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David W. Barber

Willowdale (Ont.), Firefly Books/Sound and Vision, 1990. 141pp, paper, $12.95
ISBN 0-920151-11-6. CIP

Grades 8 and up/Ages 13 and up
Reviewed by Gary Robertson.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

Finally, a readable book on opera history. David Barber has condensed three hundred years of opera into an enjoyable, if tongue-in-cheek, night's reading. The dedication really sets the tone of the book: "This book is dedi­cated to Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms and all the other great composers who knew better than to write any operas."

The book has ten humorous chapters that lead us through both a chronologi­cal and geographical development of opera. Starting with Monteverdi, there are sections on "Serious Buffoonery," "French Bred," "Teutonic Tunesmiths," and "Italian Sausage Machines." The text explains what we may have thought about opera but were too polite to say in public.

Opera is a challenging art form. Its stories are filled with intrigue, passion and frivolity; the staging often rivals Hollywood; the singing is a true test of a performer's vocal skills. But opera, performed well, can be a most exciting and engaging theatre experience. This book may indeed motivate young people to give opera the chance it deserves, for opera is part of our cultural heritage and an important part of present-day theatre performance.

The fun of reading this book lies also in its irreverent, but possibly true stories of the lives of the composers and the operas they wrote. On Verdi: "He composed Il Trovatore in a mere 28 days, which is less time than it would take most people to figure out the plot." On Wagner's Ring cycle, "That's it. That's The Ring - the opera cycle that gets its name obviously, because by the end of the ordeal the weary listener wants to wring Wagner's neck." On Verdi: "He remains one of the most popular and best loved of all opera composers - especially by anyone who likes to see elephants on stage."

This book is recommended for all teen and adult readers. Its refreshing approach to a difficult subject is quite successful and a joy to read at any time.

Gary Robertson, Thorn Collegiate, Regina, Sask.
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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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