Overture Opera Guides

It’s very heartening to discover a big print project involving opera: Overture Publishing in association with English National Opera is giving the twenty-year-old idea a new and expanded life. The Overture Opera Guides Series books, first of which have seen the light of day in the 1980s, are being updated and many new titles will be commissioned in what promises to be a classic collection.

Each guide will consist of the same elements. The Don Giovanni book, which I just finished, has the following:

— The original libretto with the facing English translation. If there are more than one version of a libretto, all the changes will also be included. Since Mozart made some changes to the Prague libretto for the later Vienna performance, the editors have included and clearly marked the changes in the shaded sections. The short introduction of the history of the libretto also lists what exactly was changed when and for what reason.

— Articles: Don Giovanni in the theatrical tradition of its time, the musical analysis of Don Giovanni, a piece about Lorenzo Da Ponte’s life, and one collage-chapter of excerpts regarding characterization in Don Giovanni.

— The list of musical themes associated with each character (in staves).

— Close to thirty photographs from Don Giovanni productions. These include the 1960 Glyndebourne production with Joan Sutherland as Donna Anna, the 1968 John Gieldgud production at Sadler’s Wells Opera designed by Derek Jarman, Ruth Berghaus’s 1983 WNO production, Peter Sellars’s ’89 production, Giorgio Strehler’s ’89, Deborah Warner’s ‘94, Francesca Zambello’s ROH ’07, Martin Kušej’s ’03 Salzburg, Tcherniakov’s ’10 Aix-en-Provence, among others.

— Select discography, starting with 1936. Many interesting things here.

— Selection of Don Giovanni on DVD, earliest recording from 1954. Very useful.

— Suggested bibliography and a list of recommended websites.

The only reservations I have: out of ten contributors for the DG guide, nine are men (Brigid Brophy gets the honour). Since some of the analytical articles have been reprinted from the 1983 edition when, I presume, elderly gentlemen still dominated every aspect of opera criticism and opera management in Britain, this may be representative of the time of the original guide. I expect the titles coming up will be different in this regard. Also, the bibliography is unilingual Anglophone. The opera audiences now tend to read about opera in more than one language so including a few important titles in Italian, French, German etc. won’t scare anybody away.

The guides published in the new series so far are listed here (the distributor for NA is Independent Publishers Group). I will review the Idomeneo guide next — can’t wait to see what Idamante looked like through the ages.

5 thoughts on “Overture Opera Guides

  1. Thanks very much – a valuable find, it would seem! Burton Fisher’s Opera Journeys series is far less fancy and scholarly, but still useful if one wants a quick synopsis with musical themes, which I sometimes do. This libretto AND essays AND music AND discography/bibliography is fantastic though!

  2. Exactly! The only problem with print series like this is the slowness of the process. All the older guides are still available in print, but they are c. 1985: possibly OK for libretto and translation, but nothing else. I wish they designed an e-print too, for those who want to buy electronic versions immediately. But that would complicate things further in that we’d expect audio clips and other multi-media stuff in the e-print.

    1. All the other guides that they published — I wonder which ones are actually still in print — date from 1985. If you search their database for opera guides, they all pop up, no cover images, basic description… but of the new ones, you’re absolutely right: a couple Puccinis, one Wagner and two Mozarts so far. Which is why I’d wish they’d hurry up.

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