I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
I write that title with a caveat, which I'll explain. This book is geared to the idea that perhaps you know just a little about the world of opera and feel like maybe you're ready to be dangerous and don't know where to start. Mr. Plotkin offers his credentials as to why he's the right man to be your guide to this strange world, which are impressive, and then he leads you through the basics just as he says he will. He's one part tour guide, one part college professor, and he clearly loves opera. And he hopes you will too.
The history of opera is offered at Wikipedia speed, broken down for you in sections so you can see how it evolved into what it's become today. He'll even give you pointers on how to attend a performance and get the most out of it, which that alone is invaluable information. Where it gets dicey is that sometimes he forgets he's talking to a beginner when it comes to the actual operas, but he does bring it back down to beginner level sooner or later. A lot of the times, though, you will be expected to rise to the next level up without warning, and where this subject is concerned, that's not a bad thing if you're truly interested. He covers a handful of operas within this tome and explains why he picked them. His insights are well worth it for anyone who wants to dig deep. The thing is, and he'll tell you this up front, he's working from very specific recordings of these works that you will have to hunt down on your own, either in a library or online. Some of his explanation is specific to those recordings. Don't let that disuade you. If you can't find that recording, try another and compare it to what you learn in this book. The point of this entire thing is to help you make the leap from novice to enthusiast with confidence enough to discover more, and where you go from there is up to you. I've heard it said that for some beginners, it's many years - if ever - before they go from hearing an aria or two to listening to an entire opera with anything close to understanding. This book connects the dots if you're willing to meet the author halfway.
There is an old saying, "When the student is ready, the master will appear." That's how this book is setup, with the author's teacher showing up to teach a professional bass player how to play music, and that's how this book found its way to me. It was the right message at the right time, and there is simply not enough I can say about it that will sing its praises properly.
There are a great many self-help books out there, just as there are a great many musical instruction books and books on fundamental spirituality. This book is all three at once - a masterpiece in its own right - and so much more. Sometimes for a message that's always been with us to be heard properly is for it to be presented in a new way, providing that shift in focus that clicks everything into place. Being musically inclined, that's precisely what this audiobook did for me.
As a narrator, Wooten is superb. He tells the story in such a way that we are learning right along with him at the feet of a teacher who will show us "nothing." Indeed, that's the whole message of the story, that we already know everything we need to know. From another person, this message might seem unbelievable or completely trite, but Wooten's tale makes you believe it. If I have one regret about this book, it's that it sat in my wish list for far too long... but then, perhaps I wasn't ready for it until now.
This was one fantastic audiobook! This is part of the the Great Courses lecture series and if you order it through Great Courses it would cost about $300. However, if you order it through Audible.com, it costs one credit, which is about $14.00. the only difference is that you don't receive the written course material, which might have come in handy on occasion but is not necessary to enjoy this incredible experience.
So what is this great experience? It is nothing short of a 48 lecture course on, exactly as promised, how to listen to great music! Each lecture is 45 minutes, so that adds up to about 40 hours of listening time... quite a commitment. Robert Greenberg is a music professor who seems like the type of person that if you met him at party you would feel like you knew him your whole life. His enthusiasm for music is contagious. He is a great story teller and has a way of describing music in such a way that "it sticks".
Like most great teachers, he tells you what he is going to teach, teaches it, then summarizes what he just taught. As he frequently says, music is a mirror of the time, so he adds historical insight into the description of the music. He doesn't try to cover everything, that would be impossible, but takes a longitudinal approach, beginning with the ancient world and quickly moves forward to the baroque,classical and romantic period. In the process he defines musical vocabulary that conductors, composers and music producers seem to think we all understand but don't. In the process he not only clarifies our ability to perceive what the composer's intent was in the creation of the music, but also helps us to understand their brilliance in making complexity seem so simple. You could say the same thing about Professor Greenberg himself... New Jersey native that he is, he has not lost his direct and irreverent manner of speaking, even while living in California.
He is the only person who convinced me that I should really give opera a chance... I did... and sad to say... I still don't enjoy listening to the vocals, much as I like the orchestration. Each to his own, I guess.
I would definitely order another one of these (he has many..). Makes for a much more enjoyable car ride.