Black Dog Opera Library

The Black Dog Opera Library is one of the most popular, informative, and budget-friendly ways to enjoy all the great operas. Each book in the series includes the complete opera on 2 CDs featuring world-class performances and orchestras, the complete libretto, plus its English translation, an exciting history of the opera, a biography of the composer, and a synopsis of the story broken down by act and scene, and dozens of photographs and drawings depicting performances, singers, sets, costumes, and more. The Black Dog Opera Library is the definitive way to understand and appreciate opera – all for less than twenty dollars!

Listen. Enjoy. Learn.


Carmen

Georges Bizet

Set in Seville around the year 1830, the opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don José, who is lured away from his duty as a soldier and his beloved Micaëla by the gypsy factory-girl Carmen, whom he allows to escape from custody. He is later induced to join the smugglers with whom Carmen is associated, but is driven wild by jealousy. This comes to a head when Carmen makes clear her preference for the bull-fighter Escamillo. The last act, outside the bull-ring in Seville, brings Escamillo to the arena, accompanied by Carmen, there stabbed to death by Don José, who has been awaiting her arrival.

Carmen, with its exotic Spanish setting, introduced a note of realism into opera that proved unacceptable to many who saw the first performances. Objection was taken to the wild and immoral behaviour of Carmen, the chorus of cigarette factory-girls and their smoking and the final murder of Carmen on the stage. Orchestral suites have been derived from the score, while popular excerpts must include Carmen’s seductive Habanera and Séguidilla, the famous Toreador’s Song and Don José’s later reference to the flower Carmen had once thrown him, La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (The flower that you threw me), with Micaëla’s moving aria Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante (I say that nothing frightens me).

Carmen features Grace Bumbry, Jon Vickers, Mirella Freni, Kostas Paskalis, and Rafael Frubeck de Burgos conducting the Orchestra of the Theatre National de l’Opera.

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Boheme front cover.jpg

La Bohème

Giacomo Puccini

In an attic apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a group of young artists are living together in poverty. Their neighbour, the little seamstress Mimi, introduces herself, seeking a light for her candle, when Rodolfo is left alone. They fall in love. At the Café Momus Rodolfo presents Mimi to his friends, while the singer Musetta abandons her elderly rich lover Alcindoro in order to join Marcello. Alcindoro is left to settle the bill for all of them. Time has passed. Mimi has lived with Rodolfo, but they quarrel, because of his apparent jealousy. He has planned to leave her, as we learn in a scene set on a cold winter morning by the city gates. Musetta, a contrast in character to the gentle Mimi, later returns to the attic apartment of the four young men, bringing with her the dying Mimi, whom they now try to comfort, but in vain, as she dies before their eyes of the consumption that has racked her.

Though Ruggero Leoncavallo claimed priority in his own operatic version of La Bohème, with a libretto of his own devising, first performed on 6th May 1897 at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, it is Puccini’s opera that ranks among the best known of all works in the current repertoire. It is a thoroughly romantic treatment, with an element of realism in its setting. The score has provided singers with operatic recital repertoire, in particular the tenor Che gelida manina (Your tiny hand is frozen), Mimi’s Mi chiamano Mimi (They call me Mimi), Rodolfo’s O soave fanciulla (O sweet girl) and Musetta’s Waltz.

La Bohème features Nicolai Gedda, Mirella Freni, and Thomas Schippers conducting the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.

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La Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi

Violetta, at a party in her house, is moved to learn that the young Alfredo Germont is in love with her. There are, however, hints already that she is suffering from consumption. They set up house together in the country, but Violetta secretly sells her jewels to meet the expenses they now incur. Alfredo learns of this from Violetta’s maid, Annina, and goes to Paris to raise money. In his absence his father arrives, seeking to persuade Violetta to leave Alfredo, whose behaviour prejudices the marriage chances of his sister, as well as his own prospects. Violetta sacrifices her own feelings and accepts an invitation from her friend Flora Bervoix which will take her back to her old life, now under the protection of Baron Douphol. She leaves a note for Alfredo, telling him of her decision, while old Germont tries to comfort his son, without revealing anything of Violetta’s true motives. Alfredo then bursts into the party at Flora’s house and insults Violetta, whom he finds with her new protector. She falls back, fainting, as the second act closes. In the third act Violetta is at home, near to death. Germont has told his son of the sacrifice she had made, and Alfredo now returns, holding her in his arms as she dies.

