Opera: The Basics by Denise Gallo
This short little book outweighs much of the competition. Written by a senior music specialist at the Library of Congress, Denise Gallo's Opera: The Basics is a cross between an opera dictionary and an encyclopedia. It defines basic terms but adds fascinating history and rich context.
This is not opera for "dummies." For instance, a page in the libretto section is devoted to "A Brief Word About German Versification." While the beginner will not be intimidated, even opera veterans will learn from it. One can dip into this volume almost anywhere and find something entertaining and instructive. I had no idea that Mozart's famous librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, filched most of the text for Don Giovanni from other sources. Or that one reason the pit was created for the opera orchestra was that patrons in the front row complained that the double basses obstructed their view.
Gallo's evident depth of learning is combined with an affection that gives the book the sense of having been written from inside the world of opera rather than by an outside observer of it. Dulce et utile.
—Robert R. Reilly
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This article appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books