Opera is a visceral, emotional experience. No prior knowledge is needed to enjoy a soaring aria, or to be moved to laughter and to tears by popular operas like Carmen and La Boheme. But to fully appreciate this centuries-old art form, one must know its history and the many ways its component parts-music, poetry, theater-can be fit together.
In A Mad Love, critic Vivien Schweitzer offers a lively introduction to opera, spanning from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in 1600, generally considered the first successful opera, to Dead Man Walking and Anna Nicole Smith in recent decades. Along the way, she introduces readers to the genre’s most important composers, performers, and conductors, and to its key terminology, from coloratura to recitative. She recounts the longstanding debates about how best to pair story and song that have shaped opera over the centuries, highlighting some of the ways operas have shocked and delighted listeners. Dissecting opera’s eclectic musical language, she equips readers to assess precisely how a particular performance succeeded or failed.
There is undoubtedly a thrill to hearing a great opera singer fill a beautiful, historic theater with his or her unamplified voice. But today, opera ranges far beyond these traditional quarters; it is everywhere, from movie theaters to public parks and offbeat performance spaces to our earbuds. A Mad Love is an essential book for anyone who wants to appreciate this living, evolving art form in all its richness.