Masters of Opera


Setting is in Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs. Aida, captive daughter of Ethiopian King, falls in love with the warrior-prince Radames, the new leader of the Egyptian Army. She has a powerful rival in Princess Amneris. Radames brings back Aida's father as captive; he forces his daughter to trick her lover (Radames) into betraying military secrets.

F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow

Adapted from Shaffer's play, the film presents the life of Antonio Salieri, a mediocre 18th century Viennese composer obsessed with and jealous of the musical genius of the age, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Philippe A. Autexier

To be a musician and to be deaf: that alone would have made Beethoven a tragic hero. But his heroic stature goes beyond the pathos of his condition. Beethoven left his mark in his magnificent sonatas, symphonies, and his chamber music--among the most beautiful ever written. Set against the stormy background of European political upheaval, the intellectual ferment of Vienna, and the love affairs, friendships, and quarrels of his private life, here is the story of Beethoven, the father of Romantic music.

Humphrey Carpenter

The author has used Britten's diaries, letters and manuscripts to construct this full-scale biography of the great English composer. The book concentrates on Britten's personal triumphs and struggles - his long "marriage" to tenor Peter Pears, the production and successes of his major works, his frequent depression and self-doubt, and his dangerously close friendships with young boys.

Georges Bizet

Carmen, a gypsy woman working in a cigar factory in Seville, enchants and bewitches the soldier Don José. He longingly obeys her commands and helps her escape arrest, although she was under his guard. Unfortunately, this action places
Don José in prison instead. Upon his release, he seeks out Carmen at the tavern of Lillas Pastia, and there decides to cast his lot in with Carmen and her smuggler friends, at the cost of his military career. Now immersed in a struggle to keep up with the smugglers as well as preserve his claim on Carmen, Don José unravels.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The setting is in 18th-century Naples. Two young suitors, Ferrando and Guglielmo, take up a wager with the older and wiser Don Alfonso that the moment they turn their backs, their sweethearts, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, will forget them and fall in love with the first person who comes along. To make sure that they can see this for themselves, he tells the two young men to disguise themselves as foreigners, who have heard of the beautiful sisters and to woo them--and so the fun begins.

Richard Wagner

Commonly referred to as "The Ring", it contains four operas. The plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world, forged by the Nibelung dwarf Alberich from gold stolen from the river Rhine. Several mythic figures struggle for possession of the Ring, including Wotan (Odin), the chief of the Gods. Wotan's scheme, spanning generations, to overcome his limitations, drives much of the action in the story. The hero Siegfried wins the Ring, as Wotan intended, but is eventually betrayed and slain. Finally, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, Siegfried's lover and Wotan's estranged daughter, returns the Ring to the Rhine. In the process, the Gods are destroyed. "The Ring" is not for the novice listener.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The story, set in 17th-century Seville, centers around a young nobleman who is obsessed with amorous conquest. It follows his romantic exploits and continued encounters with Donna Anna, the woman who plots to destroy him. Cast includes Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose van Dam & Teresa Berganza. Available in DVD, VHS,CDs Plus CD highlight versions.

Ruggero Raimondi, John Macurdy, Edda Moser, Kiri Te Kanawa

This is the screen adapatation of Mozart's greatest opera. Don Giovanni, the infamous womanizer, makes one conquest after another until the ghost of Donna Anna's father, the Commendatore, (whom Giovanni killed) makes his appearance. He offers Giovanni one last chance to repent for his multitudinious improprieties. He will not change his ways. So, he is sucked down into hell by evil spirits. High drama, hysterical comedy, magnificent music!

