Avidly Reads Opera

New York Univ. Oct. 2021. 160p. ISBN 9781479811724. $89; pap. ISBN 9781479811731. $14.95. MUSIC
This breezy introduction to opera by Kinney (writing, Eugene Lang Coll. at the New Sch.; Hood) is geared toward opera neophytes; as such, the book treads a fine line between relating anecdotes and providing useful entry points into a genre that outsiders tend to find intimidating. Kinney makes the case that opera isn’t designed to be inaccessible, but financial and cultural barriers can leave potential fans unsure where to start. (She is frank about offensive aspects of opera plots, many of which are racist or misogynist.) Kinney also argues that becoming an opera lover is easier today than it used to be, thanks to YouTube and broadcasts of performances; this book includes an opera playlist that’s largely available on YouTube or Spotify. Some of the book’s best sections describe the culture of operagoers, as fervent as fans of any other genre (even if they don’t all have the budget of Ludwig II), and examine the complexities of listening to Wagner, “whose fandom has generated fascism, anti-Semitism, and genocide,” Kinney writes.
VERDICT Explaining a musical genre’s appeal for the uninitiated is a tricky feat, but Kinney’s personal approach and passion for her subject distinguish this book from other “opera 101” attempts. An appealing primer by a fan, for (potential) fans.
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