience, acting as if it's just natural to sit in the dark and be quiet and appreciate 4 hours of music. (Don't get me wrong, that's the convention nowadays and it's lovely, but it's worth remembering if you're bored by a very long Handel opera, it's because you're not watching it in the way it was intended. Not going out for a drink during a boring part or throwing stuff at your friends? Rossini would be so confused!) His most upsetting angle is his stark opposition to surtitles. While I agree that they can distract audiences and - by their very nature - they simplify the depth of any work, the flipside of this - as shown by the last twenty years - is how accessible both comedy and deep philosophy become when we can understand each moment. Not just what we remember from the libretto we read and studied all week (if Plotkin is to be believed) but what the actors - because, after all, these days many more opera singers are being trained somewhat as actors - are bringing to its moment. Of course, it won't be an issue in a few years, when we all have a Google Glass attachment. If you don't want the libretto, you won't see it, and if you do want it, you can choose your language, your annotations, and everything else in a (literal) blink of an eye.
Thirdly and finally, I suppose, there's Plotkin's overall view. It's admirable and certainly not to be easily disregarded, that people should listen to many recordings of an opera, listen and read before they attend, and devote as much time as possible to rumination. Unfortunately, it's just not how many people engage with the artform, particularly not newcomers who may be dragged along by an aunt or uncle, or tentatively take their first steps from the back of the balcony. In short, in his attempts to convince readers that they should engage with the artform on his terms (or, at least, on the terms of a longterm opera subscriber in the 20th century), he fails to acknowledge that opera must give some ground. Not necessarily "cheapen" itself as he says, but make some compromises with the Gen Y and Z audiences who simply come from different cultures, even if those cultures are separated by time and not geography.
Before I wrap up, though, it's worth reiterating that this is a great book. Plotkin skilfully leads the reader through operas in four languages as a kind of overall guide, while giving enough information that anyone not feeling terrified after the experience will be able to navigate their way from here. Even when his views feel a little unbalanced, they're worth noting. His greatest concern - that modern audiences will simply engage with the surface-reading of an opera and its words - is valid, since so much of what happens in opera (that is, why it can take someone 20 minutes to say "I love you") is in the rich and deep work of the score.
Anyhow, overall, this is a really good book if you're the kind of novice who can use it as a basis for your own exploration of opera. Just take everything with a grain of salt (as you should be doing anyway!).
And, seriously, that list of recommended recordings at the back of the book might now be outdated by 20 years, but it remains truly stellar.
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