Piotr Tchaikovsky

In the opulent St. Petersburg of the Empire period, Eugene Onegin is a jaded but dashing aristocrat - a man often lacking in empathy, who suffers from restlessness, melancholy and, finally, regret. Through his best friend Lensky, Onegin is introduced to the young Tatiana. A passionate and virtuous girl, she soon falls hopelessly under the spell of the aloof newcomer and professes her love for him. His refusal of her (in addition to his other amorous intrigues) sets in motion a series of events which culminate in tragedy and thwarted love. The library has a DVD of this lyric opera as well as the original novel in verse by Pushkin.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Fidelio is an opera in two acts set in 18th-century near Seville by Ludvig van Beethoven. It is Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto is by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly. The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio," rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison. For further information go here. This is an opera suggested for a seasoned, not novice, listener. CD format.

Charles Schwartz

This is the biography of George Gershwin, the man who gave America some of our most loved music. It is the story of a man obsessed. His need to create music led to hundreds of hit songs that are still popular, the opera "Porgy and Bess" and such Broadway hit musicals as "Strike Up the Band" and "Lady Be Good." Yet Gershwin, the composer of such concert pieces as "Rhapsody in Blue' and "An America in Paris," was never quite satisfied with his accomplishments, and never quite felt that he had realized his musical goals. This restlessnes and dissatifaction ruled his personal life as well. This is the story of a man who tragically died at the age of 38, just as he approached the full maturity of his creative gifts.

Christopher Hogwood

"George Friedrich Handel remains one of the unchallenged geniuses of musical history. Yet many revealing and fascinating aspects of his work have been obscured by generations of adulation, prejudice, or misinterpretation. Christopher Hogwood takes us back to the original Handel, blending the evidence from documents of all kinds with judicious biographical observations as well as a delightful selection of illustrations. The result is a comprehensive and entertaining portrait of the developing character and career of Handel, with an important concluding chapter that traces the progress of the Handel legend down to our own time, and a chronological table compiled by Anthony Hicks that outlines major events in the composer's life and musical career."

Giacomo Puccini

La Bohème is a story of young love set in the bohemian culture of 1830s Paris. The bittersweet tragedy centers around an optimistic group of friends surviving on limited means. Rodolfo, a poet, shares a garret with his artist friend. Mimi is a seamstress living in a neighboring apartment. Mimi and Rodolfo meet and fall instantly, madly, in love. But the diva is already desperately ill with tuberculosis and not long for the world. Available in DVD format, plus CDs.

Giuseppe Verdi

The setting is Paris & the surrounding area in August 1850 through February 1851. The story depicts a young man, Alfredo Germont, who falls in love with a prostitute, Violetta. She eventually realizes that she might love Alfredo as well, but does not feel that a relationship is possible because of her unworthiness as a member of a much lower class.

The library has this opera in DVD, VHS & CD formats.


"The only reality in music is the state of mind which it induces in the listener."
Stendhal published this biography of Rossini in 1824. It isn't very useful as biography, but that wasn't Stendhal's purpose. It was a vehicle for lively, but unreliable gossip about the Italian music scene. It is propaganda to inject some life into the French opera by encouraging the production of Rossini and other Italian composers in Paris and to free the French opera houses from government control. Stendhal's recommendations were followed: first Rossini was brought to Paris, and after the 1830 revolution the Paris Opera was handed over to an independent impresario. This marked the beginning of the blossoming of French opera. This edition is the 1970 translation by Richard N. Coe.

Giacomo Puccini

An American Naval officer buys a young Japanese wife. When he leaves to rejoin his ship, she waits patiently for him for three years with the young son she has since had. His eventual return with his new American wife leads to the Japanese girl's suicide.

Available in DVD, VHS, and CD formats.

Peggy Woodford

Mozart: His Life and Times not only sings the praises and explains the genius of this prolific composer, but it represents Mozart as a mortal human being. Through contemporary reports and Mozart's own voluminous and highly descriptive correspondence, his life is related to 18th-century Austria. Mozart and his friends, as it were, tell the story from early boyhood in Salzburg to first triumphs in Vienna-and from adulation to eventual total neglect.

