The Complete Opera Book

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Dust jacket of the 1997 edition Dust jacket of the 1997 edition of 'The New Kobbe's Opera Book'.jpg
Dust jacket of the 1997 edition

The Complete Opera Book is a guide to operas by American music critic and author Gustav Kobbé first published (posthumously) in the United States in 1919 and the United Kingdom in 1922. A revised edition from 1954 by the Earl of Harewood is known as Kobbé's Complete Opera Book. The 1997 revision, edited by Harewood and Antony Peattie, is titled The New Kobbé's Opera Book.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Gustav Kobbé was an American music critic and author, best known for his guide to the operas, The Complete Opera Book, first published (posthumously) in the United States in 1919 and the United Kingdom in 1922.

George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood British noble

George Henry Hubert Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood,, styled The Hon. George Lascelles before 1929 and Viscount Lascelles between 1929 and 1947, was the elder son of the 6th Earl of Harewood and Princess Mary, Princess Royal, the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. At his birth, he was 6th in the line of succession; at his death, he was 46th. Lord Harewood was the eldest nephew of both King Edward VIII and King George VI and was a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. He succeeded to his father's earldom on 24 May 1947.


The original Complete Opera Book

Gustav Kobbé was on the point of completing the book which was afterwards published as The Complete Opera Book when he died. Various additions were made to it before publication, and also in subsequent editions or reprints, as the subject demands constant revision and renewal, both through new works and through the discovery or revival of lesser known existing ones. The work in its original form was first finally edited and brought together for publication by Katharine Wright, who at the same time included some additional operas in sections that bear her initials. Its full title was The Complete Opera Book : the Stories of the Operas, Together with 400 of the Leading Airs and Motives in Musical Notation. The early American editions were copyrighted in 1919 (first), and then in 1922 and 1924, by C. W. Kobbé.

Much of the additional material first appeared in a supplement or appendix to the main work. The last opera of the main text is the Goyescas of Enrique Granados, and the Supplement is still (in the English edition, p. 851 ff.) described as such in 1929, but in other editions called "Recent and Revised Operas." This continued to evolve, and incorporated additional material written by Ferruccio Bonavia (signed F.B.). The earlier supplement included works by Maeterlinck, Reginald de Koven, Ravel, Henry Hadley, Andre Messager, Holst, Rutland Boughton, Ethel Smyth, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky, and Mozart's Il Seraglio , occupying pp. 851–901. After 1929 it was enlarged to include Verdi's Simone Boccanegra , Boito's Nerone , Alban Berg's Wozzeck , Puccini's Turandot , Rossini's La Cenerentola , Mozart's Così fan tutte , Jaromir Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper and Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover (pp. 901–930). The English 1935 imprint included Bonavia's notes on Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri , Rimsky-Korsakov's Snegourochka and two operas of Ildebrando Pizzetti: parts of the former supplement had by now been incorporated into the main text, and the overall page-count before index was now 945 pages.

Goyescas, Op. 11, subtitled Los majos enamorados, is a piano suite written in 1911 by Spanish composer Enrique Granados. This piano suite is usually considered Granados's crowning creation and was inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya, although the piano pieces have not been authoritatively associated with any particular paintings. The suite forms part of the standard Romantic piano repertoire.

Enrique Granados Spanish pianist and composer

Enrique Granados Campiña was a Spanish pianist and composer of classical music. His music is in a uniquely Spanish style and, as such, is representative of musical nationalism.

Henry Kimball Hadley American composer

Henry Kimball Hadley was an American composer and conductor.

While no amount of enlargement could possibly have made the work literally complete, these additions supplied gaps in Kobbé's unfinished manuscript, some works of importance which appeared after his death, and others (such as Simone Boccanegra) which had important revivals.