La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) is one of those operas that has retained a firm position in current repertoire, never failing in its effect. The prelude to the first act uses the tender and melancholy music that will later precede Violetta’s death, as well as her plea to him to love her. The first of these returns in the prelude to the third act. At Violetta’s there is a lively drinking-song or Brindisi, Libiamo (Let us drink), led by Alfredo, and as the guests go into the next room, he declares his love for her in Un dì felice (One happy day). Her response to his declarations is heard in her later reflective Ah, fors’è lui (Ah perhaps it is he my heart desires). In the second act Alfredo considers the happiness that life with Violetta has brought him in De’miei bollenti spiriti (Fervent my dream of ecstasy). Germont’s attempts to remind his son of their home, Di Provenza il mar, il suol (The sea, the land of Provence) have provided baritones with a moving aria, and there is later contrast in the masquerading gypsy and Spanish dances at the house of Flora Bervoix. There is, of course, much else in a work, which, although set in 1700, might equally be supposed to have a contemporary setting and relevance in the Paris of the 1850s, an element of realism less apparent in historical dramas of kings and princes.

La Traviata features Beverly Sills, Nicolai Gedda, Rolando Panerai, and Aldo Ceccato conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

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The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Figaro and Susanna are to marry, but the Count has given them rooms near to his own, which will be convenient if he needs access to Susanna. Bartolo wants to take revenge on Figaro, who had helped the Count to marry his ward Rosina, now the Countess. His housekeeper Marcellina has lent money to Figaro, who has promised to marry her, if he cannot repay it. Cherubino tells Susanna that he loves all women, and Susanna hides him, as the Count is heard approaching. His proposals to Susanna are interrupted by the sound of Don Basilio coming near, and he too hides behind the chair, allowing Cherubino to hide himself sitting on it, under a dress thrown over him by Susanna. Basilio now refers to Cherubino’s love for the Countess, and the Count emerges to find out more. Susanna tries to distract them by fainting, but Cherubino is discovered. Figaro brings in a group of peasants, singing praise of the Count, who has surrendered, it is suggested, his droit de seigneur as far as Susanna is concerned, but the Count delays their marriage and packs Cherubino off to the army. Figaro, however, detains Cherubino, since he has plans for him. In the second act the Countess, in her room, is sad, neglected by her husband. She listens to Figaro’s plan to dress Cherubino as a girl and put him in Susanna’s place in an attempt to trap the Count. Cherubino is singing of his love for the Countess, when the Count returns from hunting, eager to pursue matters divulged to him in an anonymous letter accusing the Countess. Cherubino hides in the closet and Susanna, unseen by the others, comes in. The Countess tells her husband that Susanna is in the closet but the door cannot be opened. The Count, suspicious, goes to fetch tools to open the door, taking the Countess with him. This allows Cherubino to jump out of the window and Susanna to take his place. The Count returns and the closet is opened, revealing Susanna. Antonio, the gardener, adds complications when he comes in to complain of someone jumping out of the window, and Figaro now claims that it was him. The act ends with the appearance of Don Basilio, Bartolo and Marcellina, seeking justice. As the wedding is prepared, in the third act, Susanna, at the suggestion of the Countess, agrees to an assignation with the Count. Marcellina’s complaint against Figaro is heard and he claims that he needs parental consent for his marriage to her, if it is to take place. It then transpires that Marcellina is in fact his mother and Bartolo his father. In the fourth act, in the garden at night, Figaro is given cause for jealousy of Susanna, but she is now disguised as the Countess and the Countess as Susanna. The Count unknowingly woos his own wife, while Figaro deliberately provokes his jealousy by his own approaches to the supposed Countess, in fact Susanna. The opera ends with the Count humbled but penitent, reconciled now with his wife, Figaro with Susanna, Cherubino with Barbarina and Marcellina with Bartolo.

The complexities and symmetries of situation in The Marriage of Figaro make up one of the most perfect of Mozart’s operas, with a score that offers music of great variety, admirably suited to each situation and character. There is a brilliantly devised overture, followed by the scene in which Figaro measures the room that is to be his and Susanna’s. Resolving to get the better of the Count, Figaro sings his well known Se vuol ballare, signor contino (If you want to dance, little master count). Revenge of another kind is envisaged by Bartolo in his patter-song La vendetta (Vengeance). Cherubino opens his heart to Susanna in Non sò piï cosa son, cosa faccio (I no longer know who I am or what I am doing), and when Cherubino is duly banished with an army commission, Figaro mocks him with Non piï andrai farfallone amoroso (You are no longer an amorous butterfly). There is great poignancy in the Countess’s second act aria Porgi amor (Love, grant me comfort), to which perhaps Cherubino’s adolescent Voi che sapete (You who know what love is) might provide consolation. The opera continues with a wealth of musical invention and apt dramatic sense, shown to perfection in the comic finales, those final ensembles which offer either a problem to be solved or, in the end, a final reconciliation.

The Marriage of Figaro features Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Heather Harper, Judith Blegen, Geraint Evans, Teresa Berganza, Birgit Finnila, and Daniel Barenboim conducting the English Chamber Orchestra.

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Black Dog Opera Library Box Set

All four titles – Carmen, La Bohème, La Traviata, and The Marriage of Figaro – available in one convenient box set!

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