Norbert Elias

Mozart is a brilliant study of the great composer's life and creative genius, written by one of the most important social thinkers of our time. In this haunting portrait, Elias examines the paradoxes of Mozart's short existence--his creativity and social marginality, his musical sophistication and personal crudeness, his breathtaking accomplishments and psychological despair.

Giuseppe Verdi

In 15th-century Cyprus, beautiful Desdemona is married to Otello, the Commander of the Venetian Army. Old officer Iago is plotting against Otello and his lieutenant Cassio. By planting Desdemona's handkerchief on Cassio, manipulative Iago convinces Otello of his wife's infidelity.

Available on VHS and CD in our collection.

George Gershwin

In this legendary Gershwin opera set among the black residents of a fishing village in 1912 South Carolina, Bess - a woman with a disreputable history - tries to break free from her brutish lover Crown after he becomes wanted for murder. The only person willing to overlook her past and offer her shelter is the crippled Porgy. Their relationship is threatened by the disapproval of the townspeople, the presence of her old drug supplier Sportin' Life - and the threatened return of Crown.

Available on DVD and CD.

Michele Girardi

Puccini's operas are among the most popular and widely performed in the world, yet few books have examined his body of work from an analytical perspective. This volume remedies that lack in lively prose accessible to scholars and opera enthusiasts alike. Although the emphasis is on the compositions there is a full examination of Puccini's life, family, musical influences and society.

Julian Budden

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) stood at the end of five generations of composers. A generous man who helped others when they needed a boost, he loved motorcars and boats for excitement but retreated to his beloved Tuscany's lakes to escape urban hubbub. Much to his jealous wife Elvira's distress, he had many paramours and confidantes. His sense of drama drove him to demand perfection from his librettists. With his third opera, Manon Lescaut, he established himself as a leading composer for the stage. Giulio Ricordi, scion of the music-publishing house, was impresario for productions of his operas, and Toscanini conducted most of their premiers.

Budden, president of the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini in the composer's ancestral hometown, Lucca, Italy, looks closely at Puccini's music per se. He highlights events in the life but leaves out much in the way of conflict and incident, instead covering the operas' scenarios and music in detail. Because Puccini also wrote pieces for orchestra, band, piano, and chorus, Budden analyzes some of those as well. Puccini's operatic music embraces the use of leitmotifs and some of the harmonies that Wagner pioneered, and it demonstrates his ability to match dramatic and musical structures.

Robert W. Gutman

The turbulent personal and professional life of the musical genius Richard Wagneris a subject that has intrigued many writers. In this biography, Robert W. Gutman has related Wagner's life and work to the history of ideas and the many currents of thought that converged in this fascinating man. Wagner's art reflected the finest and worse elements of the nineteenth century, many of which exercised a fateful influence on our own times. This book examines the darker regions of nationalism and racism from which Wagner drew his most powerful symbols.

George Handel

Set in 12th century crusade battle for Jerusalem, Goffredo and his brother Eustazio (the fine Daniel Taylor) go to a Christian magician and receive magic wands with which they destroy the castle and free Rinaldo and Almirena. Available in CD format.

David Mountfield

This small book has a companion compact disc recording of Rossini's most popular compositions. This is a good introduction to the composer of The Barber of Seville and William Tell. Included are a listing of Rossini's complete works and a list of recommended recordings.

Wilson Strutte

Whether he cared to admit it or not, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a hypochondriac, a manic-depressive and a man who, until only a few months before his death, was quite unable to come to terms with his own nature. He was also, quite clearly, a genius: one of the greatest composers ever to have lived, and an artist whose music conveys the very spirit of 19th-century Russia.

Gioacchini Rossini

The setting is 17th-century Seville. This production of Barber is appropriately over-the-top; the costumes reflect, in a very concrete sense, the occupations of each character (Figaro in barber stripes, "Lindoro" the "student" with books attached all over his coat, Berta wearing various cleaning items in various places on her clothes), Rosina shatters a glass while singing her second-act aria (much to her delight, as she picks up a shard and shows it proudly to Almaviva prior to continuing), et cetera.

