Editor’s Picks: 6 Essential Titles About Opera and Theater

Opera and theater have been incredible sources of entertainment for centuries of audiences. The history behind the music, composers, performers, and venues that are essential to understanding these fine arts is fascinating, often surprising, and just as entertaining as the performances themselves. Within the titles below, you’ll find enthralling information about opera and musicals of all kinds, specific composers, and even the unique history of an important Maltese theatre.

Think you already know all about this subject? Put your fine arts knowledge to the test and see if these books can surprise you!


The Pocket Guide to Opera
9781844680863Everything you need to know about opera in one handy guide. Part of Pen & Sword’s best-selling Pocket Guide series, The Pocket Guide to Opera contains A-Z synopses of operas and biographies of the characters, lyricists, and composers. The book features the history of opera, setting it in the context of its day and discussing the influence of world events and influences such as the Freemasons and the composers’ patrons. With fact-boxes highlighting surprising, little known, and often quirky operatic facts, this fascinating book is a must-buy guide for everyone who loves opera.
Buy it here $19.90

The Pocket Guide to Gilbert and Sullivan
9781844681037Librettist William S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan teamed up to make some of the most memorable operettas of all time, which still sell out to today’s audiences at opera houses, theaters, and cinemas around the world. This detailed book explores the themes around each operetta, setting them in the context of the day. It celebrates their biggest stars and what made the characters so memorable and recognizable.
Like all of the Pocket Guide series, this accessible guide is full of information and fascinating facts – did you know that fairy lights were invented for Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe?
Buy it here $24.95

Opera on Film
9780715629437Film makers have always been fascinated by opera. Long before the birth of the talkies, pioneers were trying to make sound films of operatic arias. Cecil B. De Mille’s 1915 Carmen, starring the reigning queen of the Met, Geraldine Farrar, made his name and turned her into one of the silver screen’s earliest stars. This fascinating study of opera within the history of cinema charts the great film makers’ obsession with this most glamorous medium and its stars, from Cecil B. DeMille to Pavarotti. Readers will learn how film makers have sought to popularize opera on the screen through presenting complete operas, operettas, and operatic arias, and made opera’s stars like Caruso, Chaliapin, Gigli, Tauber, and Pavarotti into film stars. Opera films made for television complete the picture, as Opera on Film demonstrates the hitherto unrecognized importance of opera in cinema history and recounts some of the explosive incidents that occur when diva meets director.
Buy it here $5.00

The Pocket Guide to Musicals
9781844680399Everything you need to know about musical theater in one handy guide by leading expert Maureen Hughes, who has herself created 8 musicals and teaches musical theater. The Pocket Guide to Musicals covers everything from the composers and lyricists to a comprehensive A-Z listing of musicals from around the world. Accessibility is a key selling point with fact-boxes highlighting key or curious facts about the subject.
The Pocket Guide to Musicals is compulsory reading for anyone studying musical theater, and its size makes it a perfect gift for anyone intending to go to the theater or who wants to discover as much about the topic as possible.
Buy it here $18.95

London Stage in the Nineteenth Century
9781859362082London Stage in the Nineteenth Century is a unique record decade by decade, year by year, of all the major new plays, revivals, performances, and productions.
This book features legendary actors in their most famous roles, including Sarah Siddons, John Philip Kemble, Edmund Kean, ‘Joey’ Grimaldi, William Charles Macready, Ira Aldridge, Edwin Booth, Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, Dan Leno, Eleonora Duse, and Sarah Bernhardt. Major premieres included the plays of popular writers such as Dion Boucicault, Tom Taylor, Tom Robertson, Henry Arthur Jones, Arthur Wing Pinero, Oscar Wilde, the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the notorious London debut of Henrik Ibsen. The most celebrated revivals were of Shakespeare, although the spectacular productions of his plays were for the most part at the expense of his texts, which were rewritten, bowdlerized, and disemboweled. In an age when London was the largest and most important city in the world, its theatrical life was vibrant and expansive, reaching huge audiences. The book contains over 220 contemporary illustrations of actors, productions, theatre buildings, and playbills, all of which help to capture an era in which the public wanted the histrionic and the sensational, including erupting volcanoes, burning buildings, historical tableaux, reconstructions of military battles, and even a presentation of Henley Regatta, complete with real boats and 200 tons of water. There was a wide variety of entertainment on offer. There were melodramas, comedies, farces, pantomimes and extravaganzas by J. R. Planché, burlettas, operas, ballets, musicals, and music halls. There were regular adaptations of novels, most notably those by Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens, and numerous adaptations and plagiarisms from the French dramatists. There were plays based on recent murders and plays dealing with topical social issues, such as fallen women, poverty, crime, slavery, and factory conditions. There were patriotic pageants, aquatic dramas, equestrian dramas, canine dramas, and even elephant dramas. London Stage in the Nineteenth Century is an invaluable and highly accessible reference book for theatre practitioners, theatre-goers, and students of the stage in London and beyond. This is a book that theatre lovers everywhere will enjoy: flicking through the lavishly illustrated pages will reveal many great personalities, performances, and productions, but also witty commentaries, acerbic reviews, and astonishing facts about all aspects of the London stage.
Buy it here $38.95

The Manoel Theatre ManoelTheatre
The Manoel Theatre is the only theatre building still extant and still regularly used in Malta that dates back to the period when Malta was ruled by the Order of St John. It was founded by the Portuguese Grand master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena in 1732 and was used regularly by the Knights for their amateur performances of plays and even operas, and also by visiting professional companies. Although meant for the honest entertainment of the public, it was the young Knights who dominated it either as performers or as members of the audience. During the siege of the French occupiers during 1798-1800, the theatre was managed by the Maltese opera composer Nicolo Isouard and provided the besieged soldiers with their main entertainment. The passing of Malta to Britain meant that the theatre, now known as Theatre Royal, remained of importance to the substantial British garrison and the many British civil servants and businessmen who spent years in Malta, but the rise of an educated Maltese middle class also meant that productions in Italian and then also in Maltese were produced by talented Maltese amateurs. A good many Maltese authors produced mainly farcical plays in Maltese or adapted foreign comedies for performance, and the end of the century saw the birth of the first important Maltese drama group, directed for many years by M.A. Borg. The Manoel, however, functioned mostly as an opera theatre, managed by entrepreneurs who imported singers and dancers to appear in operas by people like Rossini, Cimarosa, Bellini and Donizetti, and Verdi. Since the 1960s, its programs have included many classical music events, a smattering of opera, dance, and much drama, including the major plays of Maltas great dramatist, Francis Ebejer.
Buy it here $16.00


Do you have a passion for a certain genre of the arts? Leave us a comment, and you might see a selection of books about your favorite topic in the next Editor’s Picks!

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