Opera in America


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A Cultural History

John Dizikes

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Winner of the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
“I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera, Ah this indeed is music—this suits me."—Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself”
America has had a love affair with opera in all its forms since it was first performed here in colonial times. This book—the first comprehensive cultural and social history of musical theater in the United States—includes vignettes of productions, personalities, audiences, and theaters throughout the country from 1735 to the present day.
John Dizikes tells how opera, steeped in European aristocratic tradition, was transplanted into the democratic cultural environment of America. With a wealth of colorful detail, he describes how operas were performed and received in small towns and in big cities, and he brings to life little-known people involved with opera as well as famous ones such as Oscar Hammerstein, Jenny Lind, Gustav Mahler, Enrico Caruso, Milton Cross, Maria Callas, and Leonard Bernstein.
< br /> He tells us about the often overlooked African American contribution to operatic history, from nineteenth-century minstrel shows to the work of Scott Joplin and Marian Anderson, and he discusses operetta and Broadway musicals, recognized everywhere in the world as one of the triumphs of American twentieth-century art. Dizikes considers the increasingly diverse operatic audiences of the twentieth century, shaped by records, radio, and television, and he describes the places where opera now flourishes—not only New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, but also St. Louis, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Santa Fe, Seattle, and elsewhere. Generously illustrated and engagingly written, the book is a fitting tribute to its subject—as grand and entertaining as opera itself.

John Dizikes is a fellow of Cowell College, University of California at Santa Cruz, and teaches in the American studies program.

"Every opera lover will rejoice in John Dizikes's rich and fascinating account of the role opera has played in the life of the republic."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"A rich lode of cultural material and a horde of wonderful stories, woven into a highly readable chronicle. The book maps out a fresh profile for a genre sometimes misunderstood as quintessentially elitist."—Richard Crawford, University of Michigan

"Anyone who is interested in the history of opera in the United States will thoroughly enjoy this well-written and fascinating book. An important contribution to the musical literature, this book is above all utterly entertaining. I read it with great delight."—Vinson Cole, opera singer

"A wealth of information, all the more fascinating because it takes in the 18th and 19th centuries, which are not well chronicled elsewhere."—David Gockley, general director, Houston Grand Opera

"A smart, funny, splendidly written, and strikingly illustrated panorama of the New World's adoption of the Old World's most lavish and lively art form. Dizikes offers a wealth of insight and history—American, theatrical, and musical—in this monumental labor of love. . . . Should attract and fascinate a wide audience, lovers of Americana as well as opera fans."—Kirkus Reviews

"This substantial important volume is also a pleasure to read. . . . A real page-turner."—Library Journal

"Comprehensive chronicle with colorful detail. . . . Dizikes has assembled a thoroughly enlightening walk through opera history."—Publisher's Weekly

"Musicals and operettas form part of the picture as the author describes—his enthusiasm fairly jumping off each page—cities, houses, companies, performers, performances, conductors, and company directors important in the opera scene in America, beginning with the first recorded presentation, which occurred in 1735 in Charleston, South Carolina."—Booklist

"Amiable, unpretentious, occasionally wry. . . . A generous potpourri of illustrations brightens many a page. . . . One would have to be full of ill nature not to applaud [this] book."—Gary Schmidgall, New York Times Book Review

"A curious and delightful unearthing of opera firsts."—New York Times Book Review, Notable Books of the Year

"Dizikes has written a book that anyone interested in the subject will enjoy, presenting an enormous quantity of information. . .in lively, readable prose. . . . Most impressive, perhaps, is Dizikes's success in conveying a sense of national history."—Paul Mattick Jr., Nation

"[A] huge, and hugely entertaining, narrative."—New Yorker

"By far the most entertaining classical-music book of the year."—Terry Teachout, Daily News

"John Dizikes brings a superb critical lens to this definitive history of opera and its uniquely American influence. His mastery of a subject that won't sit still — that flourishes in magnificent opera houses as well as ramshackle town halls — speaks to nothing less than a nation coming of age. Dizikes's personal exuberance and eye for detail make Opera in America as vivid and enduring as opera itself."—National Book Critics Circle Award 

"By far the most entertaining classical-music book of the year, [it] tells the story of how the plaything of the rich put down roots in the land of Wyatt Earp."—New York Daily News

"This is a wide-ranging, scholarly, but entertaining history of the performance and composition of opera in America. . . . The author's firm grasp on political and cultural history makes this an exceptionally enjoyable overview."—Patrick O'Connor, BBC Music Magazine

"A gripping drama. . . . Opera in America is a much needed book. . . . [It] hold[s] the attention and send[s] serious students down fruitful research paths."—Philip Kennicott, Opera News

"A sweeping, colorful account of how opera fared here, a beautiful object of art that also boasts a voice."—Edward J. Sozanksi, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A truly stimulating and immensely informative history of the impact of opera on the USA and the impact of the USA's cultural life on the understanding, production and composition of opera in the New World. . . . [A] thoroughly entertaining book."—Musical Opinion

"John Dizikes' book, more than any other, has served to give us the range and scope of operatic history in the U.S. and has laid to rest—one hopes forever—the idea that opera is an art form alien to our shores."—Patrick J. Smith, Wagner Notes

"Dizikes' book marshals an enormous amount of information coherently and is lavishly illustrated with period drawings and photographs. This book will prove fascinating to opera lovers, but those interested in American studies will also find that Dizikes has written an important chapter in the cultural history of the United States."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"John Dizikes's book is one that opera enthusiasts both in the United States and abroad have been eagerly awaiting for many years. . . . Dizikes has accomplished much in this ground-breaking original work. . . . His enthusiasm for opera is evident on every page. The book should popularize opera for a wide audience of readers who will find it not only informative but entertaining as well."—James E. Seaver, American Studies

"[Opera in America] fills a void by providing readable, intelligent history . . . of an form an American audience that were not always of like minds."—Marge Betley, American Theatre 

"A brilliant essay in cultural history, and one of the most compellingly readable works . . . I have ever read. . . . His ever-colorful tale . . . is a thick, savory slice of American history."—David Littlejohn, San Francisco Chronicle

"A fascinating saga of the arts."—Stephen Whitty, San Jose Mercury News

"The story of opera's tenuous life in our country isn't always pretty, but Mr. Dizikes tells it with the narrative gift of a novelist and the objective eye of a scholar. Opera in America, you realize after reading Mr. Dizikes, is just beginning."—Kenneth LaFave, Washington Times

"An engaging piece of American social history that gives a delightful perspective on the whole vital, exasperating—and in the end very hopeful—story of American musical culture."—William Bolcom, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer

Winner of the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Winner of a Commonwealth Club of California gold medal for non-fiction

Selected as a Notable Book of the Year (1993) by The New York Times Book Review
ISBN: 9780300061017
Publication Date: September 27, 1995
622 pages, 7 x 10
128 b/w illus.
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