Seeing as how Barber is over-the-top in the first place, the way the cast and crew play with this production only makes it more delightful--it would be much worse if one were to take it seriously. Beverly Sills is an outstanding Rosina. This is a wonderful treat to view. A must see. Available in VHS format. Other Rossini operas in our CD collection include La Cenerentola, featuring Cecilia Bartoli, and L'Italiana in Algeri, featuring Teresa Berganza.

Michael Steen
A grand and panoramic biograhical history of the giants of classical music, The Lives and Times of Great Composers is a new, unique, and lovingly constructed modern reference--and a beguiling read which you will return to again and again. Interlinked yet self-contained, each chapter distills the life of one or more composers, set against the social, political, musical, and cultural background of the time. Read the story of Bach, the respectable burgher, much of whose vast output was composed amidst petty turf disputes in Luteran Leipzig; or the ugly, argumentative Beethoven, obsessed by his laundry; or Mozart, the over-exploited infant prodigy whose untimely death was shrouded in rumor; or the ghastly death of Donizetti and Smetana.

Read about Verdi, who composed against the background of the Italian Risorgimento, or about the family life of the Wagners; and Brahms, who rose from the slums of Hamburg to become a devotee of beer and coffee in fin-de-siecle Vienna, a cultural capital bent on destroying Mahler. Michael Steen paints a vivid portrait of the tumultuous times in which these brilliant, yet flawed, human beings labored--a tour of 350 years of European history.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The tale of Prince Tamino's quest for love, truth and beauty is set in a mysterious forest and features wild, exotic beasts.
Sung in English
Various composers and performers

"Features 14 best-loved arias performed in English by the world's finest opera stars and rising stars and including works from some of the most popular -- and important - operas across a wide range of genres, eras and composers. In addition to 14 stellar performances in English, this CD includes five instrumental-only karaoke-style tracks so that anyone can sing along and be an opera star. The CD includes a synopsis of each opera, performers' biographies and complete lyrics so the whole family can enjoy singing along. Producer Mark D. Goldman and librettist Daniel Libman have taken care to ensure that each translation retains the original language's rhyme scheme, meter and rhythm and that each performance is perfectly articulated and imaginatively interpreted. The result is highly-singable, child-appropriate opera 'songs' the whole family will enjoy."

Giacomo Puccini

"Floria Tosca, a beautiful opera diva, tries to save her lover’s life by giving herself to the dreaded chief of police, Baron Scarpia. The situation turns deadly, and even Scarpia’s murder may not stop his diabolical plan."
(Washington National Opera)

Available on CD in our collection.


Richard Wagner

Setting: legendary times.
The story is about Tristan, whose name meant sadness, and was given to him after his mother's death in childbirth. Because he was the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, it was Tristan's duty to provide an escort for King Mark's betrothed, the beautiful and fiery Isolde, on her way to join King Mark and become his bride. On the long journey, Tristan and Isolde realize their passion for each other and attempt suicide by drinking what they believe to be a death potion; however, Isolde's maid, not willing to help Isolde die substitutes a love potion, causing them to fall even more deeply in love. What follows is the sad tale of their love, separation and death.

Mary Jane Phillips-Matz

Verdi was one of the greatest, the most successful, and the longest-lived of all composers. Written with the full cooperation of the Verdi family and drawing on a wide range of sources, this is an authoritative re-examination of a long, vigorous and productive life. The book captures Verdi's tremendous energy, creativity, Italian nationalism and philanthropy and offers insight into the complexities involoved in the composition and production of opera.

John Culshaw

It took Wagner more than half of his lifetime to come to terms with his genius, but that struggle and the consequent outpourings of his mature works took an absolute precedence over everything else. He changed the language of music in a way that has no parallel in history.