This definitive work tells the entire story of the world's most extraordinary artistic medium of the last four hundred years. Opera paints the human passions with astonishing power and drama. This book, the first new, full-length, single-volume history of opera for more than a generation provokes in-depth discussions of many works by the greatest opera composers, from Monteverdi, Handel and Mozart, to Verdi and Wagner, to Strauss, Puccini, Berg, and Britten. There are lively discussions of opera's social, political and literary background, its economic circumstances and the almost continual polemics that have accompanied its development through the centuries. Abbate and Parker examine the problems that opera has faced in the last half century, when new works - which were once opera's life-blood - have shrunk to a tiny minority, have largely failed to find a permanent place in the repertoire. Yet the book's final message is one of celebration. Opera as an art form remains extraordinarily buoyant and challenging. It continues to transform people physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and to articulate human experience in ways no other art form can match. "This is the best single volume ever written on the subject, such is its range, authority and readability". (Times Literary Supplement). "Their fantastically clear-sighted and down-to-earth history focuses on what opera is and was rather than what it should be or would like to have been. Their virtuosic spring-clean of opera's past reveals an art form quite different to the one that we come across today". (Daily Telegraph). "Parker and Abbate have written a highly idiosyncratic and personal history of opera. [It] has a brio, insouciance, and even irreverence that are very much their own". (New Republic). "[F]resh, brave, challenging and, above all, useful". (Literary Review).