The pre–World War II editions were enriched by a superb series of sixty-four photographs of singers in operatic roles. In general these did not change, though the frontispiece of Nellie Melba as Juliet was substituted by an engraved bust of Jenny Lind in other editions. The illustrations reflected exactly the singers of Kobbé's time, (including Winckelmann and Materna in the first Parsifal ), and many of the famous international artists who sang at the Met from the 1890s to around 1920. They are typically the singers of the acoustic (i.e. pre electric-microphone) recording period c.1898-1925, so that the book remained popular with collectors of operatic 78 rpm records well after the real-life careers of these singers had been superseded by others. Hence in early editions the illustrations are listed in the sequence in which they appear, following the operas, but in later editions the illustrations table is alphabetical by singer.

Nellie Melba Australian opera singer

Dame Nellie Melba GBE was an Australian operatic soprano. She became one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian era and the early 20th century, and was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. She took the pseudonym "Melba" from Melbourne, her home town.

Jenny Lind Swedish classical singer

Johanna Maria "Jenny" Lind was a Swedish opera singer, often known as the "Swedish Nightingale". One of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century, she performed in soprano roles in opera in Sweden and across Europe, and undertook an extraordinarily popular concert tour of the United States beginning in 1850. She was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music from 1840.

<i>Parsifal</i> opera in three acts by Richard Wagner

Parsifal is an opera in three acts by German composer Richard Wagner. It is loosely based on Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a 13th-century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his quest for the Holy Grail.

Kobbé's Complete Opera Book

The final (11th) impression (in fact variant editions) of the English edition was in September 1949. This constant revision reflected the fact that the book, with all its shortcomings, was the best encyclopedic account of operas from Gluck to Mascagni in existence. It was therefore this work which was chosen by the distinguished operatic patron the Earl of Harewood to form the basis of his complete new revision, retaining Kobbé's plan and a good deal of his text, but bringing the whole work up to date under the title of Kobbé's Complete Opera Book. Details of specific productions were supplied by Harold Rosenthal. The text was now arranged in three main sections. In Part 1, "Before 1800", sections on Monteverdi, Purcell, The Beggar's Opera and Pergolesi were added, Gluck was enlarged, and the Mozart operas systematized. The great body of Kobbé's work was maintained and enlarged in Part 2, "The Nineteenth Century" (beginning with Beethoven), preserved the original format of the various national "schools", with specific sections on Wagner and Verdi. Composers and synopses were similarly grouped by nationality in Part 3, "The Twentieth Century", treating the period 1900-1950 as a separate coherent whole, including an American section for Thomson, George Gershwin and Gian-Carlo Menotti, and a substantial English section culminating in Benjamin Britten. The illustrations were completely replaced with forty new photographs of post-War operatic productions and singers. Further reprints (with revisions) appeared in 1956 and 1958. The convention of noting authorship of different sections was retained by the initial "K" for Kobbé and "H" for Harewood. The resultant edition, while preserving and paying due homage to Kobbé's original work, was a newly authoritative work in its own right.

Pietro Mascagni Italian composer known for operas

Pietro Antonio Stefano Mascagni was an Italian composer best known for his operas, such as his 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana which caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music. While it was often held that Mascagni, like Ruggiero Leoncavallo, was a "one-opera man" who could never repeat his first success, L'amico Fritz and Iris have remained in the repertoire in Europe since their premieres. Mascagni said that at one point, Iris was performed in Italy more often than Cavalleria.

Harold David Rosenthal OBE was an English music critic, writer, lecturer, and broadcaster about opera. Originally a schoolmaster, he became drawn to music, particularly opera, and began working on musical publications. On the foundation of Opera magazine in London in 1950, Rosenthal was assistant editor, and became editor in 1953, retaining the post until 1986.

Henry Purcell English composer

Henry Purcell was an English composer. Although incorporating Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, Purcell's legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest English composers; no later native-born English composer approached his fame until Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.

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Antony Peattie is a British music writer. He co-edited the 1997 revision of The New Kobbé's Opera Book, with Lord Harewood.


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