Cover for KIRK: American Opera. Click for larger image

American Opera

Awards and Recognition:

Winner of an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, 1987.

A unique and invaluable resource for opera fans, new and old

Tired of Tannhäuser? Bored with Bohème? Then open your imagination to the unexpected pleasures of American opera.

With this generous, accessible overview, Elise K. Kirk provides a lively history of one of America's liveliest arts. A treasure trove of information on a substantial, heretofore neglected repertoire, American Opera sketches musical traits and provides plot summaries, descriptions of sets and stagings, and biographical details on performers, composers, and librettists for more than 100 American operas, many of which have received unjustifiably scant attention since their premieres.

From the spectacle and melodrama of William Dunlap's Pizarro in Peru (1800) and the pathos of Caryl Florio's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1882) to the chilling psychological drama of Jack Beeson's Lizzie Borden (1965) and the lyric elegance of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), opera in America displays the energy and diversity of the nation itself. Kirk shows that this rich, varied repertoire includes far more than familiar jewels such as Porgy and Bess, Candide, Susannah, and The Consul.

Beginning with the English-influenced harle-quinade of the revolutionary period, Kirk traces the development of comic opera, the rise of melodramatic romanticism, the emergence of American grand opera and verismo, and the explosion of eclectic forms that characterized American opera in the twentieth century. Devoting particular attention to the accomplishments of women and black composers and librettists, Kirk explores how American operas have incorporated indigenous elements such as jazz, popular song, folk music, Native American motifs, and Hollywood's cinematic techniques. She also discusses the impact of radio and television broadcasting on opera in America, the advent of opera workshops in universities, the integration of multimedia effects into recent opera productions, and innovations such as co-commissioning and joint staging that have helped sustain American opera as federal support has declined.

An engaging introduction for neophytes, American Opera also offers an array of welcome surprises for diehard opera fans.

"Well-documented, enjoyable . . . highly recommended."--Library Journal

"An instant classic and a standard reference work in its field. Kirk is a skilled and thorough researcher with a keen sense of what is most important and interesting in the vast array of information she has explored. . . . Her work sheds new light on modern composers and works that may be familiar to American opera-lovers, and she gives a tantalizing account of long-forgotten operatic treasures from our past."--Joseph McClellan

"From melodrama to movies, Kirk creates an over-arching context that explains the unique character of American opera. Her book is an important study of the core works of the American opera canon - of value to opera producers and lovers of the art form, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about the cultural history of the United States."--Marc Scorca, president, Opera America

"Fills a tremendous void in American musical history. Her authoritative and engaging overview is a must for every music library."--Plato Karayanis, former general director, Dallas Opera

"What an amazing book, articulate and well researched. It is probably the most important book to date dealing with American opera. I highly recommend [it]."--Evelyn Lear, soprano

Publication of this book was supported by the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund.

Elise K. Kirk, author of Musical Highlights from the White House and Music at the White House, is the founder and former editor of The Dallas Opera Magazine and has served on the National Advisory Board of the Kennedy Center.

To order online:

To order by phone:
(800) 621-2736 (USA/Canada)
(773) 702-7000 (International)

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